One of the many things that progressives and the entire Democratic Party are struggling with is the prioritization of issues and how they should be addressed. Positioned on one side are issues that impact “real, everyday Americans” and on the other side are the social issues that impact certain marginalized groups.
The idea here (or as many would have us believe) is that in order to beat Republicans and stop losing elections, the party must choose between focusing on jobs and the economy or eliminating racial and social injustice. To boot, accusations of playing identity politics gets thrown around so much that hardly anyone, including the people who supposedly practice it, really understand exactly what it means.
There is an interesting comparison to be made about how people of color specifically get painted with the identity politics brush as if we are the only ones who possess and advocate for political positions from our social identities. After all, Donald Trump and his appeal to internalized white superiority among millions of Americans is nothing if not the very essence of a certain kind of identity politics. But since whiteness posits that only black and brown people play the “race card” it is we who are often blamed for bringing up issues that supposedly divide the party.
Frankly, these distinctions are a waste of time and lack an intersectional analysis. After all, economic opportunity is directly related to race and certainly class. And it is we black and brown people who are always playing catch up—even when the economy bounces back from economic downturns. Take the recent recession for instance. While whites (especially wealthier ones) are, on average, recovering well from the recession, black and brown people are not.
Most Americans are still struggling to recover wealth lost during the worst recession in modern history, but those on the higher end of the economic spectrum are rebounding much faster, according to new government data.
The rising inequality is most pronounced along racial lines.
White households, especially wealthier whites, have recovered well. Black and Hispanic households are taking far longer to recover, however, fueling a growing chasm between those with financial means and those without.
Call it identity politics if you wish but the numbers don’t lie. Black families have always been far behind white families in terms of median household assets. In 2016, The Nation said that black families would need 228 years to accumulate the same wealth as white families. More recently, in September, Forbes calculated that the net wealth of black and Latino families could reach zero by 2053.
To see this crisis (and it is a crisis if we understand this to mean that by most estimates there is nothing the average black family can do because they will never catch up to white families in terms of wealth) and assume it can be mitigated by purely focusing on jobs is ludicrous.
This is a direct result of structural racism, white privilege and the generational wealth whites have acquired—very often at the expense of blacks and other people of color. It is not about blacks working harder or being somehow pathological or deficient. It’s tied to a hideous, long history of enslavement, Jim Crow, mass incarceration and anything else related to white supremacy that we can to throw into the mix.
The median U.S. household held $97,300 in assets in 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances. That figure is well below the $139,700 in assets the median household held in 2007, just before the recession began.
The median white household has $171,000 in assets, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the Fed data. That’s 10-times larger than the $17,100 in wealth held by the median black household and eight times more than the $20,600 in wealth owned by the median Hispanic household.
The recession, in short, wiped out decades of slow but steady gains among minority households who now hold assets similar in size to the median household in the late 1990s.
“We’re talking about being set back 20 years or more for Hispanic and black families,” said Rakesh Kochhar, Pew’s associate director of research.
And this is not limited to wealthy whites. This is a gap that spans income levels. Even low-income whites have more wealth than the average black family.
Among low-income households, the median white family holds three times the wealth of the median Hispanic family and more than four times the wealth of the median black family.
Middle-income whites have four times the wealth of black families in the same bracket and more than three times the median wealth of middle-income Hispanic families. […]
Just 45 percent of black households owned their own homes, Russell’s analysis showed, compared with 72.5 percent of non-Hispanic white households. Home ownership rates among blacks have fallen farther than rates among non-Hispanic whites. And homes owned by African-Americans declined in value almost twice as much as homes owned by whites.
This is where we are in 2017. More proof that all of our “anyone can be anything” and post-racial attitudes are really myth. At the rate of 228 years of catch-up, black families who are not caught in this cycle are most certainly exceptions to the rule—not the rule itself.
So can progressives and the Democratic Party finally figure themselves out and not do that thing where we spin in circles trying to figure out which things between economics and social issues are more important? If we don’t figure out how to address both and quickly, some of us have to wait almost two and half centuries more to see some progress.
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