Cheers to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, one of the first mayors to take Confederate statues down and to make the strong point that these statues represent nothing but oppression. More cheers to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh who had statues removed in the dead of night to avoid Charlottesville-type confrontations between racist white supremacists (also known as “good people” according to 45) and those who oppose them.
And though he does little that I agree with, in the interest of equal praise, I must lift up Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who had the statue of Roger Taney removed from the Maryland state house. Taney was an especially vile racist who authored the Dred Scott decision in 1857. He wrote that Black people had no rights that whites were bound to respect, and provided justification for enslavement even as many in the rest of the nation were clamoring against the unjust institution.
As the statues are falling, economic racism is not fading. African-Americans still earn just 60 percent of what whites earn. We have just 7 percent of the wealth that whites have. We have double the unemployment rates. Even with equal incomes, we find it more challenging to get mortgages or other access to capital. And our economic rights are being challenged every day.
It is important to note that these statues were not erected immediately after the Civil War. Of course the South – a bunch of losers – was too broke to build statues. They were still trying to recover from the devastation of the Civil War.
How did they plan to recover? They needed a captive labor force to work their fields, just as enslaved people had before the war. So they ensured quasi-captivity through intimidation. That need was partially responsible for the emergence of the KKK. They inspired fear, suppressed resistance, and, through Black Codes and Jim Crow, engineered the near-re-enslavement of Black people.
Black people who wanted to leave the South after the end of Reconstruction had to do it in the dead of night. Black people who had land were often forced to concede it or be killed. The Emergency Land Fund, a now-defunct organization that documented the Black loss of land, indicated as Black folks lost as much as 90 percent of their accumulated land by 1970, at least partially due to trickery and intimidation.
The origins of the wealth gap lie in this loss of land, and in the intimidation that kept African-American people in near-slave status in the South. Confederate statues, flags, and Klan activity appeared whenever there was resistance – during and after the reconstructions, in the 1920s after the Red Summer of 1919 and the return of Black men from World War I, men who were men, men disinclined to step off sidewalks or defer to white people.
Again, we saw the rise of this activity, these statues and these flags, in the 1950s as the Civil Rights Movement pushed hard for equality. When people talk about taking “their” streets back, what they really mean is they want Black people (and other people of color) in their place, in their economic place. And that place, for them, is subordinate.
So while Confederate statues are falling (not quickly enough – there are more than 700 of these odious symbols still standing), and Confederate flags are waving less frequently, the economic racism the Confederacy established is alive and well. Just ask the young Black couple redlined away from a banking opportunity, or the innocent arrested person who can’t pay bail. Ask the Black student whose loan burden is nearly twice that of her white counterpart, or the Black woman who pays more, and at a higher interest rate, for a car loan.
Sure, we have come a long way since those ugly days of enslavement or stark segregation, but some power comes from the Benjamins. And, according to some estimates, it will take more than 200 years to close the wealth gap. The statues may be falling, but economic racism is alive and well.
While I commend Republicans Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, John McCain and so many others for condemning their President for his abject and ugly racism, I wonder if any of them would be so forceful in condemning economic racism, or in advocating for reparations. Absent their willingness to do that, they are making very important stylistic points, but they do not seem prepared to change the harsh realities of Black life in our country today.
I challenge those who would tear down the statues and take down the flags to show equal zeal in turning down the walls of economic racism.
Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and Founder of Economic Education. Her podcast, “It’s Personal with Dr. J” is available on iTunes. Her latest book “Are We Better Off: Race, Obama and public policy is available via amazon.com