Earlier this month, Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson unveiled a plan called the “RLJ Rule,” which he says can help get African-Americans back to work again. The rule would require Fortune 1000 companies to interview at least two black candidates before making a senior-level hire, and consult two black-owned businesses before making contracting decisions.
But could the “RLJ Rule” actually work in making a significant positive impact on the black unemployment crisis? The rule is patterned similar to the NFL “Rooney Rule” created in 2003 by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, which requires every NFL company to interview at least one person of color when making head coach and front-office executive hiring decisions. Since implemented, there have been multiple black head coaches and senior level hires in NFL franchises, and five black head coaches competing in the Superbowl, and two — Tony Dungy and the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin — who’ve won championships.
But working to win a trophy and getting jobless people back to working isn’t the same ballgame. Johnson is positioning himself as Rooney — and says he’s successfully used the rule in his own businesses — but there are higher stakes here given we’re talking about people’s lives, not rings and stats.
One thing Johnson is correct about is that President Obama’s solutions for unemployment — though none directly targeted at African Americans — aren’t working. And his American Jobs Act, which failed a Senate vote, is in danger of missing the mark on black hiring if it could ever pass. Tax cuts might provide some stimulation for businesses to hire new workers, but don’t necessarily motivate them to hire people outside of their social circles and comfort zones — a “perpetuation of privilege and disadvantage,” as Johnson put it to Blackvoices.com.