Rich, Black Folk

340 acres of freshly cut grass. 10,000 square foot mansion. Prep schools and carpool. Luxury cars on every street. Are you thinking the people that live in this community are rich? Do you think they’re white? So do I. However, rich, black people do exist and are even are part of the 1%. But, it’s a very lonely few. In 2013, to be considered part of the 1%, it requires a household net worth of ~$7.9 million. Only 1.7% of those who make that requirement are black. But, does this privilege of wealth give African-Americans equal opportunities in the job market and prevent them from institutionalized racism? According to Sheila Johnson, that is not the case. Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), chief executive of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, and stakeholder of the NBA’s Wizards, NHL’s Capitals, and WNBA’s Mystics, has achieved immense success in her life, but is still seen as a black woman (Vega, 2016). She discusses in a CNN interview that she has struggled to get bank loans to due her status as a black person, because as she has heard, “I’ve never seen anybody black do anything that has excellence.” As much wealth as a black person may acquire, they are still black at the end of the day.

I’ve noticed a trend that colorblind whites (and some colorblind blacks) who see black people who have achieved success via the accumulation of wealth tend to believe in the meritocracy, the idea that there is an equal-playing field for everyone in the US. Common phrases such as, “well… he did it,” perpetuates this false hope for blacks and allows whites to sink more into their white privilege. Researcher Chuck Collins says that this is how the past shows up in the present: 400 years of institutionalized racism, oppression, and the inability to make economic progress, screwing over the next-generation again and again (Holland, 2016). The Nation reports that if the current economic trends continue, the average black household will need 228 years to accumulate as much wealth as white households (Latino households = 84 years). Economist Thomas Picketty states that if we do nothing to change our socioeconomics, the US will move into a hereditary (white) aristocracy of wealth. To me, it sounds like the wealth gap will never be closed.

Is there any hope at all? The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Corporation for Economic Development (CFED) have proposed a plan that could rationalize these wealth-building activities so that those who need help, actually receive it; every baby that is born in the United States would be set up with a savings account including a sum of money, matched with public funds that low-income households are able to save. When these persons hit age 18, they would have enough money to help finance their college education, first home, or be able to start a business (any remaining funds would go toward their retirement). Do you think this plan could work towards closing the wealth inequality gap?

2 thoughts on “Rich, Black Folk

  1. Watching the video one part that struck me was when talking about meritocracy and “pulling yourself up by your boot straps” many people often forget that some people don’t have boots at all. I think this is interesting and a potential way to explain why color-blind ideology is problematic and that referring to the exceptions as you mention doesn’t make this idea any more true. Government funding in this way is an idea I haven’t heard of to narrow the gap, but I think it’s intriguing. In an ideal world this sounds great, but I think it gets problematic when there aren’t other systems and programs put in place to accompany it, as Jessica mentions above. I also think it walks a fine line of too much government intervention, especially in U.S. society where “government control” is often seen as an invasion. I think this program has potential, but it also seems to assume that this problem of financial inequality between race can be solved just by money. In other words, trying to solve the effect of racial attitudes and institutionalization of racism rather than focus on what caused the gap in the first place.

  2. The idea of a government fund is an interesting one! I like it from the extent that it addresses economic inequality right from the start – from when a child is born. Most of the social remedies we’ve established to address inequalities kick in much later in life – like affirmative action policies, free preschool, busing, etc. I think if a policy like that were to be proposed, however, there would be massive backlash to it. For those that argue affirmative action is unfair to whites, this I feel would completely cross the line for them. That reaction might be connected to perceiving African Americans as somehow “undeserving” or lazy. I think in addition to policies like this, there needs to be support on all sides of the issue. So, rather than just throwing money at a low-income community, we should ask questions like “where can we support kids and families more? Are we encouraging & coaching our kids on college preparation? Do the families have the right resources to go about this process?” Otherwise, without instructions on how to use the resources, the funds would be helpless.

What do you think? Join the conversation!