After all our back and forth about culture, discrimination, young black men, and absentee fathers, so much of it comes do the fact that, as Meizhu Lui tells us:
The gap between the wealth of white Americans and African Americans has grown. According to the Fed, for every dollar of wealth held by the typical white family, the African American family has only one dime. In 2004, it had 12 cents.
That, really, is all you need to know about race in this country.
Your average white family holds roughly ten times as much economic power as your average black family (UPDATE: see comments below for the change) . Moreover, I suspect that even if you're a black family on the upper end, you likely, still, enjoy less social capital than your peers, if only because there are going to be so few other black families like you. Why is the wealth gap so big? Frankly, I find race-based culture arguments to be hazy, unmeasurable and unknowable. I find arguments about job-discrimination more credible, but still unconvincing, mostly because I suspect that discrimination is a human impulse. I'm not convinced that we get it, today, any worse than the Irish or the Italians got it.
But the effect of past discrimination is observable and quite profound:
The biggest predictor of the future economic status of a child is the net worth of the child's parents. Even modest inheritances or gifts within a parent's lifetime -- such as paying for college or providing the down payment on a home -- can give a child a lift up the economic ladder. And historically, white families have enjoyed more government support and tax-paid subsidies for their asset-building activities.
Let's look at the rules of the game in homeownership, for example.
During the Depression, the Home Owners' Loan Corp. was formed to rescue families whose homes were in foreclosure. Not a single loan went to a family of color. The black section of Detroit was simply excluded. After World War II, GIs received government-subsidized home mortgages, but there was no oversight to ensure that soldiers of color got their fair share. Of the 67,000 mortgages issued under the GI Bill in New York and northern New Jersey, 66,900 went to white veterans, as documented in Ira Katznelson's "When Affirmative Action Was White."
This says nothing of redlining--a federal government policy which was, at its root, designed to keep black people in certain neighborhoods, and keep those neighborhoods poor. This says nothing of the the South's efforts to destroy black middle class communities, and violently suppress anything resembling black economic power. I think reparations are politically unworkable, but its becoming clear that we're paying a price for taking the easy way out. As Malcolm would say, agreeing that we sit on the toilet next to each other should be the minimum, not the apex, of our efforts to set history right.
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