A week from now, our nation will celebrate Juneteenth. It marks the day when enslaved Black people in Texas learned–almost two years after the fact–that the Emancipation Proclamation had rendered them free people. It is a fundamentally American occasion–a celebration of freedom, but also an acknowledgement of freedom delayed. As we observe this day, we must be honest that the hopes stirred almost 160 years ago have still not been fully realized.
Black Americans are not yet fully free when Black unemployment is still almost twice the national average, when the average Black eighth grader reads at a level far below their white peers, and when Black mothers are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. We lack true freedom when so many schools are almost as segregated as they were before Brown v. Board of Education. And, we cannot have freedom when identical resumes with stereotypically white or Black names lead to wildly different chances of being hired. These persistent inequalities have compounded over hundreds of years. They hold back our economy and corrode the American soul.
Replacing racist policies with neutral ones will not be enough to deliver equality. We must actively work to reverse these harms, which is why I propose that we invest in equity with a plan as bold as the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. Let’s call it the Douglass Plan for Black America, in honor of Frederick Douglass, who called America to better live up to its promise. Such a plan could help heal the deep wounds of America’s original sin and supercharge economic growth for every American.
Like my campaign, the plan is structured around three values: freedom, security, and democracy.
When it comes to freedom, America–with only about 5% of the world’s population–is home to nearly 25% of the world’s incarcerated population, and this population is disproportionately Black. We would be a safer and more just country if we did not harshly penalize the poor, or young people who’ve made missteps. By reducing sentencing disparities and ensuring that every returning citizen can reintegrate into society, I commit to using every tool possible to end unnecessary and discriminatory incarceration, with the result of reducing the number of Americans incarcerated by 50 percent. This is not a random target, but the hard math on how many Americans should not be locked up in the first place.
True security means being able to provide food, shelter, and a livelihood. Yet today–as a direct result of slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing discrimination large and small–for every $100 in wealth a white family has, the average Black family only has $5.04. To combat this wealth gap and encourage greater economic security within the Black community, America should triple the number of entrepreneurs from underserved areas–particularly ones of color–within ten years. This would create over 3 million new jobs and more than $660 billion in new wealth for Black communities and our country, through a number of policies to support this goal. For example, I’m proposing a federal fund–modeled on a Maryland program–that would co-invest in entrepreneurs of color, particularly in low-income communities.
We want to increase the number of successful small businesses in Black communities by 50%, by reforming credit scoring, increasing access to credit, and supporting long-term growth. Under my administration, the federal government will also almost triple its contracting business with minority-owned firms, from just over 9% to 25%. This single proposal could inject more than $100 billion in communities of color. The Douglass Plan would further support the next generation of Black entrepreneurs by expanding access to capital, training entrepreneurs, and rigorously and tracking our progress.
Lastly, we must safeguard our democracy. Americans have lost faith in a political system where dollars outvote people, and where politicians fail to deliver even on ideas supported by an American majority.
This cynicism is nowhere more warranted than in the Black community, where systematic efforts are taking away the right to vote. To counteract this troubling trend, we commit to advancing a 21st Century Voting Rights Act, to ensure that every vote is counted everywhere, particularly in communities with a history of discrimination. This means banning practices like voter ID laws and ensuring that potentially discriminatory changes to voting laws first be reviewed by the Department of Justice. We are not a true democracy if certain Americans are restricted from voting because one party has decided they would be better off if fewer people vote.
I’ll have a lot more to say about these policies in the coming weeks. But the time to act is now. Frederick Douglass once noted that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” So let’s demand greater freedom, security, and democracy for communities that need it most. Doing so will enrich not just Black America, but all Americans.
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana and candidate for president of the United States