We share the grief and anger felt by so many in this time of unease and unrest sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others. Racism merits no place in the American ideal—we must fight against its pernicious and persistent hold on the American reality. We echo the statements of Aspen Institute President Dan Porterfield and the sentiments expressed by our colleagues, including Ascend, the Center for Native American Youth, the Latinos & Society Program, and others from across the Institute.
Our work at the Economic Opportunities Program focuses on advancing a more just and inclusive economy by expanding individuals’ opportunities to connect to quality work, participate in business ownership, and build the economic stability necessary to pursue opportunity. We see how many Black people are systematically denied access to capital and networks that support entrepreneurship and business ownership. We see how too many Black and Latinx people are systematically drawn into jobs that offer low wages, few benefits, uncertain work hours and incomes, and little chance of advancement. Our current pandemic has led to widespread recognition that this work is essential, that our society depends on it. Nonetheless, our society continues to offer far too little to the people who do this essential work. We see how low earnings and limited access to business ownership constrain opportunities to build wealth and economic stability. We see the damage of constant economic stress, anxiety, and fear. We see that the barriers to greater equity in economic opportunity and outcomes come not just in the form of exclusion from access, but also from predatory practices, including high-cost and wealth-stripping financial products. All are historical patterns that continue to this day.
That people of color generally – and Black people specifically – are underrepresented in business ownership but make up a disproportionate share of workers in low-wage occupations is not an accident. It is a choice, and a shameful one. More accurately, it is the sum of many policy choices woven into our systems over many generations. The deepest foundations of the US economy were built on the forced labor of African Americans and the expropriation of land from Native peoples. Our painful and shameful economic history also includes the exploitation of Asian Americans, Mexicans, and many other immigrant populations who have been overworked, underpaid, and oppressed. Reflecting on iconic moments in the civil rights era, such as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, reminds us of the fact that people cannot truly be free if they are systematically subjugated to economic indignity and injustice. Racial justice cannot be won without economic justice.
If we are to right the systemic wrongs of racial and economic injustice, we must begin by acknowledging that these systems have also had beneficiaries. While some in our society have benefited from low prices for goods and services, reduced personal and business taxes, and high profits and investment returns, too often these benefits for the privileged come at the expense of good jobs, quality education and public services, and the wealth and health of communities that have been structured into poverty. The communities who face hostility and injustice today have endured a harsh social, political, and economic landscape for too long. We all have a role to play in dismantling the systems and structures that have formed our current and deeply troubling reality.
Racism was embedded in our system from the start, and systemic racism requires systemic solutions. Justice, equity, and inclusion have been core values since EOP’s earliest years. We have learned much from the work of many peers and partners working in communities across the country, and like many of our peer organizations, we are on a journey to strengthen our own racial equity practices. We also conduct research and share resources that other organizations can use to advance equity.
We recognize the responsibility that institutions like ours must take to live up to our commitment to racial equity, including ongoing reflection and education. But we know we can do much more, and we welcome your input on how we can be a stronger partner, advocate, and ally in the fight for racial and economic justice. Please email us ([email protected]) or contact us on social media if you have ideas or opportunities to partner on this important work.
Tweet “Racial justice cannot be won without economic justice… Systemic racism requires systemic solutions.” -Statement by the @AspenInstitute Economic Opportunities Program (@AspenWorkforce, @Aspen_BOI, @upskillamerica).
The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.