Mike Bloomberg Gonna Make Black Folks Rich AF
Mike Bloomberg's trying, y'all. The billionaire presidential candidate deserves some credit for at least addressing his challenges with black voters rather than ignoring them or claiming the best and brightest black people already support him. Bloomberg visited Tulsa, Oklahoma, this weekend and gave a pretty solid speech about race.
BLOOMBERG: For hundreds of years, America systematically stole Black lives, Black freedom, and Black labor. A theft of labor and a transfer of wealth – enshrined in law and enforced by violence. And the impact of that theft over a period of centuries has meant an enormous loss of wealth for individuals and families across generations, a kind of compound interest in reverse. Well, it's time to say enough – and to damn well do something about it.
... As someone who has been very lucky in life, I often say my story would only have been possible in America — and I think that's true. But I also know that my story might have turned out very differently if I had been black, and that more black Americans of my generation would have ended up with far more wealth had they been white.
Wow, Bloomberg is speaking truth to power, which in his case is like talking to a mirror. Still, his words are potent. He didn't just confirm that he's white but he acknowledged his race comes with a certain, shall we say, privilege. They'll never let him back into the GOP now, even after they sort out this whole Donald Trump mess. America does offer the unique opportunity for a single person to amass a personal fortune roughly equal to the GDP of Lithuania, Unfortunately, there's never been much space for black people on the robber baron bandwagon. Most of us don't want to screw the poor but we'd appreciate a little financial security and fair compensation for our labor, which historically was either stolen or exploited. The good news is that Bloomberg has a plan for that.
Bloomberg announced his "Greenwood Initiative" plan yesterday. It's named after the Greenwood District, once known as "Black Wall Street" and one of the country's most prosperous black communities before a white bomb burned it to the ground in 1921, killing a literally untold number of people. Bloomberg didn't even need to watch HBO's Watchmen to learn about the Tulsa massacre. Bloomberg Philanthropies donated $1 million to the Greenwood Cultural District last year.
The Greenwood Initiative is compelling. Bloomberg set a goal to "help one million black families buy a home, nearly double the number of black-owned businesses, and triple the net worth of the typical black family." Triple is good. We like triple. The plan includes a $70 billion investment in 100 of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. A President Bloomberg would set up a new White House office for "Neighborhood Equity and Opportunity." He proposes that mortgage and loan guarantors get their acts together and update credit-scoring requirements he contends are "rigged" against black people. He'd establish a new Housing Fairness Commission with a $10 billion fund that would "test and potentially reverse" housing laws found to discriminate against minorities. This sounds like restorative economic justice -- dare we say "reparations," and Bloomberg supports Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's bill to study the issue further. He obviously doesn't agree with Mitch McConnell, who grossly suggested that Barack Obama's election had settled Jim Crow's tab.
BLOOMBERG: Achieving these goals will help our country begin to confront the legacy of what Frederick Douglass called 'the sin and shame of America,' which did not end with Robert E. Lee's surrender at the Appomattox Court House, or LBJ's signing of a civil rights bills a century later, or even the election of our first African-American president.
What stands out to me when listening to Bloomberg's speech is that he's not just preaching prosperity gospel. He's talking like a Democrat, not a temporarily embarrassed Republican. He even pointed out that Martin Luther King marched for both racial and economic justice. Bloomberg said he believes in "facing facts and following data," and his arguments were direct from the 1619 Project.
BLOOMBERG: If there is one data point that begins to capture the enormity of the legacy that has been handed down to Black Americans, I think it is this: Today, the typical Black family in America owns one-tenth the wealth of the typical white family.
That really is a disgrace – but when you think about it from an economic perspective, the exploitation worked exactly as it was designed to do – slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow, segregation, and redlining.
That's huge. It's rare for a white politician from either political party to admit that institutional racism in America was a feature, not a bug. I've appreciated that Bloomberg has demonstrated the capacity to admit when he's wrong, as he's done with the awful stop-and-frisk policy. This is a trait not every Democratic candidate shares. He's also choosing to speak directly to issues facing black Americans, ones that will remain even after Trump is a bad memory. That's worth our attention.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."