President Barack Obama’s “Buffet Rule,” a proposal to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, comes at an urgent moment in history. The unemployment and poverty rates in the U.S. have reached disturbingly high levels, and we cannot afford to distract ourselves.
However, Obama’s continued silence on race in the economy limits our understanding of the recession and its uneven impact. The weak economy has taken a toll on most U.S. households, but the disproportionate number of black and Latino families living in poverty continues to climb — with painful results.
Nearly 27 percent of black and Latino populations in the U.S. live in poverty, an increase of 1.6 and 1.3 percent from 2009 to 2010, respectively, according to Color Lines magazine.
While white families struggle with their own difficulties in an unforgiving economy, black and Latino families suffocate at the bottom of the U.S. class system. The black unemployment rate is twice the national percentage, and a full 50 percent of children from immigrant families go without nutritious, adequate food.
As the most racially diverse cabinet, the Obama administration could be instrumental in facilitating a nationwide discussion on the significance of racism in U.S. economic and social institutions. The president could orchestrate a summit on race and invite organizations and internal groups like the Congressional Black Caucus who actively confront these issues each day. Still, this hasn’t happened.
We live in a time when crucial public spaces, such as schools and free health clinics, are put on the chopping block to make room for more “balanced” budgets.
This means communities already discriminated against will lose the few resources they fought hard to earn. This perpetuates poverty and inequalities for people historically denied access to key social services.
Race should not be trivialized or reduced to the current recession only. Though not all racial groups are impoverished, and we strive not to stereotype, institutionalized racism has not gone away. In fact, it cannot be uncoupled from socioeconomic placement; we must include it. Race is central to the societal shaping of the U.S. political economy.
If Obama consistently leaves race out of eloquent speeches like those referencing the untaxed income, he risks forsaking the well-being of millions of Americans to satiate the rules of Washington politics. Obama talks about a “jobs crisis,” but we have a “race crisis,” as well.
Chris Zivalich is a senior journalism major. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org