The unrelenting protests, the supportive statements from white leaders nationwide, and the early momentum behind policing policy changes are all indications that this might be a turning point in our nation’s battle against racism. Will we seize this opportunity or will we lose momentum, showing once again that America can be “a 10-day nation” that moves on too easily to the next crisis, as Martin Luther King Jr. warned a fellow civil-rights activist in 1963?
My father, Emmett Rice, and I had hundreds of conversations about race and racism from the time I was a boy until a few weeks before he died, in 2011, at 91 years old. He was the most intellectually curious person I have ever known. He grew up in South Carolina in the Jim Crow era of the 1920s and ’30s. Despite losing his father when he was only 7, he graduated from college, served in World War II with the Tuskegee Airmen, earned a doctorate in economics, and became one of the seven governors of the Federal Reserve Board in the 1980s. Racism still chased him and burdened him every day of his life. So he armed me with the knowledge he’d amassed, in hopes I could do even more.
Thirty years ago, my dad gave me his playbook to put racism to rest, and it inspired me to dedicate my career to executing his vision. Dad’s playbook included one insight that all Americans should hear, at least those who hope that when it comes to addressing racism, we can do better. As an economist, he told me that we have to “increase the cost of racist behavior.” Doing so, he said, would create the conditions for black people to harness the economic power essential to changing the narrative in white America’s mind about race.