Racial injustice implicates all Americans and affects all Americans. We can’t close our eyes to the violence perpetrated against black families and communities because of the legacies of discrimination and ongoing systemic racism. South Carolinians know this all too well. It’s wrong, and we have to make it right.
But any view of black America that focuses exclusively on crime, poverty or other challenges is missing so much—the activists, artists, and athletes who have shaped our country and our culture; the local leaders fighting to build opportunity in their neighborhoods; the President who makes us all so proud. We need to support and celebrate these successes, even as we acknowledge all the hard work that remains.
There are so many barriers holding our families and our communities back, and we have to break them all down—because ours is not a single-issue country. I believe no bank can be too big to fail and no executive too big to jail, and I have a plan to make sure Wall Street risk-taking never again threatens Main Street. I believe in protecting every American’s sacred right to vote, not every corporation’s right to buy elections, and will fight to overturn the disastrous Citizens United decision.
But even the most aggressive plan to reform our campaign finance system would leave African-Americans nearly three times as likely whites to be denied a mortgage. Cracking down on Wall Street won’t close the gender wage gap for African-American women, who earn just 60 cents to every dollar a white man earns. African-American men would still be far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than white men. Gun violence would still be the leading cause of death for young black men. And Republicans would still be trying to roll back hard-won progress by passing onerous new restrictions that make it harder for black people, poor people, and young people to vote.
These are not simply effects of economic inequality. They are the result of racism. We need to face that and we need to fix it.
That’s why I’m proposing reforms that will be felt in our workplaces, in our schools, in our criminal justice system, and in communities that have been left out and left behind for too long. I believe we need a new, comprehensive commitment to communities of color—to build ladders of opportunity so every child has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.
We need major new investments to create millions of jobs – particularly for young people – and to upgrade infrastructure and transit systems so people can actually get to those jobs. We must end the disgraceful legacy of redlining in housing, check skyrocketing rental costs, and support African-American families as they save to buy a home. We need to make it easier for women and people of color to access the credit they need to become entrepreneurs—because even with all the barriers they face today, black women make up the fastest-growing segment of women small business owners in our country.
We need to replace the school-to-prison pipeline with a cradle-to-college pipeline—to keep African-American kids from being disciplined, suspended, and expelled more frequently than white kids while making sure every family has access to a high-quality preschool, ensuring high-quality K-12 schools in every ZIP code, making college affordable and providing special support for historically black colleges and universities, which have been engines of the black middle class for generations.
And we absolutely must reform our criminal justice system—ending racial profiling, requiring body cameras, and eliminating the disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine. But we also need to do more to help people who have paid their debt to society find jobs and get back on their feet. Of the 600,000 prisoners who reenter society each year, up to 60 percent face long-term unemployment. We need to give the formerly incarcerated a fair shot at a second chance. I have concrete policy proposals to achieve each and every one of these goals.
I know for many white Americans, it’s tempting to believe that bigotry is largely behind us and that systemic racism no longer exists. That would leave us with a lot less work to do, including the hard work of examining our own actions and beliefs.
But I believe that work is absolutely essential to make our country truly fair and truly free for all Americans. Because we’re all in this together. We all have vital contributions to make to this country. And when we come together, we can build a future that is far better than our past. Because America can only live up to its full potential when each and every American can live up to theirs.
First Published in The Charleston Chronicle