The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 seems to have uncorked a virulent racism among folks who are hatefully resentful of the fact that an African American man now leads our nation. The steady drumbeat of negative commentary is so overwhelming that many African Americans are cowed and cautioned into not even asserting our issues, so artfully poised to drown out dissent that some liberals have decided to hold their powder until after the election for fear of hurting our president. A Saturday Washington Post article penned by bitter blasts from the past shamefully compared President Obama to Richard Nixon because of his "partisanship" describing him in a manner devoid of context, as "devisive", while it to a Canadian to remind us that President Obama is, indeed, the President of the United States, not "dude", or a "hottie", or a "Marxist" or a "socialist" as so many have described him. The fact is that if Barack Obama walked on water somebody would say he couldn't swim (remember the Jackson campaign in 1984), and Republicans repeatedly rebuffed the olive branch he offered in the early days of his administration when he thought more of human nature than it was capable of in offering the possibility of bipartisanship.
Oh, well. I'm writing before Tuesday's election, uncertain about the outcome. All the polls and the pundits say it will be a Republican rout. But polls and pundits have been wrong before and for all the negative nattering of nihilistic nabobs, there is the possibility that the least and the left out, though wanting more than they've gotten from the Obama administration, understand that turning the clock back is not an acceptable option. Nobody should count their chickens until the last vote clears, and even when there is a clearing, there is much work to be done as our nation embraces an uncertain economic recovery, and looks for ways to bounce back. So far our recovery has been a jobless recovery, which is shameful. Those who would simply cut taxes to balance budgets are tone deaf about the material conditions in which many Americans live.
I am especially concerned about the economic inequality faced by African Americans and the fact that our nation seems tone deaf to it. Because President Obama happens to be African American, the mention of racial economic inequality seems to be a forbidden subject. Indeed, the invocation of race is so likely to provoke unremitting hostility that many have looked for "race neutral" remedies to solve a set of issues that clearly have race at their base. In other words, a rising tide won't lift every boat. Some boats need holes repaired, new oars, or a new motor. Some communities are woefully lagging in the midst of our so-called economic recovery.
Consider these facts:
1. According to the September 18 report on income and poverty, the poverty rate for African Americans was 25.8 percent, compared to 9.4 percent for whites, 12.5 percent for Asian Americans, 25.3 percent for Hispanics, and a 14.3 percent combined rate for all of us. That rate is up by more than 1 percent in a year, and more than 43 million of us are poor.
2. The median African American income level in 2009 was $32,000, compared to $54,000 for whites, $65,000 for Asians and $38,000 for Hispanics. While income levels dropped for every racial and ethnic group, they dropped most for African Americans.
3. Last month's unemployment rate (new rates will be released on November 5) were 9.6 percent, 8.7 percent for whites, 16.1 percent for African Americans, and 12.4 percent for Hispanics. When discouraged and part time workers are included, the overall rate is 17.1 percent, and the rate for African Americans is 28.7 percent
4. The Survey of Consumer Finance, a report that the Federal Reserve Bank issues every three years, indicates that the median level of wealth for whites was $170,400, compared to $27,800 for African Americans in 2007. That's a ratio of more than 6:1, an inequality more severe than income inequality. The gap may have widened since the start of the Great Recession.
These facts suggest why it is so necessary to continue to speak of racial economic justice and racial economic gaps. These stark facts are not the result of one recession, or a decade's worth of challenges, but the accumulation of generational and contemporary racial economic inequality. These facts won't go away because of this mid-term election, and indeed they may be exacerbated. These issues will be dealt with now or later. They cannot be indefinitely postponed.
Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina and author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History