While Congress considers the ideas presented by President Obama in last week’s State of the Union address, America’s minorities should be asking whether those policies help bring us closer to racial equality in America. Politicians often talk about the “two Americas” and addressing income inequality to help bring us closer together. Few recognize the biggest hurdle to true equality has been an institutionalized division often fostered by government.
It’s been 50 years since the Great Society programs drastically expanded the role of government. Those, like the New Deal reforms a generation earlier, were never intended to be a permanent solution for those in need.
Some good has been done, and to suggest otherwise would be inaccurate. However, far too many Americans have become locked in a corrosive, multi-generational cycle of government dependency in which advancement and equality are out of reach.
The truth is that government cannot create equality.
People create equality when they are empowered to achieve and believe they can. Our system often cheapens our potential by focusing time, money and infrastructure on government solutions rather than individual empowerment or growing free market opportunities.
Many government solutions have failed to address the problems of urban decay, poverty, poor-quality education and the decline of so many of our rural communities. Urban minority and immigrant families once could harness private sector opportunity and move from relative poverty to the middle class in one generation. That’s a story becoming too rare to be ignored.
Cities like New York are only graduating 30 percent of their high school students ready for college without remedial course work. Unemployment and underemployment among minority communities is double the national average for whites. Millions are out of work and not looking. Nearly one-third of minority youth are unemployed. The incarceration rate among African-Americans and Latinos is a national tragedy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor participation rate last November among Blacks was just over 60% and for Hispanics a little more than 65 percent. Millions more want for quality education, vocational training and economic opportunities that increase their self-worth.
When minorities look at the impact of government on their lives, they shouldn’t be thinking about the last five years but the last 50. They should be asking tougher questions about results and demanding reforms that will lead to greater equality of opportunity even if it means rolling back some of the government programs that have stood in the face of economic prosperity.
Success and true equality for minorities isn’t dependent upon another political promise or program created in Washington. It’s about real economic empowerment.
There really are two Americas. It’s not some artificial battle line drawn between the top one percent and everyone else. It’s about a political culture that pays lip service to the needs of minorities. It’s about a government that expects less out of our communities and doesn’t provide the environment for them to achieve.
Politicians and political parties need to stop pretending that just increasing the minimum wage or creating some new happy-sounding program will improve our quality of life. They need to go further and understand that housing projects should not be a permanent solution for any family. They need to recognize that when our urban public schools continue to fail at preparing young people to participate in the economy, they are fostering inequality rather than building a self-reliant middle class.
Minorities don’t need pity from politicians, special protections, permanent intervention schemes and quotas. They need jobs that pay and schools that work. They don’t need government making their decisions for them. They need to be treated with the respect they deserve as truly equal members of our American society.
It’s time to start demanding better and looking somewhere other than government and political elites for real leadership that will help bridge the equality divide. It’s time America believed in Americans again.
Dwayne Carson is Executive Director of the Center for American Racial Equality, an organization dedicated to advancing pro-growth economic policies and individual freedom of choice to empower America’s minority communities.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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