Reflecting on Systemic Racism in Our Campaign Finance System During Black History Month
By Marnie Walsh, American Promise Empowerment Coordinator
The lack of political power for Black Americans is directly tied to racialized laws, policies and systems adopted in the United States. It is critical that all Americans understand that historical events created this unequal system, and the time to examine the prevalence of systemic racism throughout our institutions is upon us. White men not only dominate our political power structures, but they’ve created a money-driven system that aids and abets a white affluent agenda that favors incumbents and hinders competition in elections.
Big money privileges those with the means to pour unlimited amounts of money into campaigns, which drowns out the voices of all Americans, especially those living in poverty and experiencing the harmful effects of institutional and social racism. Our nation’s history has provided several examples of racial exploitation, such as the economic, social, and political implications of slavery, Black codes, the War on Drugs as something enforced by the Reagan Administration and maintained by the Clinton Administration, the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, and police brutality in our communities of color. Unfortunately, the list continues beyond these examples and what remains are clear illustrations of how wealth and power permeate oppression.
The article Big Money vs. Black Lives: Movement connects money in politics to racial justice by the Institute for Southern Studies Executive Director Chris Kromm provides an analysis of how political contributions are dominated by an exclusive elite donor class that is overwhelmingly white. The demographics of this exclusive donor class highlights two systems-level tensions for communities of color: 1) the lack of influence and representation in positions of power and 2) the limited onramps for candidates of color to access elected positions. The lack of influence and representation in positions of power result in a negative impact on the agency to mobilize, opportunities to adequately identify and address the diverse needs across communities, and potential erasure of experience. Without opportunities to influence and mobilize, people of color lack an adequate pipeline to access elected positions to implement change. These two systems-level tensions inform and perpetuate each other. Without opportunities to create agency and influence, you cannot create a platform; without a platform, you will not find big money’s support.
Big money in politics has dire implications for the mobilization of low-income people and communities of color by limiting their access to and representation in decision-making bodies within our local, state, and national political systems. We need to critically reflect and dismantle the current trends, practices, and policies in big money, in part with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to explicitly end unlimited political campaign spending . According to Brookings Institution, big money shows up in social, political, and economic institutions while disproportionately impacting communities of color through:
- “Public education, which has often been underfunded in African-American majority schools, limiting skill acquisition and upward mobility for Black Americans;
- Employment discrimination, which makes it more difficult for Black families to escape the cycle of poverty or build wealth in their community;
- The social safety net system, where there is an increased likelihood of sanctioning and spending is less generous for Black communities; and,
- The criminal justice system, where poor outcomes for Black Americans include higher bail and a greater likelihood of monetary sanctions, among other penalties.”
In every corner of America and across the world, people have risen to protest, converse, grieve and remember those Black lives lost by senseless violence — usually at the hands of police officers. Black Americans are refusing to be silenced and brutalized. We must answer this call to action. As a society, we are seeing a collective movement transcending our communities and our nation’s borders: Thousands of people gather in the streets to peacefully protest, opportunities to create community through conversations addressing implicit bias, and lots of learning and unlearning.
In order for explicit change to occur, white people in power must work to dismantle the inherent harm that was created by white supremacy and racist policies — and all of us must hold powerful people, like our elected representatives, accountable.
Expanding the conversation must be a priority across all platforms, especially in Congress where our elected representatives must take action to rectify systemic inequities.
My requests for each of you are:
- Listen to and amplify Black voices and stories
- Get involved with American Promise by helping us ratify the 28th Amendment to get big money out of politics
Please respect and honor those who are no longer with us. This list of names includes Black people who were killed by police and civilians.
CASEY GOODSON JR.
WALTER WALLACE JR.
CALVIN HORTON JR.
JAQUYN O’NEILL LIGHT
EMANTIC BRADFORD JR.
CHARLES ROUNDTREE JR.
ANTWON ROSE JR.
DANNY RAY THOMAS
DONNELL THOMPSON JR.
JAY ANDERSON JR.
JOHN CRAWFORD III
JERRY DWIGHT BROWN
VICTOR WHITE III
WAYNE A. JONES
SGT. JAMES BROWN
WILLIE RAY BANKS
KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN SR.
DANROY “DJ” HENRY JR.
TIMOTHY STANSBURY JR.
ANTHONY DWAIN LEE
JAMES BYRD JR.
NICHOLAS HEYWARD JR.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
ALBERTA ODELL JONES
JIMMIE LEE JACKSON
JAMES EARL CHANEY
JOHN EARL REESE
GEORGE STINNEY JR.
DR. ANDREW C. JACKSON
*It is crucial to note that so many more lives were taken.