We speak to the brilliant Professor Darrick Hamilton, an “intellectual giant” behind thinking on the racial wealth gap and inequality, who’s bold policy ideas have been championed by a number of US political figures. We speak about ant-racism protests and the way in which coronavirus has disproportionately impacted black communities. This podcast episode is above all about solidarity with black communities, in the face of structural racism and violence.

We jump right into it, asking how he reads the protests. He says, “…One might think of these events as isolated: the protests in response to the murders at the hands of the state, separable from the economic calamity that we’re in in this COVID-19 moment. … All these things are connected and it’s a misnomer to think about them as separable. There might be matches that spark them at different points and in different parts of the system, but it is a collective system.”

What does he think of the relationship between structural racism, class and COVID-19? He answers, “The pandemic reveals a collective vulnerability, but in that collective vulnerability, we know that certain groups are far more vulnerable than others and that is due to a structure of stratification … Class status does not shield black people the way it does shield white people. We know that regardless of a pandemic, the mortality rate for blacks compared to whites in America is about 50% higher. Some people might say well, there’s social determinants of health. Because blacks have lower incomes, blacks live in lower neighbourhoods that don’t have as much resources and assets. We like statistics on this programme. If you look at black and white college-educated individuals between that similar age range, the mortality difference goes to 70%. So, a black person with a college degree has a 70% mortality rate in that adult age than a white person who also has a college degree. … A black woman with a college degree is more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman who dropped out of high school. … There is an independent effect of race and it rises with class status rather than dissipates with class status. And that is based on evidence I knew prior to COVID-19.”

Digging deeper, Nabil wonders if there is something distinctively racist above the neoliberal economic model and is whether it is by accident or by design. Professor Darrick responds, “Racism existed…well before neoliberalism but … you can’t separate racism from neoliberalism. Racism becomes almost a tool to fuel neoliberalism… The key question that we need to ask is how does a general population go along with these long trends of concentration of the elites that are obscene? You offer them relative status. You offer them the property rights in whiteness. You offer them a position that is horizontally better than other groups. So, as vertical inequality becomes more pronounced, an immoral trade-off that is counter a solidarity frame, (takes place). … We can use solidarity in a political economy frame to get rid of this system that we have. The neoliberal movement is in response to some of earlier social movements. … As we became more egalitarian and started to become more inclusive, there was a backlash. There was a political revolt from the elite, and we ended up with a dogma that markets and marketized solutions are the mechanisms for making decisions in our country whether they are economic or otherwise. I use dogma because it’s almost a religion that begins with a set of assumptions that never go challenged.”

Max, asks how we can ensure that as we seek solutions, we don’t go down the route of just thinking about it in terms of class terms, or in terms of rights; but that we have practical solutions that will really tackle this form of stratification and build a more progressive world. Prof Darrick answers, “I’d say when we get to that point where we don’t have a New Deal or economic rights frame that is by design and implementation exclusionary to certain groups, …that’s when we won’t be able to have that neoliberal elitism pushback against the system. Because … the ways in which they were able to pushback against that egalitarian trend was to … weaponize race as a trade-off of growing inequality. So, the way you stop that, is if you have a true rights frame. … Today, with COVID-19, we have at least 40,000,000 Americans that are unemployed. … There is a call for a federal job guarantee now. … A federal job guarantee would allow somebody who is working in wretched conditions an option to say, You know what? I have a public option to another job, and you can’t just provide to me any old wages, any old benefits and force me to engage in wretched work without reaping much.

As Prof. Darrick has said before, one of the solutions that stratification economics offers is reparations. Nabil asks if there’s momentum behind reparations to which Prof Darrick quickly answers, “There’s definitely momentum around it. I’d say in the last Democratic primary (Bernie Sanders v. Joe Biden) there was a great deal of pressure put on the candidates to have to respond to the question of reparations. That’s new. But in the US, if we are ever going to get beyond our race problem and narratives about inequality, we need a retrospective assessment as well as adjustment for all the transgressions that have taken place particularly along racial lines. Reparations needs as a key component that truth and reconciliation in the US. … And then the second component has to be compensatory. If you just have the truth and reconciliation without compensatory responses or redress, it’s an inauthentic apology. It is empty. It becomes simply rhetoric. There has to be some State response to the calamity that has been imposed on generations of blacks and how that calamity impacts the ways in which allocation exists today.” Many are inspired by Professor Darrick and the fact that he is so close to shaping the political agenda in the biggest economy in the world. That gives us hope and we wonder if how he feels, “I pinch myself sometimes…I’m fearful of going through names because I might forget somebody but,… I hope they know that I’m appreciative and grateful and recognize the access that they have provided…”

In true EQUALS fashion, we ask where he finds hope I the fight against inequality. With deep conviction he says, “I ultimately believe in justice. I am committed to justice. I talked about neoliberalism as a religion. I characterize some people that follow it using it as a dogma … Well, if I’m describing a religion for me, in a social-science, political-economy context, it’s JUSTICE! I believe in that. And I believe that many others believe in that. …”

Do listen to the entire episode for all the amazing things Professor Darrick had to say . Do subscribe and share with family and friends. We would love to hear from you, so email us at equals@oxfam.org or DM on Twitter @EQUALSHope..