On the Interrelationship of Race and Class

March 14, 2023

As a Senior Scholar for the National Collaborative for Health Equity, CEPR’s Algernon Austin was recently asked to write about how economic issues affect racial inequality. He did so by focusing on the interrelationship of race and class in “Understanding the U.S. Economy for Racial Healing,” published in the journal Health Equity. The article is one in a series of Health Equity pieces based on the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation framework.

Austin makes four main points.

First, racial ideology is shaped by the economy. For example, slavery makes no sense as an institution just based on the hatred of Black people. Why would slaveholders import Africans if they were motivated by a hatred of Africans? A hatred of Africans would lead to the banning of Africans from the United States, not their importation. Because slaveholders were motivated by an economic desire for slave labor, they concocted what the historian Mia Bay called “ever-changing intellectual rationalizations” to justify racial economic hierarchy.

Second, much of racial stratification is class stratification. Austin writes, “In a capitalist economy, one’s ability to obtain economic resources is extremely important to one’s quality of life and life opportunities.” Thus, the US racial hierarchy is well-revealed in measures of economic inequality.

Third, economic inequality contributes to racial inequality: “Because the Black population is disproportionately lower-income, they are overrepresented on the losing side of [the country’s] widening income inequality.”

Finally, Austin explains why all races prosper from racial equity. Racial biases and racial politics prevent policymakers from effectively addressing the problems faced by the majority of working people of all races. He concludes by stating that “Racism is a powerful force, but we will all gain if we are able to defeat it.”

Read the full article here.

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