Austerity Is a Dog Whistle

By Jhumpa Bhattacharya

It’s 2021, which marks the start of a new decade and a new presidency in the United States. A welcome change in tone and tenor, we are excited by the possibility of having a leader who openly acknowledges white supremacy as a flourishing threat that must be addressed. As a nation, we watched in terror and heartbreak as a white supremacist insurgency took hold of our Capitol building on January 6. We hold the strong belief that all those who helped incite and aid the insurrection — including the legislators who chose to challenge election results and to stoke hatred — should face consequences. Attempting to block the votes of Black and brown people is also an act of racial violence. All of this is a painful reality that our children are witnessing and that demands accountability.

In fact, there is no path to unity without accountability for white supremacy within the halls of our government and throughout our country. And yet, we are now again in what feels like the neverending fight against austerity — another form of white supremacy violence. Despite the raging COVID pandemic, where an estimated 500,000 Americans will die by mid February, bipartisan legislatures are wringing their hands at the thought of providing much-needed extended cash support and resources to mitigate people’s suffering. Using familiar deficit hawkery politics to back up their flawed-and-failed thinking, they are more concerned with the price tag than the loss of human lives.

Make no mistake, austerity is a dog whistle. There is ample evidence that due to the systemic racism built into all of our institutions and systems, Black and brown communities are bearing the brunt of the economic and health consequences of COVID. Just take a look at the horrifying jobs reports that continue to show how Black and brown women are being pushed out of the labor market at a shocking rate, or that Black and brown renters are at higher risk of eviction, or the continual disproportionate death rate of COVID in Black and brown communities.

When legislatures are hesitant to allocate resources and build infrastructure to ensure that the lives of Black and brown people are protected, and to guarantee that Black and brown children have enough food to eat and a roof over their heads, what they are saying is that they don’t believe Black and brown individuals and families are deserving of public investment. Failing to act with big, bold policies — and refusing to use public dollars to protect the public (when there’s never a delay in bailing out corporations) — is a continuation of unchecked white supremacist thinking in our government.

Imagine promoting the idea that it’s ok to further desecrate Black and brown families because it will cost too much to intervene. This is what I hear every time a politician turns to a budget argument when we are talking about protecting people, particularly during a global pandemic. This is a tactic to sanitize and dehumanize the conversation; to steer people away from the heart of the debate: that what we are talking about is governing to ensure that people have a roof over their heads, food on the kitchen table, and enough money to meet their very basic needs.

Pursuant to our Centering Blackness framework, we will remain steadfast in pushing our leaders to make decisions that ensure Black and brown people in America can be not only healthy and safe but also thriving. Doing too little or waiting to see what will happen will cost us too much and will only further entrench racial injustice and violence.

Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement on our anti-austerity, pro-abundance work in the coming month, and please subscribe to our eNewsletter to stay updated on our latest work and announcements.



Insight Center for Community Economic Development

The Insight Center for Community Economic Development’s mission is to help people and communities become, and remain, economically secure.