Listen to the interview here.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

 

Jeremie Greer: Hi, I’m Jeremie Greer.

Solana Rice: Hi, I’m Solana Rice. We are co-founders of Liberation in a Generation, a national movement support organization building the power of people of color to totally transform the economy – who controls it, how it works, and, most importantly, for whom. We at Liberation in a Generation are beyond excited to partner in guest editing this edition of The Forge

JG: The Forge is an online journal started by the Center for Popular Democracy. The mission is to elevate the strategy and practice of organizers through the sharing of ideas, methods, history, inspiration, and by building connection and community among organizers and between sectors of the progressive movement.

SR: For this edition, we have curated a fabulous group of experts to provide their perspective on an array of topics that intersect with racial capitalism.

JG: And I can’t wait to hear from them. Solana, as you know, I am a huge Hip-Hop fan, and, as I was thinking about racial capitalism, a song by The Lox — “Money, Power, Respect” — was running in the back of my mind on a loop. Because the fuel for racial capitalism is really those three things, and nowhere is that more evident than when looking at Wall Street and our financial system. Money, or capital, is what makes the economy churn, and our racialized financial markets are designed to drive wealth to the elite. It’s very much about who has access to it, who controls its movement, and what it produces. As Maurice BP-Weeks says in our discussion, to understand the roots of racial injustice, all you have to do is follow the money. 

SR: Yeah, historically Wall Street firms have provided private capital to purchase and insure stolen Indigenous land, which has become the foundation of white wealth in the US, and enslaved human bodies that literally built the pillars of the largest economy this world has ever seen. 

We continue to see the extractive deployment of capital violently oppress people of color today. For example, the Center for Popular Democracy found that private prisons have successfully established credit arrangements with Wall Street Firms like: Well Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and US Bank. And these are no small dollars. This is to the tune of $2.7 billion. While some of these firms have committed to no longer providing access to lending capital to private prisons, as a result of pressure from advocates across the country, of course, there is still plenty of capital flowing to the $182 billion a year prison industrial complex. 

JG: Many have called for a replacement of capitalism with socialism as a remedy, but as Robert Reich shares with us in our discussion, it’s not that simple as our current economic systems already contain elements of socialism. As he says, MLK says, and Andrew Young [says], “it’s socialism for the rich and rugged capitalism for the poor.” 

For example, every year at tax time, the federal government provides over $700 billion in wealth-building tax benefits directly to U.S. households. The top 1 percent of households received more in tax breaks than the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers combined. In fact, in the most recent tax bill signed by Donald Trump, low income Black and Latinx households got a tax cut of about $100, while white households in the top 1 percent received a tax cut of about $50,000.

SR: That’s shameful. It’s just shameful. We wanted to understand more about how this messed up U.S. financial system reinforces racial capitalism, and we also wanted to know the potential strategies our movement can employ to dismantle it. So we talked to our friends, Maurice BP-Weeks and Robert Reich, to keep it real about the history of our racialized financial system and how it fuels this current U.S. economy. 

JG: Maurice is the Co-Executive Director of Action Center for Race and the Economy, or ACRE. He works with community organizations and labor unions on campaigns to go on the offense against Wall Street and beat back their destruction of communities of color. He talked with us about the history of racial capitalism in the financial sector and ways he has focused his racial justice work on Wall Street. Click here to jump to our interview with Maurice

Bob, as we affectionately call him, was the Labor Secretary for President Clinton. He’s now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and co-founder of Inequality Media. He has written a number of books on the economy, most recently, The System: Who Rigged it and How We Fix It. He shared with us the prominence of what he calls the oligarchy in controlling the movement of capital in our economy. Click here to jump to our interview with Bob.

But, first let’s hear from Maurice.

 

Several of these interviews were recorded before the uprisings surrounding the latest police murders. 

 

SR: Thank you, Maurice. It's great to have you with us. We wanted to get started with just a little background about you. We're curious about why you have personally focused your life and career fighting for racial and economic justice.

MW: Yeah, that's a really great question and one I get asked really often. So, my family is from Newark, New Jersey. If you don't know Newark, it's a Black city. It's really a blue collar, working-class, Black city. My family is from the Stella Wright Projects there, and I grew up seeing what really are the effects of bad racial and economic justice policy. Obviously, it wasn't phrased to me in that way by my parents, but one thing that was phrased to me often was this value of justice. When things aren't right, it's your duty to actually make them right as a member of the community. It doesn't matter if it's personally affecting you or affecting someone else in your community. That was kind of a throughline of all of the social education that I got from my parents.

There were other things — like my mom being in a teacher's union or just knowing the history of the projects that my family was from and the huge rent strikes and things that happened there in the '70s — that influenced me. But pretty much as soon as I knew that I could take that value of making sure things are right and turn it into a job — like I figured out that that's a job that people do — I knew I wanted to do that. From pretty early on, I set my life up towards that. Even when I was picking which college to go to, one of the main factors was what kind of organizing is happening on their campus? What's their history of political organizing on their campus?

It's just something that's always sort of been baked in. The last thing I'll say on it is, the last recession really furthered my politicization around racial and economic justice where, I was working as a housing organizer at the time and just watching all of these people lose their homes and become homeless and watching Oakland where I was living just devolve into austerity — and then two years later just become entirely white. And watching that happen really furthered my politics around racial and economic justice and got me further immersed in it. 

SR: Well, thanks for sharing that. I know it can be a long road finding gainful employment, trying to do what's right, and trying to fix the wrongs, right? So it’s lovely that we've been able to find that work and it’s been able to find us. So, the Action Center on Race and the Economy, A.C.R.E., is a campaign hub of organizations working at the intersection of racial justice and Wall Street accountability. Before we talk more about that, I'm just curious about, from your perspective: What is racial capitalism? We're asking all of our contributors.

MW: Yeah, yeah. This is a great question because there are ways in which this is just a rhetoric thing in that capitalism necessitates a real focus on race and calling it racial capitalism just underlines that necessity that's always existed in capitalism. So I would say we at A.C.R.E. and me more broadly look at it as a system that is quite broad, that focuses its extraction on a racial basis. So, in this country, for instance, the way that that shows up is even from the very early foundings and the seedlings of racial capitalism in this country being based on slavery and the ownership of Black bodies. And, obviously, that doesn't exist anymore, but we see the systems change and evolve but maintain that level of extraction that's based on race and anti-Blackness. And that really is broadly the same definition of capitalism.

Like a few folks at the top sort of have all of the control, political, and financial. And there's some folks at the bottom who are getting extracted from even though they are really creating all of the value. Racial capitalism is just a way to underline that those folks at the bottom are at the bottom for particular reasons that are rooted in racism and anti-Blackness.

JG: Thanks for that. So A.C.R.E. has been supporting organizing campaigns focused on Wall Street and you’ve come up with some really dope names for some of these, like Forego Wells, which is my personal favorite, focusing on racist acts of Wells Fargo, Hedge Clippers, which spotlights hedge funds and the role that they play on Wall Street. So, the question I'll ask is, why Wall Street? What does it have to do with racial capitalism?

MW: Yeah, yeah. So I'll start by saying how I arrived there and then deepen the analysis for the organization. When I started as a housing organizer, I wasn't focused on Wall Street as a main target, Wall Street as a collective entity. I would chat with a homeowner who maybe had their mortgage with Wells Fargo or Bank of America or something like that. And the strategy would be, how do we get this single homeowner to as high up as possible in the particular bank so that they can win a loan modification or principal reduction or whatever we were fighting for. And, after dozens, maybe hundreds of stories of that, and, I was in the Bay Area, seeing a common thread of which entities were involved there and how they acted, and the fact that they were all acting the same. It was hard not to group them into a category of just evil actors. And then I remember one thing that solidified this for me. Because of Wells Fargo’s particular role in the housing crisis in California, we were doing some work around their shareholders meeting. This was maybe in 2011 or so. And then all of these people started coming out of the woodwork of, yeah, Wells Fargo is our main target for our work to stop private prisons. Wells Fargo is our main target for our work in student lending. Wells Fargo is our main target for our work in…. And just so many different campaigns were linking back to this one bank.

And yeah that action building towards that, really solidified it to me, that this is just one extractive industry as a whole. I would say for A.C.R.E. in particular we see the entire system of racial capitalism as something that needs to come down, that needs to not exist anymore. And there's no way forward, especially for Black and brown and indigenous folks in this country with racial capitalism in place. And in order to do that, you  have to take down the industries that are the Titans of racial capitalism and, unquestionably, Wall Street is exactly that. So, when you talk about things like political control or monetary or fiscal control, Wall Street is just the folks who make basically all of those decisions to the point where our elected officials are often just middlemen for what Wall Street wants.

So, what's that phrase? If you're going to do it, you’ve got to take down the best. Them being the Titans of the economy with, as an up-and-coming challenger of tech, but still very much Wall Street. It means that all of our work needs to focus on taking them down. And, I see [that] as a really important part of just general movement building, of getting folks who are working on seemingly disparate campaigns together because I know what it's going to take to actually destroy racial capitalism is a lot of us in the streets, a lot of us doing the same thing at the same time. And one of the benefits of the concentration of power in Wall Street is that when you follow the money and go up the food chain, Wall Street is a common target for so many of us. So those are all the reasons that we focus so much on Wall Street.

SR: The idea of following the money and following the breadcrumbs, finding the patterns and coalescing around the real targets, that really resonates with me. One feature of racial capitalism is a dual financial system. You alluded to, there are these Titans that create the rules, basically, under which we operate. And so now we have a system where some people are able to expand their wealth and opportunity, mostly white folks, and others who participate in it. And then there's another whole system of predatory and extractive products and practices. You spoke a little to this, but I'm curious about why you think this dual financial system exists. Why is it so racialized?

MW: I think the historic reasons are really important here. When you set up a political and economic system starting with, the way we generate our wealth is by getting free labor and buying and selling people. And that hasn't... I mean, that just recently ended, very recently ended. It's hard to undo the duality of that within just a few years, really. And I think the thing that's often lost there is really how recently that all was in terms of both the history of the country and the history of the world. This is all really recent. We're still dealing with the effects of it, and we will for a very long time because of the time it takes for the economy to shift but also just culture to shift around that. And part of still dealing with it means that there's this lasting desire to create these segmented parts of how the economy works.

Today is Jobs Day, it’s the day the jobs report came out, and it was inarguably the worst jobs report in the history of jobs reports, right? And, also the stock market had its best month in 30 years. So, these kinds of things are just really stark reminders of how there are two different systems and, for racial capitalism to exist, there need to be. You need this group of people who are putting in a bunch of the labor out of necessity, struggling from paycheck to paycheck, creating a bunch of the wealth and siphoning it up. That's the model of how the system works. And the reason it's racialized is just, in my opinion, 100 percent based on slavery and its aftereffects in this country.

SR: I remember hearing someone, and I'm remiss, but I don't remember who it was, saying that it's difficult to go from being an asset to owning assets.

MW: Yeah. I mean, it would be difficult to do if all of the forces were neutral and that's not true. I mean, you think about something like housing. It took years and years and years to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Housing Acts that follow it. That opened up opportunity for so many families and that has all been washed away. Those families don't own homes anymore. That was all washed away by the last recession. So, it's very tough. Washed away is actually a good way to say it, because it's like fighting against really heavy waves that just keep crashing and crashing down and you might get three or four steps out and then another wave comes and crashes you down. And, until we dismantle the entire thing, I think that that's the way that it goes.

JG: I love the way you talked about the wave because you're following the money. It kind of flows to where the power is and you don't feel like you're doing the whack-a-mole. Like this payday lender over here, this check casher over here, this thing over here, this thing over there. You're following it to where the real power is.

MW: Yeah. We've done some follow the money where you can trace back to specific banking corporations that still exist that literally were trading slaves and are now trading toxic financial instruments that are targeted to Black and brown neighborhoods. So, it's not... This is one thing that's not rhetoric, this is actually how the system works quite literally.

JG: One feature of contemporary capitalism, racial capitalism, that we live under is that we're privatizing everything, which leads to the creation of financial products to provide what would have in other times been considered public goods, things like education, healthcare, utilities, things like that. And I wonder: What do you believe is the underlying intention behind this privatization of what many would consider public goods they think the government should be promoting?

MW: When you think about the things that are public goods that are often the target of privatization, and if you force yourself to think about it as an uber capitalist. When you look at something like a water system or a school system, we might see an asset for the whole community that we all share because we all need it. So of course we collectively invest in it, and we own it together. The uber capitalist just sees this as a chance to — this is a billion dollars sitting here. And if I can get my hands on it, all of this money that's flowing through it will instead flow through me.

I used to do these trainings where we would map out the value of some of these public entities, like water systems in particular places or parking meters or healthcare systems or whatever. And it comes up to trillions of dollars, really. The total value of all of that. And we would call it the pot of gold because it's the thing that everyone's trying to get their hands on. If you control this thing that everyone needs, and everyone agrees is a value, then you can just, you can extract even more and more money. So like most everything else inside of racial capitalism, it's highly driven by the need to accumulate more, more, and more. And I will say, there are real racial detriments to that.

The places that are more likely to privatize or institute emergency management or things like that are often Black and brown communities, for several reasons, but one of the major [ones] is that those are the communities that are economically struggling. Folks have a tougher time doing the real work — and it is work — of the civic participation needed to stop a huge company like Aqua America or something like that from coming in and privatizing your water and sewer system.

After it is privatized, there is often not, if there is a public forum to hold the company that now owns it accountable, it's way weaker than the system that existed before, when we all owned it. So, you privatize an electric company, and then jack the rates up four times, you're now arguing about lower rates with a privately owned company instead of your elected official who you could vote out and put another elected official in. So, yeah, all of these things are just increased ways to extract wealth from people. And, I'm just thinking off the top of my head, but some of the worst examples in Chicago and Puerto Rico and these places that are filled with people of color and, yeah, it's just a way to try and get as many billions out as possible.

SR: Well, honestly, you answered our next question, which was: What are the implications of all this privatization and financialization of public goods on people of color? I worked for several years in the San Joaquin Valley in California, and you see this all the time with water and water fights, and we know it all too well in Michigan as well. But, this usually comes at the expense of the health and wellness of people of color.

MW: Yeah, absolutely. There’s something in how we think about what these entities are that needs to change to make at least our elected officials, but also just our general communities, less likely to be okay with handing it over to private entities. Cause the other reason why this happens is a really successful program by the right wing to mark everything that happens in the public sector as waste and corrupt and etcetera. So, of course you would want a business to come in and run the water system instead. And people generally hate their utility systems. I would say not really always based on the effectiveness of utility systems, just based on the human experience, you know?

JG: The five-hour window.

MW: Yeah, exactly, exactly. It just sucks. There's no way to do it that doesn't suck. But that's been a really successful program by the Right of making it like any public thing is poorly run and the way to make it run more smoothly is to turn it over to private hands. There's some sort of shift that needs to happen in our collective thinking. And maybe it's changing it from the idea of a good to just, this is just a collective thing that we all do together or that we all own. That's a main part of it. It's not like this just happened; this has been a concentrated effort to make this happen.

JG: So you've been doing this for a little more than a minute and I wonder if you could talk about two or three things that you've learned over time that listeners should think about as they’re moving forward efforts to reign in Wall Street and create more accountability for communities in their work.

MW: Three things. One, I've probably said already: Follow the money. I know that's kind of a memed out thing at this point. But very truly in the system of racial capitalism that we have, you can tell the influence and who the targets are by just watching the dollars flow. It's very rare that capitalists are doing something evil not to make more money. So following the money and doing that research is critically important. 

Two is that it's important to always keep in mind and remember the race and wealth extraction pieces of how this all works and implement them into your strategy and campaigns. So, nothing under racial capitalism works in a race-blind way, but it's all sort of put forward in a race-blind way. You have to sift through to figure out the real impacts. I keep bringing up the housing crisis because it's such a great example of the failures of racial capitalism, but there, on the surface, that's a crisis that just affected everyone because we were all sort of in it together, and the economy crashed for everybody. And then once you remember that the way that the system works is through wealth extraction and then zoom in, you see that it's highly racialized. Black and brown folks extracted from the most, of course.

And then, maybe lastly, is that financialization, in particular, while it may sound like a wonky term, is a way that most people experience life in this version of racial capitalism. So, one of the parts of the definition of financialization is just that finance is growing and growing and growing to touch as many parts of your life as possible. So when you're trying to run campaigns around it, there's no need to explain the separate financialization system in an Econ 301 way. You can talk about people just paying for parking in Chicago and the fact that it used to cost this much and now it costs a lot more. And the reason is financialization. Nothing has changed about parking spots in Chicago; there still are not enough and they still suck. It's a financial entity that has made it difficult, and that's true across so many things in people's lives.

The point is not to get bogged down in things that are purposely made complicated and obtuse by the folks who hold power. I consider myself an economist, but I hate economists for the fact that they purposely make everything complicated and invent new terms for everything to the point where they're only talking to themselves. And it truly doesn't have to be like that; economics is actually very, very interesting and people experience it every single day. Keeping it more targeted towards people's everyday experiences is the last thing that I take really seriously.

JG: That's a really important point. People experience all of this that the policy makers argue about in financial terms. That's how they experience it. That's a really important point.

SR: I'm wondering, Maurice, what's giving you life right now? What's giving you hope in all this racial capitalism work?

MW: I will say, obviously, hope is a real, real precious commodity right now because of the pandemic and just the way that the economy is spiraling. But we're at a place now where we're still waiting on data from the beginning of this month, but the data from last month said that a third of people in the country didn't pay rent, a third of all renters in the country. And a lot of those folks blame their inability to pay on corporations and elected officials that were bought off by corporations. And so to see this broad politicization and opportunity to further politicize millions and millions of people around the country is really exciting for me. I mean, it's obviously amazingly horrible and nerve wracking for individuals who are in the position where they can't pay any rent and are not sure that their government will really protect them. And, it's sort of a pulling back the shade for a lot of people to see how the economy is set up and see the people who are struggling and the people who aren't struggling and who the government protects and who they won't. That's a mass mobilization and political education that's happening at once whether or not we do anything about it. So that's extremely hopeful for me. And then, the other thing that I find hope in is that, I remember saying after the last recession, we hadn't built enough power to really cash anything in. I remember John McCain was talking about how nationalizing banks is something that should be on the table.

And we just let that go by, right? We could have just nationalized Bank of America and we chose not to. And I think that this time, I think it is true that we've built a little bit more power. And there are these moments that I think we're moving into now…. The CARES Act is a great example where there's just a scrum. There's a bunch of stuff that just moves that would never, ever, ever in a million years have moved before in both directions. Both the right wing was putting that forward and the left wing was putting that forward. Getting the extra money and terms for unemployment insurance. That was actually a big deal for a lot of people. And, of course, no Republicans wanted to do that. But it's just a scrum, right? A bunch of stuff moves that wasn't possible before. So thinking about what some of those things could be that we could lock in that are then really, really, really hard to take away without just full-on revolt. In the way that it's really hard to take away something like the ACA. That's really exciting to me. We just have to really punch the ticket here. We can't just let this moment go by like we did last time.

JG: Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Thank you for the lifetime of advocacy that you've been working on and are going to continue to work on and thank A.C.R.E. for all of the work it does. It's been a really enlightening conversation that we really, really thank you for taking the time.

MW: My pleasure, my pleasure.

 

JG: And now, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. He’s an important voice for economic justice. Hope you enjoy. 

Solana Rice: Thank you, Bob, for joining us today. We want to start things off by getting to know you. Why have you personally focused your life and your entire career fighting for a fair economy?

Robert Reich: Well, I think it goes back to something that happened to me when I was in my teen years. I was always very short. I was bullied, as a lot of short people are, and I chose an older fellow, when I was about eight and he must have been about 17, and he was my protector. That guy was named Mickey, Mickey Schwerner. When I was just going into college, I heard that Mickey Schwerner had been brutally tortured and murdered in Mississippi. [He was] one of the civil rights workers during Freedom Summer who was tortured and murdered by the real bullies of America. Let’s face it. The bullying I endured was nothing compared to what he went through. I think it just changed my life in a way. It made me aware of the horrible ways in which people without power, people who are vulnerable to arbitrary violence and bullying in this country have been treated and continue to be treated. I think it's racial. It's also about class. It's also about the vulnerability of people who have less physical power in terms of wealth.

SR: That's a powerful story, Bob. I didn't know that. And thanks for sharing. Let's pivot to what is racial capitalism, in your view.

RR: It's the exploitation of racism for personal gain. We know that inequality has widened dramatically and tragically in this country over the past 40 years. We also know that that inequality is inextricably related to racism. It's not always the same as racism — that is, there are a lot of poor whites, but it is disproportionately about race. 

You really can't separate the issues of inequality, class, and race. They are all merged. If you try to talk about one without talking about the other, you are soon in fantasy land and we've got to understand that. We’ve got to understand that capitalism and racism have grown to be almost impossibly connected. They are viciously connected.

SR: We talk about capital, we talk about the flow of capital, who has it, who doesn't, who controls the movement of capital. In many ways, this is the defining feature of capitalism. On our current course, it would take Black and brown household centuries to reach the level of wealth that white people have today, and in light of this data, some have argued that capitalism is just simply not working, and that we have to do away with it. Why do you think capitalism is worth saving?

RR: I don't know that it is [worth saving]. Certainly, the current form of capitalism we have in the United States is not worth saving. I think that every country in the world, even countries that call themselves communist, like China, practice some form of capitalism. 

The issue is not: Do we like markets or do we dislike markets? The issue is, who has control over the markets, in terms of the design of the markets. The most basic thing: What is property? It used to be in this country and elsewhere around the world that the people who had a different skin color were property. We have at least changed the rules of capitalism to that extent. But we have got to continue to change the rules of capitalism.

The fact that we had, and we still have, informal forms of redlining. The fact that it is so hard for people of color to get loans and to accumulate capital. The fact that if you're white and if you're rich, you can easily transfer a huge amount of money to your kids and you can make sure your kids get every advantage in the world. If you are not white and if you are not monied, you can't transfer very much. In fact, your kids are at a terrible disadvantage. That's part of our capitalist system that also has to be changed. It doesn't mean we give up the idea of a market; it means that we have a humane market, a market that is dedicated to social justice.

SR: I like this idea of changing control. You’ve said in the past that we have an economy that provides socialism to the rich and rugged capitalism to everyone else. What do you mean by that?

RR: Socialism is something that the rich have decried for a hundred years. We know that they even criticized Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the 1930s, when he wanted to initiate Social Security and a 40-hour workweek. They call that socialism. Every time the government is doing anything for the people it's called socialism. But, actually, what we have now is a form of socialism for the wealthy. Socialism for the rich, socialism for CEOs. They get bailed out. They get all sorts of benefits. They get tax cuts. They get all sorts of hidden largesse that nobody else gets. They can screw up big time and they don't have to pay the penalty. When they leave their companies, they get a golden parachute that is platinum these days, not even golden. 

But everybody else in this country is subject to the harshest form of capitalism among all of the rich nations in the world. Every other nation provides paid sick leave. Every other nation provides some form of universal healthcare. Every other nation gives its people — including people who are poor, people who are of color — a good education and good educational opportunities. We are the only country that actually provides less money to poor schools, disproportionately with people of color, children of color, than we provide to people who inhabit wealthy communities. And this is totally unjust.

SR: I want to pull out a quote from your recent book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It. It seems really important right now. “Jamie Dimon [CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank] comes as close as anyone to embodying the American system as it functions today. He's a member in good standing of the American oligarchy. If you want to understand that oligarchy, you need to understand Dimon.” What is it about Jamie Dimon, and in particular, the institution that he controls, that is so representative of the vast economic inequality we experienced today?

RR: Representative is the right word. Jamie Dimon is not a villain. In fact, I picked him as an example because he calls himself a Democrat. He has supported Democratic candidates, he has a lot of influence in the Democratic Party, and he talks about doing good things. Actually, I think he probably means it when he talks about racism and overcoming racism and the importance of goodwill in trying to pull together and be an inclusive society. But the problem is that his bank, JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank in the United States, has a history of redlining, has a history, even in recent years, of discrimination. It has been sued by the Justice Department under the Obama administration. It has a history of actually acting in ways that are contrary to what Jamie Dimon says is the kind of society we need. Now, is that hypocrisy? I'm not sure. It certainly is self-delusional. And it certainly does create a curtain of immunity behind which JP Morgan can do whatever it wants to do because its CEO is creating the impression that it is a very highly responsible institution full of corporate social responsibility. Well, corporate social responsibility is rubbish. If you don't have laws requiring companies to do X, Y and Z, they're not going to do X, Y and Z if it requires that they have to sacrifice profits and sacrifice shareholder returns. They're just not going to do it. Period.

SR: One feature of racial capitalism is that we have a dual financial system. On one hand, it expands the wealth and opportunity of those who can participate in it. It’s also exclusionary and predatory and extracts wealth and opportunity from a lot of mostly Black and brown people. Why do you think this dual financial market exists? Why is it so racialized? Is it only because of greed?

RR: The dual financial market exists in America partly because of the deep-seated racism that is historically entrenched in America. It is easy for large institutions, large predatory institutions, large institutions like big companies and big banks that are trying to make a lot of money to build either wittingly or unwittingly on this institutional history of racism. That's where, for example, discriminatory redlining comes from. That's where you get the highly bigoted and discriminatory lending practices, generally speaking. That's why it is so much harder for a person of color to get a mortgage loan or to get any kind of a loan for a business. It's just easy for these banks to fall back on — and easy for all sorts of financial institutions to fall back on — the history of racism without even necessarily recognizing that they're doing it.

SR: We just sent a lot of money to corporations in the recovery response, and I'm curious about how you think this racial disparity is actually holding us back from jumping starting the economy.

RR: The pandemic is a sad, tragic illustration of everything we're talking about. Look at the people who have been disproportionately infected and have overwhelmingly disproportionately died. They are people of color. Look at how the people who are prominent and in positions of power have been given loans and given bailouts, and their companies have been treated by the Fed, given special treatment, by contrast to businesses that are owned by people of color who are — again, they’re not getting the bailouts, they're not getting the loans, they're not getting the small business payroll protection plans. Why is that? Is its pure racism? Is its structural racism? Is it just simply carelessness? Is it stupidity? Well, it's probably all of these.

SR: Our last question is a two-part question. What do we need to do to end racial capitalism, and what's giving you life right now, Bob?

RR: Well, what do we need to do? I think that we've got to take racism seriously, Solana, and by that I mean we've got to understand that it is part of the structure of our economy. We've got to dedicate ourselves to rooting out not just individual racism but structural racism, using every tool at our disposal. Now, the best and easiest tool in the past has been the 14th amendment to the Constitution and to show that if outcomes are racist, it doesn't matter what the intent was, those policies need to be revised and changed. Alright, that’s the beginning. But that's just the beginning. Every institution, public and private, needs to be aware of the consequences of institutional racism and do everything they can to change it. I'm very pleased, the institution that I am a part of, the University of California, for example, has just got rid of the SAT and the ACT as admissions criteria because they understand institutional racism is endemic with regard to the utilization of those tests. Alright, that’s a beginning. 

We've got to get serious about affirmative action and not worry about the fact that maybe there's certain people that are going to be angry and upset about affirmative action. We have affirmative action for, for example, the children of wealthy people, in terms of getting into colleges. We have affirmative action for the children of alumni — most of them white and wealthy — in terms of getting into elite universities. Why shouldn't we have some affirmative action that takes account of the difficulties that young people have with regard to race and their own racial disadvantages. 

We could have a whole program about the failure to train our police forces, the failure to understand racism and all of its ugliness. And therefore, the militarization of our police. As we talk, we're in the shadow of another terrible, tragic, infuriating event, which is just endemic in America. We’ve been talking about this for years. It goes on and on and on and on. 

The second part of your question: What makes me hopeful? What makes me positive? Well, you have to catch me on the right day. In the middle of a pandemic with 40 million Americans jobless, and I would estimate 23 percent or 24 percent unemployment, after another incident of racist killing by police, in Minneapolis this time. And a president who is out of his mind. I mean completely and totally. A total sociopath. He's going crazy. He's tweeting and you would think and hope that he would be tweeting some sense of empathy with the people who are grieving now, grieving with regard to the pandemic, grieving with regard to police violence, grieving with regard to unemployment. Grieving about what has happened to this country. But no. He is just tweeting about his critics, accusing them of what? Murder? I mean, he's crazy.

So, what makes me optimistic? I’m optimistic, number one, because I know history and, as bad as it gets, this country has a certain resilience. We have ideals. Every once in a while, we move toward those ideals, not successfully always, but in a halting way, we make some progress. I'm old enough to remember the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and some of the great courage and heroism in pursuit of them.

I also teach young people. I've been teaching for 40 years and this generation of young people is more dedicated to social justice and to reforming our system and eradicating it of bigotry and racism than any generation I've taught in 40 years. Every time I walk into a classroom, or even in these days of the pandemic, turn on my remote connection to them, I’m inspired. They are the future. 

I look at young members of Congress, young [Democratic] politicians, many of them who are people of color and women, and I am excited about the future. They are young and they will make change, fundamental change. And so, whenever I'm discouraged, I look at the broad pattern of history and what is in store for us in the future. And I tell myself, it will get better.

SR: Thank you, Bob. That was powerful and great.

RR: Thank you for what you’re doing too and just keep up the great work. 

 

SR: Thank you for listening. For more conversations like this one, visit forgeorganizing.org.  We’ll see you on Twitter @ForegOrganizing. For more about Liberation in a Generation, check out LiberationinaGeneration.org and hit us up on Twitter @LiberationIn. Thank you to Nino Moschella for audio post production and editing. Thank you to all our guests for breaking it down with us. Stay well, everyone.  





 

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