Currently, we are witnessing the longest government shut down in history. For decades, the public sector has served as a large source of employment for black workers. It is primarily because the public sector—as you would hope—has a less stringent history of racial discrimination in hiring practices than the private sector. So, for decades black workers have raced to federal jobs. After all, these jobs do come with great benefits—well, they do when the government is working. In any event, black people make up roughly 12% of the US population and nearly 18% of the public sector workforce—but only about 10.5% of the private sector workforce.
Public sector employment is one of the few areas where it is not a negative that blacks make up a disproportionate amount of the population compared to the general population: Unlike in other areas where there is startling inequality, like how blacks make up 34% of American prison populations. With the government shutdown, however, this positive becomes negative. Now again, government action disproportionately affects blacks in an aversive manner: A constant theme in this country. Federal employment was once a safe haven for black workers: Now, a method of free slavery.
Fortunately, these workers can expect back pay whenever the shutdown ends. But, federal government contractors—workers in the private sector contracted to perform services or provide goods for the federal government—may not share the same fate. In fact, federal government contractors may lose out on $200 million a day. And, unlike federal employees, these workers cannot expect to receive back pay.
Further, during a government shutdown, non-essential services are no longer funded, leaving non-essential employees—essentially jobless. In some instances, like for TSA workers, federal employees are required to work but without pay. Is that fair? I do not think anyone could answer that in the affirmative, particularly because of the cause of the shutdown—$5 billion for a wall along the Southern border of the United States. In fact, a wall that President Trump claimed Mexico would inadvertently finance. Also, it is important to note that there is not an actual national emergency at the Southern border—where illegal immigration has actually decreased tremendously in the past two decades. Now, as result of the shutdown: Federal employees and government contractors are struggling to make ends meet. And our country’s economic output is plummeting.
We should care about this government shutdown because this is what happens when our elected leaders place partisanship and pride over the people. This is what happens when we focus only on our differences and not our commonalities. As long as we are human—we will have differences. We, however, must build bridges and not walls along these differences. We must work to understand and appreciate our differences because that is the only way we will ever progress as a people. We must bring the change and be the change we see in this country.
I am hopeful that our generation will do just that as we transition into a new age, receive the torch, and transcend into power. But we must learn from the past. We must no longer let the problems of yesterday become swept under the rug, becoming obstructions tomorrow. We must uproot and cast from this nation the wretched “—isms” that have belabored and tormented us. We must never fear to call these issues out for what they are because they thrive in the darkness. We must no longer toil in hate—but celebrate our differences. Our uniqueness and diversity are what makes this nation great—it is the driving force of progress.
Change, it can be painful; it can be laborious; it can be elusive: But nothing good has ever come easy. So I am not going to wait for change, and you should not either. I am going to work to bring change today. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and build a brighter tomorrow; a tomorrow filled with hope and love—with bridges, not walls.
No matter your race, gender, ability, or socioeconomic standing: You deserve the right to an equal footing. You deserve the right to equal healthcare, equal education, and equal justice. We all deserve the right to the proper pursuit of happiness—without any barriers. This is the change we need in this country and we cannot rest until this comes into fruition for all. This is why we must care about the government shutdown and the issues that plague our country. This is why we must become involved and become actors of change. This is why we must elect and support politicians on the local, state, and federal levels that will work for us; we must make democracy work for us. Our education, health, and futures are on the line. So change cannot wait—we must seize it.
*Cover Photo: Damilola Arowolaju
Well said, Dami. I agree that the generation in power gets too caught up in past differences or issues without ever truly addressing them. It will be interesting to see as we get older how our generation will respond to that legacy. I’m optimistic that we can make the right changes.