Economic gap reflects uneven playing field

Obama must address institutional discrimination to close the income gap.

Melanie Williams

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama spoke at length about shrinking the rich-poor gap in America. The president declared his willingness to fight against Republican efforts to maintain tax breaks for the wealthy and promote a laissez-faire system of economics.
While conservative legislators were busy sulking through the speech, I was applauding Obama in my living room. Closing the gap between the suffering of millions and the extravagance of a few is absolutely necessary. It promotes equality and would result in a better, stronger economy for all Americans.
Though the slim majority of Americans in poverty are white, people of color are disproportionately represented in the working class, the homeless population and the group of people relying on government programs to get by. On the other side, white men are disproportionately represented in the upper classes. This is because we are not, and have never been, on an even playing field.
Many believe institutional racism died when we abolished slavery, ended segregation, closed internment camps and started paying reparations to Native American nations. What they fail to see is that government programs that were meant to raise the economic floor for everyone in poverty have ended up benefitting white people more than people of color because of the external privilege that whites have historically been
afforded.
I think itâÄôs great that Obama wants to do his part to close the rich-poor gap, but I think heâÄôll have a difficult time doing so unless he acknowledges that economic equality is not just about class âÄî itâÄôs also about race, gender and historical discrimination. Closing the gap cannot be a color-blind endeavor, but rather an initiative that acknowledges discrimination and provides for its adverse economic effects.

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