Culture & Community

We Must Talk About Race to Fix Economic Inequality! By Heather C. McGhee, President of Demos

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Last night in Chicago, peaceful demonstrators responded to increasingly hateful and violent rhetoric from Donald Trump. But that violence isn’t coming out of nowhere, and it isn’t just inside the Trump campaign. It’s the predictable outcome of years of dog-whistle politics which use hate and fear as a political tool.

What if I told you the single most important solution to economic inequality isn’t an economic policy, it’s tackling racism?

For the past 40 years, the right-wing has peddled a winning strategy to keep Americans divided: sell the economic agenda of the 1% to working and middle-class white voters through a hidden formula:

Fear People of Color –> Hate Government –> Trust the Market and the 1%

And they’ve been selling us this agenda even as it has hurt Americans of all races whose wages have plummeted and whose economic insecurity has soared.

Will you take three minutes to watch and share We Must Talk About Race to Fix Economic Inequality, a new video I’ve made with my colleague Ian Haney López in partnership with MoveOn? Especially now, as Trump’s hate speech washes across the country, drawing out and inflaming deep-seated racism, it’s important for all of us to have the tools we need to fight back.

Donald Trump’s tactics exist in a historical context. Ronald Reagan was able to draw millions of former Democrats to the GOP with this race-baiting formula. He gave us the fictional character of the Black “welfare queen” to prey on resentment against struggling African-American families, but the real targets were government and labor unions. Why? Because these are the only public institutions powerful enough to hold corporations and the wealthy accountable.

The result? No Democrat has won the majority of white voters since Lyndon Johnson. Further, this has led to “The Inequality Era”: corporations writing their own rules, tax cuts for the wealthiest, slashed social spending, and unions on the ropes.

Politicians like Trump are using the same playbook today—whether it’s blatant attacks on immigrants or subtle coded language like “makers and takers” and “free stuff” to pit white voters against people of color and undermine our willingness to fight together for progressive solutions that work for all of us.

This scheme to use race to divide Americans who would otherwise be united in their economic goals is the best-kept secret in American politics—everyone knows it’s true, but few political leaders are willing to address it head-on. That’s why I teamed up with UC Berkeley law professor and author of Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney López, my colleague at Demos, to tell this story of how racism fuels economic inequality and what we can do about it. We’ve made this video with MoveOn that makes it easy to learn and share this call to action over social media and email.

We can’t win against economic inequality without understanding the right’s best weapon against a unified 99%. Everything progressives want—debt-free college, universal health care, campaign finance rules, climate change solutions, workers’ rights—requires a belief in government and trust in each other. We are better than this, and we won’t stand for politicians denying the humanity and worth of our fellow Americans. Our future depends on creating a multiracial progressive movement that will fight for racial and economic justice together, and we are ready.

– By Heather McGhee, President of Demos, A Progressive Think Tank And MoveOn Ally

MoveOn and Demos are starting a pledge for progressives to show that, in the age of right-wing populism, we won’t be divided anymore by race or ethnicity. If you agree that combating racism is crucial to the progressive movement, sign our pledge to make implicit dog whistles explicit and call out politicians who use them.

HeatherHighResHeather C. McGhee is President of Demos, a public policy organization working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy. Previously, as Vice President of Policy and Outreach, McGhee led in the substantive development of all of Demos’ issue areas, in addition to overseeing the advocacy and communications strategies. In 2012 she helped spearhead Demos’ strategic planning process, resulting in a new organizational structure, rebranding, and mission realignment. The process created a new communications framework and sharpened the organization’s focus on four areas of work that examine the connections between political, economic and racial inequality.

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