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Bill Urman: We must summon our moral courage

Other Voices
Bill Urman

In his June 2 commentary, “It’s not just rage at racism, but also economics,” Thomas Elias provides readers with valuable insight and opens discussion to the most important issue we must directly confront if we truly are going to move beyond the racial injustice and economic inequality tearing America apart.

Mr. Elias tells us, “Long before the Floyd murder, then, there was plenty of inequality and reason for minority rage. The rage is now in the open.” He is correct. Much of the national discussion after Mr. Floyd’s murder will focus on police reforms and that is certainly appropriate especially the “qualified immunity” theory granted police which makes prosecution for even the most egregious acts difficult. However, any national discussion that does not include substantive economic reform will prove to be a monumental failure for our nation.

A literal mountain of publicly available economic data identifies the staggering disparity of income and wealth in America. Despite the often touted recovery after the Great Recession, any examination of the numbers reveal that the vast majority of Americans have not recovered and many have fallen further into debt. We live in an economic system designed to siphon wealth to the top. This is not a recent phenomenon. We are now at a crossroads. We can’t continue to falsely believe that a system that produces too few “winners” and too many “losers” is either fair of just.

Among the economic “losers,” black families face harsh realities. In, The Economic Status of Black America in 2020, the Congressional Joint Economic Committee reports that, “Black Americans are over twice as likely to live in poverty as White Americans. Black children are three times as likely to live in poverty as White children.” Thirteen million children, almost 20%, live in poverty in the United States. Yes, some of these children will climb out of poverty, but the overwhelming majority will not be able to overcome the systemic obstacles they face at birth.

The fact that three individuals, Mr. Bezos, Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett have more wealth than 50% of the entire population while the nation has millions of children in poverty is an indictment of the system that allows for such an outrageous disparity.

The Joint Economic Committee reports that Black Americans are experiencing economic pressures that have literally become generational. “During the majority of the past 50 years, Black Americans have experienced unemployment rates that, were they experienced by the entire population, would be seen as recessionary” and, “historically, the unemployment rate for Black Americans has been approximately twice the rates for Whites.”

When longterm economic distress is combined with a host of other ailments impacting black America including lower life expectancy, poorer health outcomes, extreme levels of incarceration, profiling and death by police, despair can quickly turn into rage. As Mr. Elias stated, “The rage is now in the open.”

Our nation is bitterly divided. Over 50 years ago, Robert F. Kennedy said that his biggest fear for the future related to our nation being fractured from polarization. One could reasonably argue that his fear from decades ago is being realized. One of the signs of extreme polarization is the automatic impulse to blame others for virtually every problem, even when those pointing the finger in another direction are themselves at least partially responsible for the very problem itself. This form of denial, the inability to assess problems in an open, just and unbiased manner is reaching dangerous levels. If we continue to deny and ignore the existence of systemic injustice in our economics, protesting will escalate, as it has throughout human history, into outright rebellion.

In the founding document proclaiming the beginning of the American experiment, the words “All Men Are Created Equal” established the fundamental standard our founders chose to define the new nation. Throughout our history much blood has been shed and many lives have been lost in the struggle to honor that declaration. There is no question that America can produce the riches necessary to justly offer all Americans an honorable income and financially secure lifestyle.

Again, our nation needs to summon the moral courage to honestly resume the struggle for equality. The world is watching and waiting for our response.

Bill Urman lives in Grass Valley.


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