The Great Recession: What’s Race Got to Do with It?

By Guest Columnist Dec 16, 2009

By Tram Nguyen Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to appear with Chris Rabb on the ARC/LinkTV collaboration for an upcoming show called ColorLines: Race and Economic Recovery. The dialogue we began there—as Chris and I tried to unpack the impact of the economic crisis on communities of color and solutions for building an equitable and sustainable economy—underscores for me the importance of continuing to delve into this deep connection between racism and our economy’s collapse. In short, Race and Economic Recovery is a show whose time has come! And not just because I’m a biased ColorLines fan, but because this is a conversation that racial justice activists need to be having with each other and in as many forums with as many audiences as we can. We need to articulate why it’s still important to focus on racial inequity, especially now that the economic crisis affects almost everyone and the American middle class is more or less falling apart. On the show, I went into two of the reasons why race is relevant: disparities evident across every economic indicator for how communities of color are affected by the recession, and the necessity of exposing racial inequity so we can advocate for solutions that address the problems without leaving anybody out. But I also think there is another argument to be made about systemic racism being at the core of the rotten apple that is corporate capitalism. In short, it’s about how going from redlining to subpriming…led to our economy flatlining. UC economist Gary Dymski makes this argument (without the rhyming) in his paper “Racial Exclusion and the Political Economy of the Subprime Crisis” Dymski explains how the housing implosion that brought the country to its knees (and the world with it) had roots in a long history of economic exclusion followed by super-targeting of people of color for predatory lending. This led to devastating outcomes for communities of color and also metastasized into a national crisis for millions of Americans. He calls it economic “expropriation” which is actually a very apt term when you think about the massive stripping of wealth that’s taking place. According to United for a Fair Economy, foreclosures will end up costing Blacks and Latinos $164 billion—about half of the nation’s entire losses from the foreclosure crisis. Writing in The Root, Kai Wright put it this way:

We were targeted with the toxic lending products that ultimately broke the world—much as black consumers have long been targets of lending predation, from redlining to payday loans to tax scams. No surprise, then, that our neighborhoods are collapsing under foreclosure. And no surprise that black unemployment has hit 15 percent. This debate is a big, big deal for black America.

So true. And not only do communities of color need to join the economic debate, but the debate needs to get a lot bigger and more accurate about the role of race in the recession, and the recovery. We can’t rebuild the economy if we don’t address this incredible inequity. Tram Nguyen is the media and development coordinator at the California Reinvestment Coalition and the former editor of ColorLines magazine.