We know what the Republicans and Democrats think about race and poverty in America. Now it’s time to see what they actually plan to do about these persistent and potentially catastrophic societal problems.
Following the two national conventions there were some significant takeaways related to how each party views race, exemplified by the images themselves. The RNC reflected the monochromatic early days of television where non-whites were rarely seen on the TV screen while that of the DNC more closely reflects the multicultural mosaic of 21st-century America.
These demographic selfies of each party are not likely to surprise most observers given their recent political history and agendas. However, given the volatile racial tensions in America, looking like America is no longer enough. Real action is needed.
The continued problem of race in the United States is exemplified by two persistent issues: the combustible relations between blacks and police, and the vast economic inequalities that persist in America.
The troubled and all-too-often deadly encounters between blacks and the police are indicative of the racial disparities that permeate the criminal justice system — a system that is a result of inequities in the formulation and administration of public policies, of which the police are the front-line public servants charged with carrying out.
A highly conspicuous example of this is the nation’s response to the crack epidemic of the 1980s to the 2000s and that to the current heroin epidemic. The “War on Drugs,” as the nation’s response to the crack epidemic was referred, was primarily waged in inner-city black and Hispanic communities, criminalized drug addiction and disproportionately led to the incarceration of members of these communities, although they were no more likely to be involved with drugs than were their white counterparts.
Conversely under the current heroin epidemic, which is overwhelmingly affecting suburban and rural white communities, the public policy response has been a more sympathetic and humane approach aligned with the disease-model of addiction and emphasizing treatment in lieu of incarceration.
Even the most conservative observer should recognize the devastating effects these failed policies have left in their wake in urban communities of color and the need to remediate the damage.
What is needed is a Marshall Plan — such as that which helped rebuild Europe after World War II — in order to revitalize the social fabric, institutional infrastructure and lives of those living in inner-city, urban America. While the Second Chance Act passed by Congress in 2007 is a positive step in this regard, the leaders of both political parties would be wise to double-down on efforts to help effectively reintegrate those returning to our communities after having served time in our nation’s correctional institutions and in theory paid their debt to society.
As we all know, a felony drug offense virtually relegates a person unemployable in the mainstream economy and can make them ineligible for various public benefits and rights ranging from a driver’s license, public housing assistance and college financial aid, to the right to vote in some states.
This also has deleterious social and economic effects on the family and the community. The negative effects of the absence of a parent from the life of a child, irrespective of the cause, has been well established in the research literature on child-development. The incarceration of a parent, regardless of the race/ethnicity, deprives the child of the emotional and financial support of that parent, and perpetuates single-parent and kinship care households, which are overwhelmingly headed by females, given the predominantly male prison population.
This brings into sharp relief the significance of the economic inequality that permeates much of inner-city as well as rural America. In fact, an astonishing 80 percent of all families headed by a single-female live in poverty. This is further exacerbated by the wage gap between women and men, where women earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
These conditions coalesce to further destabilize the communities that have been disproportionately and negatively affected by our nation’s failed “War of Drugs.” And while some aspects of our nation’s approach to the current drug scourge has changed, what has not changed — at least not in any real tangible way — is the manner in which inner-city neighborhoods are policed.
These are the challenges that we as a nation need the next president of the United States to be capable of providing the leadership to address. It is incumbent on both of our political parties to make racial and economic policy a priority, while it is equally imperative that the American public choose wisely in selecting our next president.
Nothing less than our very democracy is at stake.