Racism & Economic Justice

Jesse Meyerson and Mychal Denzel Smith have an excellent piece at The Nation on the intersectionality between combating racism in America and economic justice. It offers a number of prescriptions for fighting racism via economic programs which would help Black Americans.

The key for me is the acknowledgement of this intersectionality of racism and economic inequality. We can’t solve for one in the absence of the other. White left activists, myself included, have historically been quite guilty of treating economic injustice as the formative issue in solving for other injustices. But economic inequality in America cannot be discussed in the absence of the acknowledgement of racism and centuries of white supremacy.

The lines from Rage Against the Machine’s “Ashes in the Fall” have always struck me as a pretty concise explanation of the marriage of racism, white supremacy and economic inequality:

Ain’t it funny how the factory doors close
Round the time that the school doors close
Round the time that a hundred thousand jail cells
Open up to greet you like the reaper

The question which Smith and Meyerson raise, really, is how much of the above is the consequence of historic racist economic and political policy choices. The short answer: pretty much all of it.

To solve for racial and economic inequality, Smith and Meyerson put forward a number of concrete ideas. The pursuit of full employment, including guaranteed employment and a minimum basic income, would reduce poverty and create the opportunity for increased political and economic power in racially marginalized communities. This would create hope, economic security and stability. They also propose an overhaul to the tax code and the creation of baby bonds, both policies which seek to increase wealth in the black community and would reduce inequality.

The piece is building around what demands for the anti-racism organizing taking place in Ferguson and with #BlackLivesMatter can be concretely asking for (beyond the obvious and sadly necessary policy shift of American police to stop murdering young Black Americans). Having concrete demands is certainly useful, but having large demands that adequately address the scale of our problems is even more useful. The perspective Meyerson and Smith bring allows for the wide and far enough view to put forward big ideas.

This is not to say that the solutions are exhaustive or curative. But they’re a start.

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