Racial Justice

The best way to advance policies to raise living standards for working people is for diverse groups to recognize that they share more in common than not. Since class identity has often been racialized, one of the greatest challenges to rebuilding the economic power of the working class lies in establishing multiracial solidarity on a national scale. It is important to remember that the same special interest groups that fund the opposition to policies such as the minimum wage and paid sick leave, and that support efforts to undermine collective bargaining power, are often the same ones aligned with support of voter suppression tactics that limit voting among people of color, low-income individuals, students, seniors, and people with disabilities. The best way to advance the needed economic policies is for diverse groups to recognize that they share more in common than not and work together to achieve their overlapping and intersecting agendas. Getting to that point requires honesty and a collective reckoning about race, white privilege, and institutional racism, with respect to the costs and benefits to each of us.

Advancing policies that address persistent racial disparities while also tackling class inequality will require abandoning the zero-sum mindset that says one group’s set of issues is totally distinct from and in direct competition with another’s. Overcoming this trap begins with defining a broader view of how all the issues are related. It will take a considerable amount of ongoing effort to shift the dominant narrative from one that divides the masses to one that creates a new world of possibilities that benefits all of us.

Publications

First In Line: Why the District Must Take a Reparative Approach to Recreational Cannabis Policy for Black and Brown Communities

This new Council Period, DC policymakers can continue advancements in racial equity (as envisioned in the Racial Equity Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2020) and help build a just economic recovery with recreational cannabis policy. DC’s Black and brown communities are still enduring the harmful effects of past policies that penalized cannabis, and nationally, about 80 percent of people incarcerated for a federal drug offense are Black or Latino. Legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis in a reparative way would allow these communities to achieve justice and build wealth. While the recreational sale of cannabis is still illegal in DC, the office of the DC Attorney General concluded that The District can proceed with legislative hearings on regulating the sale of recreational cannabis despite ongoing congressional interference. The new Democratic-led Senate could also help usher in legislative changes that affirm DC’s right to self-determination in setting recreational cannabis regulation.

Tax Policy: A Powerful Tool to Advance Racial Equity in New Mexico

In order for every child in New Mexico to reach their full potential, our policymakers need to ensure that the policies in place now and in the future are antiracist. In other words, policies need to improve racial and ethnic equity, not cement current inequities in place. Tax policy is a powerful tool that can help advance racial justice because it outlines who pays their fair share of taxes, who doesn’t, and who benefits most from the way the system is structured.

State of Working West Virginia 2020: The State of Racial Inequality

In 1967, Black Americans marched, protested, and even rioted as decades of systemic racism and oppression came to a head. In response, President Lyndon Johnson established the Kerner Commission, which spent the next year researching, holding hearings, and visiting communities to examine racial inequity in the country. In 1968, the Commission issued its report, with one over-arching conclusion: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal… Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood — but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

Fifty years later, Americans are again marching in protest of systemic inequities that continue to plague our society.

This report, the thirteenth edition of the State of Working West Virginia, comes at a time when national attention has once again been drawn to the issue of racism and racial inequality. It is also the 10-year anniversary of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy’s report “Legacy of Inequality,” which chronicled the experiences and history of Black West Virginians, and analyzed the data showing the inequities that have always been and continue to be central to that experience.

And while there has been progress, the inequities that existed in 2010 — and have existed throughout the nation’s history — still persist in 2020, and West Virginia is not immune to them. Even before the pandemic and subsequent economic collapse, which has disproportionately hurt the Black community, Black West Virginians were almost twice as likely to be living in poverty. Black households have only 70 percent of the income of white households. Black men and women face higher unemployment rates and lower wages. Disparities persist in education, wages, health, and throughout the criminal legal system.

Both the annual State of Working West Virginia reports and the Legacy of Inequality report are typically collaborative efforts, with different organizations and advocates making contributions each year. This year, the pandemic presented challenges to bringing people together to work on a single report, which is why this report is organized a bit differently. While it still includes the usual data analysis section, in lieu of traditional policy recommendations as we have historically provided, this report includes a series of essays from advocates for and practitioners of racial justice in West Virginia, who will speak in their own voices to share their stories, experiences, and policy ideas for addressing racial inequality.

Fifty years ago, the Kerner Commission came to the conclusion that systemic racism was barring Black Americans from access to equal opportunity nationwide. 10 years ago, the Legacy of Inequality report showed that systemic racism had led to persistent racial inequality here in West Virginia. And now, this report displays that the effects of systemic racism continue to harm our Black communities today.