BUSINESS EXCHANGE by William Reed
If we talk about what ails us, that will make it better. When will black Americans stop getting short shrift? After the Supreme Court’s invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) described it as “a central pillar of the civil rights laws that helped bring America’s ideals closer to reality for all.” Leahy said he “feared the ruling would jeopardize the rights of racial minorities.”
A familiar activist chant of activists is “Black life is valued less than white life.” And that has gained currency in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. Now, the national conversation is about “race in America.” What we really need across America is “a conversation on race” that helps blacks to rearrange some priorities.
As President Barack Obama said after the Zimmerman verdict, “We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our communities. What Americans need are a series of race dialogues toward garnering ongoing commitments to combat prejudice and strengthening understanding among all.”
Republican Sen. John McCain should be recognized as an ally for saying America has “a long way to go” before racial disparities end. The senior senator from Arizona said that Obama’s impromptu speech about being a black in America, “…proved there needs to be more conversation about the issue of race. We cannot become complacent when we still have a dramatic disparity in black youth unemployment.”
It wouldn’t be as ironic as some blacks think that Republicans might follow McCain’s lead to bring about a conversation on race in America. Race and racism are the most challenging issues confronting America. Yet, polite society refuses to discuss it. Racial inequality in the United State underlies a wide range of societal issues that affect different groups disproportionately. The total wealth gap between white and African American families increased from $85,000 in 1984 to $236,500 in 2009. The biggest drivers of the racial wealth gap are homeownership; household income; employment; inheritance; financial support from families or friends; and pre-existing family wealth. Whites have 22 times more wealth than blacks.
The story of race in America has been at the center of some of our greatest national traumas, as well as serving as the yardstick by which progress toward a more equal and fair society is measured. It’s apparent both from the varied reactions to Obama’s presidency and events beyond it, that race still serves as a critical stumbling block in American society.
Times of challenge provide the opportunity to create change. There has never been a better time to re-examine and correct racial inequalities in American society. Instead of allowing the taboo on the subject to continue, the nation needs to start an honest discussion about race. We all need to pay more attention to the growing wealth inequality and expanding racial wealth. There needs to be some systematic, organizational commitment to making policy that helps blacks to gain grants, and investment in our communities and businesses. Let no one tell you “all is equal” with demonstrated disparities in health care, education, housing and criminal justice continuing.
Don’t let the “talking heads” that regularly represent the country’s wealth interest have you believe “all things are equal.” White Americans have continued to enjoy material advantages based on past racially exclusionary practices and current institutionalized discrimination. However, this long history of racism has created social costs in terms of social instability and loss of economic productivity. African Americans bear costs of low self-esteem, high unemployment, low socioeconomic status, and limited opportunities.
As we march from one unemployment line to another, don’t let American politicians and media weasel out on this one. A dialogue on the role race currently plays in the economy from the workplace to the criminal justice system is needed. Politicians should be encouraged to expedite a series of conversations on race across the country.
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through BaileyGroup.org/.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 14 print edition.