Racial Wealth Gap

 We have no excuse for our not learning about racism, its root causes and what we can do about it. Books, webinars, and pod casts are easily available. Some actively seek to ban the truth being taught. Some say, “I have learned enough” and have closed the door to learning more, finding it a too depressing interruption to their otherwise comfortable lives compared to people of color. We can do better.

This past week I took advantage of a few learning opportunities including an analysis of racism as a pandemic disease with more negative effects than COVID-19, but not the resources needed to prevent its spread. This was sponsored by the Black Studies Department of the University of Wyoming with Dr. Rik Stevenson from the University of Florica speaking on, “The Negro Question and the Public Heath Crisis.”

Another was sponsored by the National Council of Churches and led by Christian Brooks, a scholar and justice advocate for the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness. This was a participatory simulation game designed by Bread for the World (available free at www.bread.org) to teach how the racial wealth gap for Black people in the U.S. has increased since the end of slavery, not decreased. The gap for Whites to Blacks is 13:1. What I found even more shocking was that for the less wealthy, the gap is even wider; it’s 18:1. That means a White family with $18,000 in assets, would be $1 in assets for a Black family. I suspect the gap is even wider for Indigenous people in the U.S.

Christian Brooks led us through thirteen policies from 1865 through now. With White and Black people beginning at the same place in 1865, by today Black people end up with one “land” card, no “money” card and 14 “lost opportunity” cards. This compared to White people having 7 “land” cards, 13 “money” cards and one “lost opportunity” card. (The last one is due to increased taxes from mass incarceration.) Assets lead to financial security, not income, because about 50% of the U.S. would be in poverty if one member of the family lost a job. For people of color, it’s twice that.

The War on Drugs, mass incarcerations and the blocking of opportunities for program assistance after incarceration have been the most devastating to people of color in recent years. Share cropping, redlining and home loan programs did not benefit Black people. Leaving out domestic workers, shoeshine workers and farmers in the Social Security system when it started left out 70% of Black people. Programs for World War II veterans excluded Black veterans. Since most wealth in the U.S. is from inheritance, Black people never catch up.

The lesson learned was that a change in policies is not enough – although that must be done too. We need to pay for the lost opportunities caused by systemic racism that White people had benefited from, whether ancestors owned slaves or not. H.R. 40 has passed a U.S. House Committee and has 135 sponsors to begin to study reparations. In scripture, Numbers 5:5-8, we are required to atone for our wrongs by making full restitution plus 5% to those wronged or their closest relatives.

A question I raised is whether under capitalism, true reparation can ever happen. Christian Brooks asked if she was allowed to answer that, and she was, but only if she spoke for herself. She said it would be a challenge since capitalism is based on winners and losers and was built on enslavement and continues to do so.

If capitalism fails to make restitution, that does not relieve us of our responsibly. We need to learn and to get to work. Change policies for going forward. Make restitution for past wrongs, plus 5%.

Fear not. Be bold. Build relationships. Be humble. Do justice.


Chesie Lee