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?