Racial Wealth Divide

The legacy of the enslavement of Africans by European settlers of the United States can be seen in the current Black-White racial wealth divide.

After hundreds of years of the enslavement of Africans and the defeat of the South in the Civil War a brief period of “Reconstruction” followed. During ‘reconstruction” African- Americans were allowed civil rights that they wouldn’t experience for another hundred years. Reparations were given to a small number of formerly enslaved Africans but soon a political compromise was reached between the white North and the white South that white supremacy would be reasserted in the South through an apartheid system that would eventually be referred to as “Jim Crow” segregation.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1950′s and 1960′s would end the legally sanctioned segregation of the South but as in “reconstruction” the economic aid and investment necessary for the African-American community to develop wealth would be denied. The ongoing Black/white wealth divide is the result of the failure to ever provide adequate reparations to the African-American community. This Black-white racial wealth divide is the primary obstacle to racial reconciliation in the United States today.

The Black-White income divide over the last 40 years has remained fairly stagnant. If Black incomes rose at the same rate as they did between 1967 and 2005, it would take 537 years for Blacks to reach per capita income parity with white America. It is in the area of wealth that we best see the sedimentary results of inter-generational inequality. In 2008, the median household of wealth for Blacks was $11,800, only 10 percent of the median white net worth of $118,300. (For more information, see the report 40 Years Later: The Unrealized American Dream.)

Wealth and savings are a stabilizing force for families and intergenerational transfers open up access to higher education, home-ownership, savings, and investments. As a growing amount of sociological research reveals, the net worth of one generation contributes significantly to the wealth prospects of the next generation. If we hope to end the ongoing Black-White divide in this nation, the Black-White wealth divide must be bridged.

Additional resources:

Dedrick Muhammad & Chuck Collins, “Race, Wealth and the Commons,” Poverty & Race (May/June 2007)

Web site for The Working Group on Extreme Inequality 

Working Group on Extreme Inequality, “Racial Wealth Divide” (2008)


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