We recently passed the 400 year mark of the beginning of slavery in the United States, which The New York Times Magazine marked with its thought-provoking 1619 Project. The stories provide a new, edifying lens through which we can reflect on the deep injustice of our country’s past, and re-evaluate the injustices that are still present four centuries later.
The slave trade transformed the American economy and fueled our rise as a global agricultural, industrial and financial superpower. When business owners were able to treat human beings like commodities, as depreciating line items on a spreadsheet, the extractive capitalism that we know today was born.
Black wealth is expected to fall to zero over the next 30 years, a direct result of it being stripped from the hands of Black business owners and landowners in the Jim Crow era. If we want to secure a future free of the inequality, financial insecurity and indignity that has characterized life in America since the 17th century for Black Americans, we must confront the wrongs of the past to imagine and build a new path forward.
That’s why we recommend this series of essays by Matthew Desmond, Mehrsa Baradaran and Tiya Miles that explores the direct connections between American capitalism and slavery. Trymaine Lee’s essay on the origin of the racial wealth gap is an instructive history, one that reminds us of the horrors that defined Black life in America well after the Emancipation Proclamation.
At the Economic Security Project, we are proud to have supported and partnered with thinkers, researchers and activists who have led the conversation around the intersection of economics and race. We hope you’ll use the below as a reference and jumping off point to explore these perspectives on a necessary, national conversation.
This interview with Aisha Nyandoro, CEO of Springboard To Opportunities, charts the unique mission of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a guaranteed income pilot program in which 20 Black mothers living in extreme poverty receive $1,000 a month. While these women are making enormous strides in their lives, the program also serves as an opportunity to change the existing narratives about race, gender and financial assistance. As it serves Black women, this project seeks to uplift a group severely affected by the economic inequities a financial system built off slavery has perpetuated.
Anne Price, President of the Insight Center, lends her perspective to a piece in O, The Oprah Magazine on why it is so hard for Black women to get ahead, even those engaged in lucrative careers with advanced degrees. She touches on two of the issues central to our work — one, the importance of generational wealth in today’s economy; and two, the degree to which elder care is becoming an increasing burden on younger generations.
Compelling research from Jhumpa Bhattacharya from the Insight Center and the Roosevelt Institute broadly outlines how different iterations of a guaranteed income could address the racial wealth gap. Implementing a “plus model” that calls for additional payments to be made to Black families could make a dent in the wealth gap, and begin to right the wrongs created by people of color being intentionally excluded from the benefits of our economy.
In this Boston Review forum, “Basic Income in a Just Society,” Economic Security Project Co-chair Dorian Warren explains the ways in which a guaranteed income can help achieve racial economic justice — or work against it. Considering how a cash benefit is disbursed, how much it is and to whom it is distributed is all part of the thoughtful calculus of how we can actively mitigate the economic injustice endured for centuries by Black Americans.
Check out Mia Birdsong’s TED talk, which calls us to re-examine entrenched narratives about what makes poor families nurturing or successful. If we remove the economic insecurity from the lives of millions, we have the potential to empower an entire population that has been overlooked by our economy and culture.