Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg once claimed during a television appearance that an “enormous cohort” of young black and Latino males “don’t know how to behave in the workplace.”
Bloomberg, who at the time was in his final term as mayor of New York City, made the remarks at the launch of his multimillion dollar Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) in August 2011. The program, funded in part through a collaboration between the city of New York and George Soros, seeks to address the “disparities among black and Latino men between the ages of 16 and 24 in education, employment, health and justice.” As part of its launch, Bloomberg mounted a media campaign to stir up attention and enthusiasm.
One of the first stops of that campaign was an in-depth sit down with PBS News Hour. The televised interview, however, would prove to be problematic given Bloomberg’s use of language that can only be considered racially insensitive.
Bloomberg started off by saying:
For a long time people have said there is nothing you can do about [racial disparities]. Blacks and Latinos score terribly in school testing compared to whites and Asians. If you look at our jails, it’s predominantly minorities.
If you look at where crime takes place, it’s in minority neighborhoods… who the victims and the perpetrators are, it’s virtually all minorities.
Bloomberg proceeded to argue that although great lengths had been taken to address the city’s crime problem, its root causes could not be addressed without expanding economic opportunities for young men of color. Which is where, according to Bloomberg, the YMI was to come into play.
The mayor said, elaborating on why he believed such individuals were unable to find work:
We’ve done a number of these kinds of things to try and attract the kind of jobs that are available to people, who maybe don’t have a formal education … or don’t have great command of the English language or have a blemish on their resume.
Nevertheless, there’s this enormous cohort of black and Latino males, age 16-to-25 that don’t have jobs, don’t have any prospects, don’t know how to find jobs … [and] don’t know how to behave in the workplace.
When pressed for an example of how YMI would improve the lives of young men of color, the mayor struggled to provide an answer. While admitting there were some jobs that would never go to individuals with a criminal record, Bloomberg suggested reconnecting at-risk youth with their fathers might be one solution to the disparity YMI was created to address.
“But there will be jobs if we can get these kids, get their families together, even if their fathers don’t live with their mothers or [have] never been married or maybe, even, they’re in jail,” the mayor said.
“Lot of statistics show that if the father is engaged it gives the kid some understanding that he’s heading down the wrong path,” he added, before suggesting mentors could serve the same function.
Bloomberg’s remarks on PBS struck many, especially within New York City’s African American community, as insensitive and bled over into YMI’s public perception. The Village Voice, a prominent New York City tabloid, mocked the initiative as “the white mayor’s burden,” while questioning its feasibility.
Michael Meyers, the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, was even more direct, claiming the program was paternalistic and perpetrated problematic stereotypes of young black men.
Meyers wrote for the Huffington Post shortly after the initiative launched:
I am opposed to this Young Men’s scheme because the black and Latino community is dis-served by good-intentioned paternalism — such strategies … are doomed to fail because they are trying to sell hope through charity and group blame.
YMI and Bloomberg’s controversial advocacy of it on PBS comes back into the spotlight as the former mayor is under fire after audio resurfaced from a speech he gave at the Aspen Institute in 2015. In his remarks to the mostly white gathering, Bloomberg defended “stop-and-frisk” in words that can only be described as racially charged.
“It’s controversial, but … 95 percent of your murders, and murderers, and murder victims fit one [description],” Bloomberg says on the audio. “You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all of the cops. They are male, minorities, 15-to-25. That’s true in New York, it’s true in virtually every city in America.”