Sandy Darity: How Barack Obama failed black Americans
But the landscape has shifted in the past two years, in part because of the growing political power of black and Latino voters. This change was illustrated most vividly in the 2018 midterms. “We knew that there were going to be some candidates that would think about [the racial wealth gap] and, depending on their beliefs or personal backgrounds, they may include race as part of their overall economic message,” says Akunna Cook, the founding executive director of the Black Economic Alliance, a political action committee that funds candidates who pledge to make narrowing the racial wealth gap part of their platform. But economic justice was brought “to the forefront.”
In what Cook describes as a surprise even to her group, a large cohort of Democrats in 2018 made the racial wealth gap part of their message, including Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum in the Georgia and Florida gubernatorial races, Beto O’Rourke and Mike Espy in the Texas and Mississippi Senate races, and Antonio Delgado, Lauren Underwood, and Joe Cunningham in their House races. With record-breaking black turnout in 2018, the election, in part, showed that platforms emphasizing the racial wealth gap could motivate voters.
That’s perhaps especially true in red states—including Georgia and Mississippi—where Democrats’ better-than-usual performances were based on a new strategy of mobilizing black voters and unlikely voters. Those successes have given the Democratic presidential nominee new pathways to 270 electors in 2020. “That opened a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that we have a lot of states and districts that have been ignored for a long time, and the black vote could be impactful,” Cook told me.
A strategy that’s centered on economic and racial justice and aimed at disengaged voters could pay even more dividends in a presidential primary than a general election. In the Democratic primary, the electorate is blacker and more progressive than the broader electorate, and is heavily focused in the South.
The genuine movement in this policy area won't automatically translate to a reduction of the wealth gap. Proposed policies and campaign promises are not the same as actual governing, and the Democratic nominee will need to first beat Donald Trump and then persuade Congress to execute their agenda—difficult tasks, to say the least. There’s also an alternative path the Democratic Party could still take: targeting older white swing voters without taking up racial justice as a serious mandate.
Economists and politicians still have plenty of arguing left to do about which policies would be most efficient at boosting minority wealth (and, among some, arguments about whether it’s even the government’s business). There will always be opportunities for discrimination and adverse implementation of universal policies, too. And, as of yet, nothing en vogue targets the sin of white supremacy head on.
But, as Warren said in a 2015 address, there is plenty of agitation, among voters and politicians alike, for “less talk and more action about reducing unemployment, ending wage stagnation, and closing the income gap between white and nonwhite workers.” After 400 years of heading in the wrong direction, any movement the other way would be big news.
*This article originally misstated the median wealth of black families. We regret the error.