Do we need government to fight discrimination? That question is the central theme of a compelling article by Rinku Sen published recently in The Nation Magazine. Sen discusses the role that government has played at different times in American history in leading the way against discrimination. Reflecting on past and present struggles, Sen concludes that “Government can either reinforce an every-man-for-himself ethic or the idea that we are all in it together. There is nothing inherently corrupt about government, and the best way to shape it for collective good is to treat it as the critical site of struggle and change that it is.” Sen’s essay sheds some light on the complicated intersection of race and the role of government. She makes a powerful case that we cannot just dismiss government when it does not work or is part of the problem, we must consistently call it to live up to its public purposes and use it as a powerful tool for social progress.
A related series of articles recently highlighted the critical role that government hiring has played in creating a black middle class. That role is under threat because of the deep cutbacks in public sector employment that have taken place over the past few years. This trend was documented in this report by the Berkeley Labor Center and reported on by NPR and by the New York Times.