“Wealth Matters” – The Black American Fight for Economic Equality

The Black American Fight for Economic Equality The Black American Fight for Economic Equality

The Black Lives Matter Movement has unmasked all the symptoms of Racism, exploitation, marginalization, cultural dominance, and violence that were deeply rooted and perpetrated on Black Communities across the states caused by the imbalance of Economic Inequality amongst Blacks and Whites.   We are living times of change and as a father of two 17-month-old Black twins, one cannot be but hopeful in our future where my sons and their generations will be able to compete in a fair free market. Nevertheless, as Dr. Claud Anderson points out “It is nonsense to talk about equal opportunity for black people in a society in which racial monopolies guarantee that each succeeding generation of whites inherits approximately 98 percent of this nation’s wealth and resources at birth”.    Restitutions are the only way to improve the advancement of Black Americans and eliminate the imbalance of Economic Inequality amongst Blacks and White families in these United States.  The wounds that were inflicted on Black Americans by the legacies of slavery and Jim Crowism are so deep that neither social integration nor civil rights have or can repair the damage.

The numbers don’t lie, in 2016, for instance, the average white family had $935,584 in wealth in 2016, compared with $102,477 for blacks and $176,635 for Latino households (Weller, 2019). “Wealth Matters” just like “Black Lives Matter” Black families need more wealth.  Wealth makes it easier for families to invest in their futures. For example, wealth can be used to support both children’s and parents’ education, to start a business, to buy a house in a neighborhood with access to good jobs, and to move to new places when better opportunities arise. Each of these benefits gives families access to more and better jobs.  It also helps people get through unexpected financial hits, such as layoffs, or medical bills associated with the current pandemic.   Education alone cannot address the centuries-long exclusion of blacks from the benefits of wealth-generating policies and the extraction of whatever wealth they may have. The justest approach would be a comprehensive reparation program that acknowledges these grievances and offers compensatory restitution, including ownership of land and other means of production.

As COVID19 progresses, we will be witnessing more alarming death cases and unemployment numbers rising in the Black Community.  According to an article by Bloomberg.com, “Black unemployment climbed to the highest in more than a decade in May as the coronavirus pandemic continued to weigh on the U.S. labor market. The rate of 16.8% for black Americans” (Saraiva, C., & Boesler, M. 2020).   

African Americans are dying from this pandemic at far higher rates compared to other races because of a lack of equitable healthcare access.  The numbers are disproportionate in terms of population.  For instance, “In Illinois, Blacks represent about 16% of the state but 30% of people diagnosed with COVID-19. In Chicago, Blacks represent 70% of people who have died from coronavirus. North Carolina, South Carolina, and New York show the same pattern with slightly smaller gaps. Among the four states, Blacks are 74% more likely to contract coronavirus than their percentage of the state” (Ray, R., 2020.  Health problems in the Black community manifest not because Blacks do not take care of themselves but because healthcare resources are criminally inadequate in their neighborhoods.

COVID19, Hurricane Katrina, recessions have demonstrated how vulnerable and how economically marginalized black communities can be when presented with these kinds of events. Instead of lifting Black Americans though, too many governments and business leaders have simply dismissed them as lazy and unwilling to pull themselves by their bootstraps.  Nevertheless, this is not the truth, far from it.  African Americans since the emancipation proclamation have established Black Colleges and Universities Hospitals, businesses, schools despite Jim Crow segregation, redlining, and Racism.  However, these efforts though impressive are not enough to heal the economical wound from 400 years of slavery.  Black Americans must be rightfully compensated from their unpaid internship otherwise as BET Founder points it out “But unless White America recognizes the need for reparations to atone for this, this country will always be … ‘Separate and Unequal’

To some, the notion of Reparations may seem farfetched but it has been done in the past for instance. Restitutions have been made to nearly every group that has claimed injury, but those great mothers and fathers of civilization branded black people.  Making restitution for damages is rooted in our legal system and has been used by industrialized nations as a mechanism for apologizing and correcting institutional wrongs. Native Americans have received land and billions of dollars for various benefits and programs for being forcibly exiled from their native lands.  Japanese Americans received $1.5 billion to those who were interned during World War II. Additionally, the United States, via the Marshall Plan, helped to ensure that Jews received reparations for the Holocaust, including making various investments over time. In 1952, West Germany agreed to pay 3.45 billion Deutsche Marks to Holocaust survivors.

African Americans have endured centuries of slavery and capitalism seeks to keep them in the labor market stuck in, or desperate for, low paying, low-skill jobs.  For historic reasons, people of color make up the bulk of this segment of the labor market.   “Even after the Civil War, during Reconstruction, Black people in the US had limited freedom- they were not able to vote, they were forced into sharecropping without receiving the promised “ Forty acres and a mule” that would provide them with financial resources to rebuild their lives and communities, and they faced limited opportunities in northern societies still suffused with racism.  Racist Jim Crow laws emerged, and the idea of “separate but equal” public spaces was instituted by White people to disenfranchise Black people and ensure they could not access White schools, restaurants, bathrooms, and other societal institutions” ( Singh, 2019). 

One may suggest that perhaps the fight for equality and voting rights and desegregation was a step in the right direction and it was, I will not downplay the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, the late Congressman Lewis, Jesse Jackson, and all the millions that gave their lives and marched for change in this country nevertheless, we skipped on Economic Equality.  Racism, exploitation, marginalization, cultural dominance, and violence are all but symptoms of an imbalance of economic equality.  The only way to improve the advancement and eliminate the wealth gap amongst Blacks and White families is through reparations.  According to Claude Anderson, former assistant secretary of the United States Department of Commerce under President Jimmy Carter. “It is one thing when blacks have difficult lives because of poor individual choices. It is quite another to have to live in a system that imposes inequities because of color. The wealth and income inequalities created by slavery and Jim Crowism have never been corrected and are the primary causes for the offspring of black slaves bearing six to eight times the burden of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, broken families, dysfunctional schools, poor health, drug abuse, self-hatred, and other pathologies. Without the resources of reparations, neither the social pathologies nor structural racism can be cured.”

According to a study based on research conducted by researcher Thomas Craemer from the University of Connecticut researcher, who was involved in the aforementioned study published June 19, that suggested that the amount owed to descendants of slaves amounts to up to $14.2 trillion.  “This was calculated by tabulating the hours’ slaves worked between 1776 and 1865, multiplying the time they worked by the average wage at the time, then accounting for 3 percent annual interest, as previously reported by Newsweek. As well as reparations based upon earnings, others suggest payment to backdate the failed promise of “40 acres” promised to slaves by Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman. The land was set aside though the order was reversed by President Andrew Johnson” (Jarvis, J., 2020).

The study suggests based upon these parameters, the reparations could amount to around $11.9 trillion, estimating around $291,186 per descendant, based on an estimate for 2018.

Reparations can be established by:

  •  “A strong progressive tax on capital that will be redistributed as reparations to enslaved descendants and indigenous people” proposed by the Black Lives Matter Movement
  • Business grants for business starting up, business expansion to hire more employees, or purchasing property for descendants of enslaved Black Americans.
  • A 350 Billion Reparation measure suggested by the Democrats where “$135 billion will be an investment in “childcare, mental health and primary care, and jobs. The remaining $215 billion would be used to address inequality in the long term, devoting the investment to “infrastructure, a homeowner down payment tax credit, Medicaid expansion, and more.” The act lists ten initiatives to “reverse decades of underinvestment” in the communities” (Bleau, H. 2020).
  • 14 trillion dollars to all 40 million African Americans planned by Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television. He suggested this sum, would amount to around $350,000 each for the estimated 40 million African Americans in the United States, giving them an amount signifying the wealth disparity between African Americans and white Americans. This would be paid on average $10,000 to $11,000 per year for the next 30 years to each African American descendant.

Opposition to Reparations

Though these reparation proposals are sound there still remains a big hurdle to overcome and that is selling it to the majority of this country. 

The country remains divided on the topic of restitution.  “Polls suggest – Poll respondents also were sharply divided by race on whether the US government should issue an apology for slavery: 64% of white Americans oppose a government apology, while 77% of black Americans and 64% of Hispanics believe an apology is due. Overall, 46% of Americans favor and 52% oppose a national apology” (Nasi, 2020).

Only 29% of Americans say the government should pay cash reparations, according to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. However, the poll reveals a large divide between Americans of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Most black Americans, 74%, favor reparations, compared with 15% of white Americans. Among Hispanics, 44% favor reparations.

Opposition to Reparations agree to the following:

  • Taxpayers should not pay for reparations because that means this would include Black Americans. 
  • White Americans have no responsibility for whatever their ancestors did.
  • Slavery happened a long time ago.
  • European Immigrants who came after slavery should not pay for the burden of the reparations bill
  • It would be wrong to tax whites whose ancestors fought against the Confederacy during the Civil War.
  • Slavery was a legal business then. 
  • Living Americans never owned slaves.
  • Opponents also have cited a slippery-slope problem: If African Americans receive financial restitution, Native Americans and other deserving groups would be entitled to reparations too.

In a Newsweek article, titled, Why Are Black Americans at Greater Risk of Being Poor? Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review suggests that Americans can reach the middle-class status provided that they: “Graduate from high school; Maintain a full-time job or have a partner who does, and Have children while married and after age 21, should they choose to become parents” ( Rodrigue, 2015).   This can surely be accomplished but there are a few discrepancies with this theory.  First, education in black neighborhoods lag to those of white middle neighborhoods.  Children in these impoverished neighborhoods are surrounded by more crime and violence and suffer from greater stress that interferes with learning. Also, children with less exposure to mainstream society are less familiar with the standard English that’s necessary for their future success.  “These conditions depress student performance.  Concentrating students with these disadvantages in racially and economically homogenous schools depresses it further” (Rothstein, 2014).

Living in such high-poverty neighborhoods for multiple generations adds a barrier to achievement, and multigenerational segregated poverty characterizes many African American children today.

It does not stop there, graduating from high school or college for that matter does not guarantee a step into the middle class.  Graduating from college despite this investment is not an equalizer, the racial wealth gap expands at higher levels of education. Black families where the head graduated from college have less wealth than white families where the head dropped out of high school.

Keeping a full-time job is not the hardest part, getting a job in the first place is what makes it difficult.  One of the reasons why African American workers regularly face higher unemployment rates than whites.

Blacks often face outright discrimination in the labor market. They also are less likely to attend and graduate from college, which stems from the fact that African Americans face greater financial barriers to getting a college education, ending up with more debt than white graduates do and paying more for their loans. Yet even among college graduates, African Americans often face greater job instability and higher unemployment rates. 

Despite significant indications of progress, racial inequality is still pervasive in the U.S. labor market. Compared to whites, African Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed and earn nearly 25 percent less when they are employed. African Americans face hurdles when applying for jobs.  When prospecting for employment, “resumes with white-sounding names receive more callbacks than those with black names. Based on researchers’ estimates, a white name yielded as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience” (Sanders, K. (2015).

Marriage in Black families have been on the decline, this is partly due to the absence of black men.   Mortality rates are high for Black men, and Black men are very often imprisoned. In 2010, 4,347 out of every 100,000 black men were in prison, a rate that was six times higher than the imprisonment rate for white men.  According to the Pew Research Center, “In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners” (Gramlich, 2020). 

As this pandemic continues its economical death toll, more jobs will become scarcer and competition will greatly intensify.   Black families will lose their livelihoods and their homes.  The prison population will increase with more Black men leaving families astray and helpless.   Black families will face one of the biggest depressions to ever be recorded in the history of this country setting them to another vicious cycle of poverty.  Marginalization by high unemployment rates and limited opportunities will increase in ways never seen before affecting aspirations for the future.  More of these bad events will follow if the American government does not agree to reparations.   “The timing is right for reparations’ as a mayor Elorza from Providence Rhode Island pointed out.   Black Americans need to be rightfully compensated for their 400-year-old unpaid internship. There is vast information about reparations and ways many proposals have been suggested since the Civil Rights Marching days.  African Americans should not be short cited with Police Brutality and lose track of what is important; Black Lives do Matter but Wealth Matters too.   Police Brutality, Racism, and Equality opportunity are only but mere symptoms of Economic Marginalization.

References:

Bleau, H. (2020, July 18). Dems Propose $350B Reparations Measure to ‘Address Systemic Racism’. Retrieved August 09, 2020, from https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2020/07/18/senate-democrats-propose-350-billion-reparations-measure-to-address-systemic-racism/

Gramlich, J. (2020, July 04). The gap between the number of blacks and whites in prison is shrinking. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/30/shrinking-gap-between-number-of-blacks-and-whites-in-prison/

Gold, A. and Rodrigue, E., 2020. Why Are Black Americans At Greater Risk Of Being Poor. [online] Newsweek. Available at: <https://www.newsweek.com/why-are-black-americans-greater-risk-being-poor-361543&gt; [Accessed 15 August 2015].

Jarvis, J., 2020. After Reparations Study Suggests $151 Million For Each African American, Experts Say Money Alone Isn’t Enough. [online] Newsweek. Available at: <https://www.newsweek.com/reparations-slavery-cost-more-just-money-1518649&gt; [Accessed 9 August 2020].

Nasi, N., 2020. Most Americans Oppose Reparations For Slavery. [online] Nypost.com. Available at: <https://nypost.com/2019/10/25/poll-finds-most-americans-oppose-reparations-for-slavery/&gt; [Accessed 9 August 2020].

Ray, R., 2020. Why Are Blacks Dying At Higher Rates From COVID-19?. [online] Brookings. Available at: <https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2020/04/09/why-are-blacks-dying-at-higher-rates-from-covid-19/&gt; [Accessed 9 August 2020].

Rothstein, R. (2014, November 12). The Racial Achievement Gap, Segregated Schools, and Segregated Neighborhoods – A Constitutional Insult. Retrieved July 21, 2020, from https://www.epi.org/publication/the-racial-achievement-gap-segregated-schools-and-segregated-neighborhoods-a-constitutional-insult/

Sanders, L., 2017. Why Black Students Have The Most Student Debt In America. http://www.newsweek.com. Available at: <https://www.newsweek.com/why-black-college-students-have-most-student-debt-america-686868

Sanders, K. (2015, March 15). PolitiFact – Do jobseekers with ‘white’ names get more callbacks than ‘black’ names? Retrieved August 09, 2020, from https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2015/mar/15/jalen-ross/black-name-resume-50-percent-less-likely-get-respo/

Saraiva, C., &amp; Boesler, M. (2020, June 05). Black Unemployment Rate Rises to 16.8%, White Joblessness Falls. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-05/black-unemployment-rate-rises-while-white-joblessness-falls

Singh, A. A. (2019). The racial healing handbook: Practical activities to help you challenge privilege, confront systemic racism & engage in collective healing.

Williams, H. (2019, June 13). Opinion | African Americans are held back the most by student loan debt. Here’s a solution. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/06/13/african-americans-are-held-back-most-by-student-loan-debt-heres-solution/