In an ideal world, people could say that they support social equality and that would be enough. That is not the reality. Social progress appears simple in theory, but there are economic and political policies that are necessary to actually achieve social equality. It is often hard to distinguish between social and economic policies, as economic policies have direct consequences on social equality in the U.S.
The Necessity of Economic Commitment
Education inequality is an incredibly vast problem in the United States. One attempt at tackling inequality in education was the busing policy that was born from desegregation efforts. Desegregation busing involved sending children from low-income, majority African American neighborhoods to more affluent neighborhoods in order to provide equal education opportunities. Many studies, such as one conducted by Berkeley economist Rucker Johnson, found that “integration helped black students academically and into adulthood.”
The problem is that busing practices did not address the root problem: that the majority of African American neighborhoods do not receive the same opportunities as more affluent neighborhoods. Busing acted as a band-aid on segregation. A true attempt at fighting the problem of education inequality would be to invest in these underprivileged neighborhoods and to fund their schools as well as schools in more affluent areas. In this instance, social progressiveness calls on economic commitment to tackle problems. Simply stating that segregation and education inequality are problematic does not end them.
Compounding Privilege and Cumulative Disadvantage
Privilege works in a compounding manner. Those who have benefited from white privilege have used these benefits to benefit even more. The Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings found that “In the average U.S. metropolitan area, homes in neighborhoods where the share of the population is 50 percent Black are valued at roughly half the price as homes in neighborhoods with no Black residents.” This difference in housing valuations has decreased over time, but the consequences of it have not. White Americans have continued to benefit from higher housing valuations because of their skin color. The wealth and opportunity that has come from centuries of white supremacist policy, at the expense of Black Americans, has allowed for white Americans to, on average, have a much better economic standing. Simple statements of support for equality do not address problems like these. How are Black Americans supposed to feel equal in a society that systemically values them less?
Reparations are a concept that those who oppose an economic commitment to progressiveness are afraid of. The Merriam-Webster dictionary explains reparations as “the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury,” but reparations for the long-term effects of racial discrimination are so much more complex than that. Just supporting the equality of racial minorities within the law does not create an equal playing field. When white people have benefited from centuries of government-mandated white supremacy, it is necessary to provide Black people with a means to catch up.
More Examples of The Necessity of Economic Commitment
The necessity of an economic commitment from those who believe in social, specifically racial, progress can be seen in many other examples of the systemic oppression of Black Americans.
Police brutality, which disproportionately affects Black Americans, is another issue that can be fixed with economic policy. Advocating for proper training for police would help decrease police brutality by teaching officers to deescalate without using lethal force.
Overpolicing, which is detrimental to low-income communities, could be fixed with changes in economic policy. Defunding the police would allow for more social programs that would address the problems that low-income communities face, rather than punishing them for their situation.
The U.S. prison and justice system, which has led to the mass incarceration of Black and Latino men, could be reworked to create a system that works to help people, rather than punish them. Rehabilitative prisons would help those who have been incarcerated re-enter society, while mass incarceration through a system that only aims to punish creates an endless cycle.
There are countless other examples of the necessity of a commitment to economic progress; these are just a few.
The consequences of systematic attempts at attacking Black communities are evident in the status of Black Americans in comparison to their white counterparts. The Pew Research Center found that “blacks on average are at least twice as likely as whites to be poor or to be unemployed. Households headed by a black person earn on average little more than half of what the average white household earns. And in terms of their median net worth, white households are about 13 times as wealthy as black households — a gap that has grown wider since the Great Recession.” When white households are, on average, 13 times as wealthy as Black households, how are Black people supposed to close the wealth gap with “hard work” alone? Especially when the cards are still stacked against them through modern forms of systematic oppression?
Understanding Other Forms of Social Progress
Racial equality is not the only form of social progress that requires economic commitment. For those who call for the acceptance of transgender individuals, it is important to understand the trans experience. Being born as a transgender person places you behind the rest of the world from the beginning. Business Insider finds that being transgender in America can cost up to $100,000, even when covered by health insurance. Truly tackling the problems that transgender people face in the United States requires an acknowledgment of, and game plan for approaching, the cost associated with being transgender. Trans Americans also have high rates of suicide. According to hrc.org, “More than half of transgender male teens who participated in the survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide. Among non-binary youth, 41.8 percent of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.” Funding transitions would help trans people fight gender dysphoria, which would decrease suicide rates.
Social progress calls for economic policy changes. Progress in the social and economic sphere is not distinguishable.