Populism Without The Race Factor Is A Mistake

Many have been tricked into ignoring racial injustice that is still alive and thriving.
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Darren Ornitz / Reuters

On Saturday, we concluded our four-day National Action Network (NAN) annual convention in New York City. It was our largest turnout with over 7,000 delegates from all across the country and from diverse backgrounds. It featured such notables as former Attorney General Eric Holder, Spike Lee, Harry Belafonte, Van Jones, Gov. Cuomo and others, as well as video appearances by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders addressing the delegates. The overriding concern from those gathered at NAN’s conference was that this whole cry that progressives and the left go for economic popular issues in order to get the Trump voter and leave alone identity politics means that blacks and latinos will be taken for granted. It means that politicos will be going for voters that may not support ending racial disparities, or supporting criminal justice reform and police reform. We must fight for economic equality, but let’s be clear: we must also understand that while there are those that have been exploited on Main St. by Wall St., there are also those that have been discriminated on Martin Luther King Blvd. ― sometimes by people in both categories.

Today, we find that inequality has permeated many aspects of society. While working class whites must be organized around their interests, they must also understand the need for affirmative action, protection of voting rights and the need to remedy race-based social policies. Many have been tricked into ignoring racial injustice that is still alive and thriving. If we don’t have this as part of the outreach to voters who may or may not be converted at the expense of those who have been loyal but have had their quest largely unfulfilled, we will be doing the latter group a disservice. It is true that the top 1% is disproportionately benefitting and stands to benefit more if Trump’s tax plan goes into effect, but let’s not forget that blacks are doubly unemployed because of race. They face housing discrimination, employment discrimination, a discriminatory criminal justice system and more. Until everyone addresses these disparities, we cannot move in unison to the next level.

“[Working class whites] must also understand the need for affirmative action... and the need to remedy race-based social policies.”

Throughout NAN’s 26 years of work, we’ve had to deal with the inflexibility of those on the right -– and sometimes the racial insensitivity (and in some cases arrogance) of those on the left thinking that they can speak for us better than ourselves. At times, they even believe that they can sacrifice us in the name of populism; reaching out to those that disagree and taking for granted those that have carried the load.

Black women were Hillary Clinton’s most reliable vote during the 2016 election, supporting her by some 94%. On the flipside, about 53% of white women voted for Trump despite the sexual assault allegations and some of his own misogynistic statements revealed during the campaign cycle. We must go and explain to those white women how Trump already betrayed their interests but also keep in mind that black women have a race gap that makes their position even worse. Black women still earn just 65 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, according to the Pew Research Center. This glaring inequality must always be included in the discussion or else we become like those that we are fighting –- picking and choosing who will be treated fairly.

As we leave NAN’s annual convention determined to seek social justice, protect voting rights, push for criminal justice reform, preserve health care and much more, we do it while keeping in mind that we should beware of those that have been our friend but prefer seducing our enemies rather than making sure our issues and concerns are included in the agenda. It is important to address economic disparity but to ignore racial disparity is not only an insult to those that have suffered from both, but it is also a grave injustice that must be rectified if we are sincere about progressing forward.

Populism without the race factor is a mistake; a mistake we cannot afford to make.

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