Poverty and violence didn’t just randomly happen to this community. These issues are the result of a long history of systematic discrimination and abuse.… Given this history, we shouldn’t be surprised at the challenges that kids in Indian Country are facing today. And we should never forget that we played a role in this. Make no mistake about it—we own this. And we can’t just invest a million here and a million there, or come up with some five-year or ten-year plan and think we’re going to make a real impact. This is truly about nation-building, and it will require fresh thinking and a massive infusion of resources over generations. That’s right, not just years, but generations.
—Michelle Obama, April 8, 2015, White House Convening on Creating Opportunity for Native youth
America has a gargantuan racial wealth gap, and that gap impacts nearly all public policy issues affecting the New American Majority—an electoral bloc I define as made up of progressive people of color and progressive whites. (That’s 51 percent of all eligible voters.) The median wealth, or net worth, of a white family in 2013 was $134,000, while the median wealth for a black family was $11,000. Latino families have a net worth of $13,900, and Native American families have a net worth of $5,700. For Asian American families that amount is $91,440, and much of that is attributable to the fact that 74 percent of all Asian American adults are immigrants, with many of them coming from the professional class of their home countries.
With whites having such an overwhelming head start, it is nearly impossible for the groups of color to catch up. The historical average annual return on investments in the stock market is approximately 10 percent. If the average white family invested their $134,000 in net assets in the stock market and received that 10 percent annual return, and the average black family placed its $11,000 in investments that performed twice as well as the white family’s, the black family would still be behind even after 28 years of earning double on their investment.
Today’s racial wealth gap is a modern-day manifestation of the fact that America was built on land stolen from Native Americans and Mexicans and developed by the backbreaking labor of African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. Given this reality, we all have to ask ourselves what is the right and just thing to do from a public policy standpoint to close this gap in a country that professes a belief in justice and equality. If progressives want to vastly improve the conditions in underserved and underdeveloped communities, capture the imagination of the New American Majority, and secure its lasting loyalty, then bigger and bolder policy solutions are required.
Which brings us back to the question, “What is justice?” One could persuasively—and logically—argue that justice in the context of the history and conduct of the United States would entail the following: