The Real Deal on The New Deal

If anyone should be skeptical of New Deal policies, it should be black folks, not Republicans.

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Join the washingtonpost.com Live Online discussion on THE REAL DEAL ON THE NEW DEAL with The Root's Michael Dawson.

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It is often forgotten that, for all of its benefits, the New Deal reinforced structural black economic disadvantage in many ways. It is certainly true that the Work Projects Administration (WPA) put many blacks to work, and many blacks also benefited from the relief programs.

But it is also true that key programs of the New Deal consciously excluded blacks. Black farmers were excluded directly from the agricultural programs and were often forced off the land. Southern and Southwestern legislators insisted that social security legislation was written to exclude the vast majority of black and Latino workers (tenant farmers and domestic workers). The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and its successor, the Federal Housing Administration, explicitly banned loans to neighborhoods with any blacks, thus excluding black homeowners from the main American engine for generating wealth—homeownership. It was the federal government that invented the notorious practice of redlining, the legacy of which can still be seen in the slower rates at which homes appreciate in black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods.

House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn has reminded us that we face similar dangers in this new era of great economic turmoil, and that we should be careful to avoid them. Of course, President Obama’s stimulus package and proposed budget do not have the racial exclusions that were contained in the New Deal era legislation. The right has excoriated Clyburn for pointing out the racial implications of threats by several Southern Republican governors who have said that they would refuse to accept money in the president’s stimulus package to provide aid to the unemployed and perhaps other mandated programs for the economically disadvantaged such as Medicaid.

Clyburn is correct. Since the 1950s, black unemployment in the U.S. has usually been twice that of white citizens (and in two of the blackest states, both with governors threatening to reject the aid, Mississippi and Louisiana, the rate is three times that of whites). A horde of conservative politicians and commentators complained that Clyburn was playing the “race card.”

“Playing the race card” will be just one of the tropes invoked by the right when African Americans suggest, no matter how innocently, that economic or racial disadvantage is a reason to support both the stimulus package and the president’s proposed budget.

They have transformed an earnest schoolgirl requesting a reasonable public education into a political operative cynically using her powerful political “connections” to unfairly gain patronage-based largesse.

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