Our democracy is in crisis—from weaponized partisanship to an economy that has not produced shared equality for decades. Much of how we got here is due to the twin failures of neoliberalism and racial liberalism, which upheld a racial capitalism that subjugated people of color with racist rules while exacerbating existing inequalities. Together, these old paradigms have excluded and divided. They have limited our politics and institutions, and they have hindered the policies and narratives that could advance racial equity and justice. But a new worldview is possible.
A new Roosevelt Institute report, A New Paradigm for Justice and Democracy: Moving beyond the Twin Failures of Neoliberalism and Racial Liberalism argues that to fulfill the promise of a 21st century multiracial democracy and economy that work for everyone, we need a new paradigm for racial justice. Co-authored by Kyle Strickland, deputy director, race and democracy, and Felicia Wong, president and CEO, the report contends that this new paradigm must be rooted in the values of today’s racial justice movement: repair and redress; material equity; and freedom and liberation. Moreover, it must center the role of race in our economic policy debates and in our broader politics.
“At the core of racial liberalism in the 20th century was always an ahistorical understanding of American economic and political institutions—a downplaying or denying of a competing set of arguments about the history of stratification. This ahistorical approach has turned out to be wrong. The policies that follow from it have not brought more material equity or racial justice,” said Wong. “A new racial justice movement and new economics movement share much in common. The call for a recognition of historical truth, for real material equity, and ultimately for a freedom based not in market transactions but in self-determination: making these values real requires big changes in how we design our policies and our political institutions.”
To better understand how the authors came to their emergent worldview on racial justice, and how a new paradigm shift can occur, the report is divided into three parts:
- The first traces the twin failures of neoliberalism and racial liberalism, outlining how the flawed worldviews of the late 20th century helped lead us to this moment;
- The second examines three major themes driving today’s racial justice movement: freedom and liberation, repair and redress, and material equity; and
- The third envisions a new worldview that builds on these themes to shift narratives, policymaking, and power—an endeavor that faces many obstacles but offers hope for a path forward.
“The success of this new paradigm is far from inevitable—weaponizing racial backlash has become increasingly central to the Republican Party agenda, racial violence is on the rise, and our mainstream institutions and political leaders continue to underestimate the very real threats to our democracy,” said Strickland. “What happens next, and whether a multiracial democracy for the 21st century can come into being, depends on the strength of political change. It will require leadership and persuasion—grassroots power, political courage from elected officials, and popular and political will to challenge the racist structures of our governing institutions.”
Today’s report is the first piece published by the newly established Race and Democracy program at Roosevelt. It builds on the organization’s post-neoliberalism work and Rewriting the Racial Rules report, which examines the racial rules—laws, policies, institutions, regulations, and normative practices—that undergird our economy and society.
About the Roosevelt Institute
The Roosevelt Institute is a think tank, a student network, and the nonprofit partner to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum that, together, are learning from the past and working to redefine the future of the American economy. Focusing on corporate and public power, labor and wages, and the economics of race and gender inequality, the Roosevelt Institute unifies experts, invests in young leaders, and advances progressive policies that bring the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor into the 21st century.