White Citizens Councils, the political wing of the Klu Klux Klan, detested federal taxes because they were used to promote economic fairness for blacks in the South. Government spending on economic opportunity had upset the pre-existing racialized economic order. So in speech after speech, Reagan promised to “turn back the clock” and won in a landslide.
Once in office, Reagan did as promised. He re-constructed a system which took money from the employed poor and working class—who are disproportionately black and brown—and gave it to a mostly white minority who were already wealthy.
The result of Reagan’s policies—which were turbocharged under George W. Bush—is that the top 1 percent have a greater share of national income than at any point in American history. And 97 percent of the top 1 percent are white. Yet poverty is stuck at decades-high levels. One out of three blacks and one out of four Latinos is poor.
Reagan’s policies, largely followed by his predecessors in both parties, have left us a country where a child born in poverty in any other advanced economy on the planet has a better chance of becoming rich than one born in the United States.
This is blatantly wrong to the vast majority of Americans, regardless of race. They would not allow this injustice to stand, if spoken to plainly about it.
But since Reagan’s success in winning office off of white supremacist notions, the U.S. has struggled to be honest with itself about the racial impact of its economic choices. The trouble is that you can’t solve a problem that you don’t admit exists.