It seems like half the country is running for president in 2016, but thus far neither the campaign nor the news coverage has been terribly edifying. This is doubly frustrating for me as an advocate for communities of color. Race and diversity have been all over the news lately -- mostly in regard to law enforcement -- and there have been a few deeply thoughtful, enlightening pieces written, but almost none of that thought and enlightenment have made it into the presidential dialogue so far.
In an era in which the hypothetical "typical voter" in many states is likely to be a person of color, the candidates and the media need to do better. The racial wealth gap these days looks more like a canyon, and it's not getting any better, yet it's been invisible in the presidential debate. At the risk of beating my head against the proverbial wall, here are some questions I'd like the candidates to answer and the media to pursue:
1. Do you think it's acceptable that for every dollar a white family has, the median Latino family has around seven cents and the median black family has less than six cents? If not, what concrete actions will you take to reduce the racial wealth gap?
2. America loves rags-to-riches stories, but economic mobility in this country is pretty terrible. If you're born into a poor family you're likely to stay poor, and if you're born rich chances are you'll stay rich. What specifically will you do to change this?
3. The Obama administration has worked to address police mistreatment of communities of color, but it's just a start. And officials generally haven't made the connection between poverty and wealth disparities on one hand and our dysfunctional and discriminatory criminal justice system on the other. What actions will you take to ensure that U.S. law enforcement treats all Americans fairly? And how will you address the connections between race, poverty and mass incarceration?
4. America has a sort of eco-apartheid, with the poor often living in the most polluted communities. How will you address this and reduce both poverty and pollution? Can efforts to combat climate change and convert to clean energy produce good jobs in struggling communities nationwide, as is already starting to happen in California?
5. What actions are you willing to take that Wall Street opposes? How will you make sure that banks truly serve communities rather than exploiting them? Are you willing to make "too big to fail" a thing of the past?
6. The Affordable Care Act has brought health coverage to millions who didn't have it, but gaps remain. How will you expand coverage to the millions who still lack it? How will you ensure that our communities utilize these new benefits and receive care that is socially and culturally appropriate? And if, as it could, the Supreme Court takes away the subsidies that make coverage affordable for millions, what will you do to repair the damage?
7. Many of us think our democracy is in danger. What will you do to empower ordinary Americans, including small, individual contributors, in the face of big money influence in politics since Citizens United? What will you do to make sure that underrepresented groups like limited English speakers and the formerly incarcerated can fully participate in our democracy?
8. In today's economy, broadband service is as much a necessity as electricity and running water, but low-income communities and communities of color continue to have disproportionately low access to affordable broadband. How will you ensure that everyone in the United States has access to affordable broadband service?
We live in an era in which Americans feel increasingly detached from their government and distrustful of elected leaders. That's not helped by candidates who duck tough questions and shy away from concrete proposals, or by media coverage that focuses more on whether a candidate has a boat or left a tip at Chipotle than on what they'll do to ensure real economic opportunity for all.
The campaign is young. Plenty of time remains for a thoughtful, truly informative dialogue. Real answers to the questions above would be a start.