In the first Democratic debate with no black or Latino candidates on stage, the lone nonwhite contender, Andrew Yang, said income inequality was responsible for the absence of minorities among the top-tier candidates — and said his plan for universal basic income was the solution.
“It’s both an honor and disappointment to be the lone candidate of color on the stage,” Yang said when asked what message the lack of racial diversity sent to viewers and voters.
The debate Thursday, sponsored by Politico and PBS, was held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Besides Yang, the debate included Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer.
Yang said he missed Sen. Kamala Harris, who qualified for the debate but recently dropped out of the race, and Sen. Cory Booker who, earlier this month, remarked that “we've gotten to this place where there's more billionaires in the race than there are black people.”
Hours before the debate, Booker tweeted, “It's a shame that tonight's #DemDebate won't reflect the diversity of our party.”
“I think Cory will be back,” Yang said to cheers. He didn’t name another presidential hopeful of color, the only Latino candidate, Julián Castro, but went on to talk about the inequities faced by black and Latino communities in the U.S.
“I grew up the son of immigrants and I had many racial epithets used against me as a kid,” Yang said. “But blacks and Latinos have something much more powerful working against them, they have numbers. The average net worth of a black household’s only 10 percent of that of a white household. For Latinos, it’s only 12 percent. If you are a black woman, you’re 20 percent more likely to die from complications in childbirth. These are the numbers that define race in our country.”
Yang attributed the lack of racial representation on stage to income inequality and the influence of campaign contributions.
“Fewer than 5 percent of Americans donate to political campaigns. You know what you need to donate to political campaigns? Disposable income,” he said, garnering applause from the audience.
He referred to his policy proposal for universal basic income, an income model that proposes a specific amount of government funding be provided to citizens — regardless of their income or employment status — and would not impose restrictions on how the money is spent. Supporters see it as a solution to poverty. Critics say the program amounts to socialism and would create a “welfare state.”
“The way we fix this is by taking Martin Luther King’s message of a guaranteed minimal income, a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for all Americans. I guarantee if we had a freedom dividend of a $1,000 a month, I would not be the only candidate of color on the stage tonight.”
When the same question of race was posed to Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator attempted to change the topic and respond to a previous question on climate change.
“I will answer that question, but I wanted to get back to the issue of climate change for a moment because I do believe this is the existential issue.”
“Senator, with all respect, this question is about race, can you answer the question as it was asked?” interrupted PBS correspondent Amnaz Nawaz. The audience erupted into applause.
“Because people of color, in fact, are going to be the people suffering most if we do not deal with climate change,” Sanders persisted.
“And, by the way, we have an obligation up here if there are not any of our African-American brothers and sisters up here to speak about an economy in which African-Americans are exploited, where black women die three times at higher rates than white women, where we have a criminal justice system which is racist and broken, disproportionately made up of African-Americans and Latinos and Native Americans who are in jail. So we need an economy that focuses on the needs of oppressed, exploited people and that is the African-American community.”
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