Black Dollars, Black Poverty and the Prosperity Promises of Presidential Candidates

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Just over a week ago, my wife Leslie and I relocated from Baton Rouge to Hyattsville, Maryland. For the first few days we were enjoying the premium fall weather and the ease of access to various amenities. Then, tragedy struck. While heading out on a late night snack run I received a call that Leslie’s father had passed away back in Baton Rouge. I immediately rushed back to our apartment to give my wife the devastating news.

Leslie’s dad, Clyde, was 80 years old, so we knew that the inevitable was looming. We just did not expect it to be within six days of our move.

As my wife and I deal with the grief of losing her father and my father-in-law, we have also had to handle all the logistics of preparing final arrangements from afar. I have listened to Leslie talk to insurers about policies Clyde had and watched her scour through Clyde’s credit information to settle and/or cancel debts. For the majority of Clyde’s life he was above the margin of financial stability.

However, during his post-retirement years, the income from his Army pension and social security was barely enough to cover the cost of his living expenses. Most of Clyde’s major possessions (his home and two vehicles) were fully paid off, but there are still lingering financial matters that Leslie is having to manage while dealing with the weight of her father’s loss.

Clyde not being able to leave a continuum of generational wealth is not an anomaly in the story of Black American finances. He was born in 1940 to sharecropping parents and worked diligently for decades to provide his family with necessities and some luxuries. Clyde paid for Leslie’s first three years of college out-of-pocket, but when a commercial truck he owned and operated went out of commission, it forced Leslie to take out a student loan to pay off the remainder of her college tuition.

That loan did not swallow my wife in debt as so often is the case with Black and Brown students from working class or lower income families. She is the beneficiary of a couple of her father’s life insurance policies that will mostly be used to cover his final expenses.

Our story falls on the “lucky” end of the financial spectrum many Black folks find themselves in when preparing to say our final goodbyes to our loved ones. And in a city like Baton Rouge, where the median income gap between Black and white families is the width of the Mississippi River, we are fortunate that Clyde’s financial status will allow us to give him a proper send-off and protect his remaining assets.

We know folks who have had to crowdsource to fund the burial of their loved ones. It is a visceral example of the kind of structural inequity that keeps Black folks chained to the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in America. This inequity is foundational to America and every four years an American presidential candidate uses this reality as a sales pitch for what they will do to level the playing field, while the wealth disparity continues to widen.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden both have plans for Black America’s finances. What those plans mean for Black folks literally decades behind the equity marker of white Americans is yet to be determined.

Color me skeptical, but I have seen these sales pitches before.

Trump’s Plan, Biden’s Plan and Black Inequity

Trump recently unveiled a “Platinum Plan” of Black empowerment as a means of procuring a larger percentage of the Black vote than he did in 2016. The plan outlines a promise to increase capital in the Black community by roughly $500 billion, which includes the creation of 3 million new jobs “for the Black community” and the creation of 500,000 “new Black-owned businesses.”

First and foremost, the “Platinum Plan” sounds like something a Trump hip hop adviser would tell him to name his empowerment plan for Black folks, but I digress. More importantly, Trump regularly touts vague, hyperbolic plans that offer little to no details on how they will be enacted.

When evoking his “what the hell do you have to lose?” strategy to solicit Black voters, he leans heavily on the ideology that the Democratic Party does the bare minimum for Black advancement only to be rewarded with unwavering loyalty. And though there is a great deal of truth to the idea that Democratic leadership has not led to a narrowing of income disparity, the Republican logic of minimizing the taxation of the wealthy so that they may be able to offer more opportunities for the working class, has also not bode well for Black people.

Biden’s “Lift Every Voice” plan for Black America proposes a double funding of the State Small Business Credit Initiative to increase investments in small businesses owned by women and people of color, an expansion of the Small Business Administration programs that most effectively support African American-owned businesses, COVID-19 economic relief for Black businesses and increase opportunities for African American-owned businesses to obtain or participate in federal contracts. There are several other gems inside of Biden’s Negro spiritual-influenced advancement plan, but the question of how all these measures will be implemented during a Biden administration is a critical one.

Biden has an astronomical lead over Trump with respect to Black voters. The margin of distance is not even close, which is to be expected given the voting trends of Black Americans and the Democratic Party. Therefore should the Biden/Harris ticket take the White House, what can Black folks realistically expect from their administration in tipping an economic imbalance that is centuries old?

Reparations Rhetoric or The Lack Thereof

Biden has stated that he is committed to supporting a commission to study what it would take for descendants of American slavery to receive reparations. It is far greater than what Trump is willing to commit to on the matter, but it is still inconclusive. A recent estimate by Business Insider suggests that reparations for Black American descendants of slavery would cost the American government $13 trillion. It is a topic that is consistently kicked down the field with every election cycle, because it is an issue that every presidential candidate approaches like a lightning rod that will fry their candidacy.

But what is it about the conversation of Black folks receiving compensatory damages for the evils of chattel slavery that keeps the word “reparations” off the lips of liberal and conservative candidates? Could it be that they know they are vying to preside over an inherently racist country that still chooses to not be fully accountable for America’s original sin? Could it be a fear of a majority white electorate rebelling against them for even considering what many of their constituents deem a “handout”?

Or could it simply be that no matter which side of the aisle a candidate sits, to advocate and implement a plan for reparations is to disrupt the composition of American capitalism that was never intended to produce financial equity between races?

The immediate future of Black America’s economic standing will not change next month when either Joe Biden is elected or Donald Trump is re-elected. But it is always a battle worth waging.

Black folks have invested too much in this country to have our access to equity be mere talking points to get our votes. Promises are cool, but where’s the paper? We are tired of waiting.

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.