What does the Reagan administration really think about race? When you point out that only a handful of blacks have been named to the administration -- often the only links blacks have to higherups -- you are told to wait and see. When you point out that the budget slashes are hurting the poor and disadvantaged disproportionately, you are told of social safety nets, that the motivation is economic, not racial.
Vice President George Bush goes to Howard University and tries to reassure blacks that the Reagan Administration has their best wishes at heart. In other words, don't pay attention to what you see us doing, just listen to what we say.
But what is the Reagan administration delivering to blacks?What is the reality behind the rhetoric?
A good test of this is to look at the money allocated for youth programs, for a budget is a statement of priorities, and what the administration is doing with youth discretionary grants in the Department of Labor seems to show that beneath the rhetoric of everybody sharing scarcity equally is the pain of a highly arbitrary cutting of funds for youth projects that follows racial lines.
Under the previous administration, $247 million was given to some 225 youth projects around the country to fund programs that ranged from training to help for single teen parents to leadership development to youth agricultural entrepreneurship and apprenticeship programs. Twelve percent, or $30.5 million, was targeted to minority groups.
Ray Donovan's Labor Department has cut his percentage in half -- six percent of the total now goes to minorities under the current Reagan administration allocations. By making youth minorities bear nearly 70 percent of the programs that are being reduced or elimiated, the administration is quietly putting the burden of the reduction on minority-related youth activities.
This means that a contract signed by the Carter Administration giving the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a black women's service group, $99,000 for a pilot project to help train junior-high-school-age pregnant teens and get them back in school will not be honored by the current administration.
In cutting off the funds of the Youth Employment Program, administered by the A. Philip Randolph Educational Fund, the administration axed a project that in two years had placed some 2,500 young blacks into jobs in the private sector, which is precisely what the Reagan administration has set forth as an avowed goal.
Is there a racial message here?
Sigma Theta President Mona H. Bailey: "The cancellation of contracts for this kind of projects, plus the budget cuts that are going to impact on minorities, elderly, college students, indicates that there is not the sensitivity to the needs of blacks and other minorities.
A. Philip Randolph president Norman Hill: "This, one would think, is precisely the kind of approach the Reagan administration should be encouraging if it is honestly committed to including blacks in the private sector."
In recent days, the tension between blacks and the Labor Department has focused on Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH and its $7.5 million suit charging that Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan had slanndered him and his organization when Assistant Secretary Albert Angrisani implied that a recent $2 million grant to PUSH was a "political payback" and that the organization had misused almost half a million dollars awarded to it in a past contract. The grant is among those canceled.
"The problem with some of these grants is that they were never in existence," said Roberts Jones, administrator of the Labor Department's management assistance office. But Bailey said her organization already had begun making preparations based on the department's letter of transmittal.
Jones said the department has tried to save programs directed at helping people, in some instances, and some research grants that were in final stages of completion. Bailey insists that her program addresses an urgent "people" issue.
"This problem is going to grow more severe without any attention being paid to it," she said.
Meanwhile, the Black Music Association's summer internship program to bring black children to work in the music industry has been scuttled, as has a training program for the Watts area, a program to increase the number of blacks in apprenticeship jobs. By contrast, a predominantely white social research group, MDRC, Inc., has been selected by the Labor Department as the recipient of more dollars in grants than all the minority contractors combined.
The effect of such cuts not only intensifies racial tension but, in the long run, tends to cut the guts out of the potential and existing leadership in the black community. For much of the new black leadership is coming from these projects.
So while the administration continues with its rhetoric, the reality is another story. And to people like Mona H. Bailey and Norman Hill that isn't exactly colorblind.