Labor unions, welfare rights campaigns, and the fight for pay equity are historical struggles for justice that have impacted the shape of the wealth distribution in the last century. Each of those fights was strengthened and more effective as they became more inclusive of people of color. One of the most effective tools we have in the struggle for economic justice is alliances across race.
Racism is a critical tool used by the ruling class to divide us from each other based on our ethnic background, skin color, home language. The hierarchy that values whiteness and demonizes Blackness has been one of the most effective tools to weaken, divide and undermine our collective struggle to survive with dignity.
One of the primary expressions of racism is economic exploitation. The racial wealth divide is real. While single white women in the prime of their working years (ages 36 to 49) have a median wealth of $42,600 (still only 61 percent of their single white male counterparts), the median wealth for single black women is only $5, according to the Insight Center.
The history of race being used divide Black people from other groups is long and well documented. Racism is used by those in power to justify the violence and exploitation used to extract wealth from people of color and poor people of all colors. Lies, misinformation and stereotypes such as the myth of Black intellectual inferiority/white intellectual superiority pits those of us in the 99% against one another in ways that benefit the 1% who are committed to maintaining the gross maldistribution of wealth we are living with now. Racism serves to keep poor white people from finding common ground with poor Black people to demand changes that would improve the quality of life for all of us.
While true that poor people of all colors pay a price for the system of racism, Black, Latino, Asian and Native American people bear the burden disproportionately. For example, Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the median income for the Native Americans living there is $2,600 to $3,500 a year; unemployment averages around 83-85% and can be higher in the winter when travel is difficult or even impossible and the average life expectancy for women is fifty-two years, for men, it’s forty-eight.
While racism is used to divide us from each other based on the differences among us, we all share the common ground of the environment. The same 1% decision makers who use racism to enforce the class system are abusing their power to create environmental policies that impact all of us.
The recent horrific tornado that took lives and destroyed a community in Oklahoma points to the need for us to find the common ground that links race, the environment and class. Finding a way to build alliances across race, and class means that we can work together to address the multitude of ways that the system that divides and conquers can be vanquished. The more we get together the stronger we are.