By Orson Aguilar
Anytime a new presidential administration and Congress take office, we see a flurry of new policy initiatives. That’s normal. But what we’re seeing this year is distinctly not normal:
Nearly every one of the proposals coming from the Trump administration and Congress will disproportionately harm communities of color. It’s like we have a target painted on our backs.
Some of these are obvious: For example, whether or not some sort of border wall gets built, a crackdown on undocumented immigrants will mean more fear, stress and hardship for anyone who looks “foreign” – not just Latinos, but Asian Americans, people of Middle Eastern background and others. Mixed-status families, in which some have legal immigration papers and some do not, could see parents and children ripped apart.
But this goes far beyond immigration. Ajit Pai, the new chair of the Federal Communications Commission, has made it a priority to unwind “net neutrality” rules that guarantee open access to the internet. If that happens, things won’t change much for wealthy individuals and big corporations, who will still be able to pay for topflight internet service, but those who can’t afford to pay will be relegated to online slow lanes. When my organization’s telecommunications experts looked at the issue a few years ago, they concluded, “Without net neutrality, the result would likely be a sort of internet apartheid, with the least affluent individuals and companies relegated to the slowest lanes with the least access. This hardship will be felt most profoundly in communities of color and by low-income Americans.”
That’s as true today as it ever was.
Meanwhile, both the Trump administration and congressional leaders seem intent on dismantling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a key element of post-crash financial reforms. CFPB is the only agency whose sole purpose is to keep customers of financial institutions like banks, credit card companies and payday lenders from being ripped off, and it’s already gotten nearly $12 billion in relief for consumers.
While CFPB helps all consumers, don’t forget that the worst, most predatory subprime lenders specifically targeted low-income communities of color, leading to staggering, disproportionate loss of wealth in these communities. If CFPB goes away or gets crippled, these communities will again be on the chopping block.
Attacks on environmental regulations and efforts to combat climate change will hurt communities of color first and worst. These communities have been regularly used as dumping grounds for polluting facilities, and consistently suffer the worst health effects from pollution. Here in California, low-income communities of color have seen real gains in jobs and economic security due to our climate efforts. And while my state will keep pushing forward, a national retreat on climate and anti-pollution efforts will send more black and brown kids to emergency rooms due to asthma and other respiratory problems, and leaving them to drink water tainted by lead and other poisons.
Both the new administration and the majority in Congress have pledged to dismantle the Affordable Care Act as quickly as possible. Indeed, even before Congress starts a formal repeal effort, the White House killed ads that had already been paid for encouraging people to sign up for coverage, before partially backtracking under public pressure.
Destroying the ACA will disproportionately harm Latinos and African Americans, who had the highest uninsured rates before Obamacare and have seen the biggest gains since the law took effect. Once again, many will be hurt but our communities will be the biggest losers.
I could go on almost endlessly. Early indications, including the record of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, suggest that the administration’s education policies will likely hurt our public schools and may be a disaster for students of color, LGBTQ kids and other young people from underserved or marginalized communities. And while the Obama administration made an admirable effort to curb racial disparities in law enforcement, the new regime has signaled an end to such efforts, branding legitimate and needed protests against excessive police violence as a “dangerous anti-police atmosphere.”
This isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a partisan divide. For its first century, the GOP had a long and honorable record on civil rights, from dismantling slavery to providing crucial votes to pass civil rights legislation in the 1960s. And Democrats have been far from perfect over the years.
But in a nation projected to have a nonwhite majority by 2044, this is scary. Van Jones stirred up some controversy when he called the November election “a whitelash,” but it sure feels like Americans of color are under attack in a concerted way that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. But one thing I know for certain: We will resist.