Last week the Pew Hispanic Center released the findings of a report studying the net worth of households in the United States. Amongst other analyses, the report found a stark disparity in wealth along racial lines. Latino households enjoy a median net worth of 10 cents for every dollar of wealth held by white families. These figures worsen with black households, where the median net worth drops to 1/14th of that held by white households. While this report received adequate attention in the European press, most notably a feature story in Britain’s Guardian, not a single major American news source reported on the findings.
The findings of this report become increasingly disheartening when one looks closely at the changes in wealth over the last several years. Not only is the wealth accumulated by black households dramatically inadequate compared to their white counterparts, but blacks are the only group whose net worth actually declined over the last several years. With this data before us, the question ceases to be whether inequality exists, clearly it does. And it is evident that the situation is deteriorating disproportionately for black families. The question instead is: how can we in America continue to avoid any meaningful discourse on what is arguably the most pressing issue facing our society?
With the Democratic Party expecting and relying so heavily on the votes of the Black and Brown communities, particularly in states predicting narrow margins, it needs to be asked what material basis there is for that assumption. What can Black and Brown communities reliably expect from the party which they overwhelmingly endorse?
Beyond these questions this report brings deeper questions to light, questions which defy simple answers, but which we as a society must begin to address. Can democracy exist in a society with such a disparity of wealth? How can this disparity be corrected, and can we afford to allow any more time to lapse before we begin to construct meaningful solutions to these problems?
Democracy is questionable in a society where so great a disparity of wealth exists, particularly when such a disparity is compounded by such a stark racial divide. The democratic process must refer not only to the casting of a ballot, but to an equal access of social benefits and opportunity. It is this access that assures a symmetrical exchange of information in the civic arena. Any group in society whose accumulation of wealth averages 1/14th that of the ruling majority is clearly at a disadvantage in regards to meaningful democratic participation.
A society whose wealth is increasing steadily, but which sees the
wealth of a race of people who have contributed to that growth
deteriorate, is fostering a dangerous social atmosphere. The social problems highlighted in the above-mentioned report beg for historic and meaningful solutions. And these solutions will come to pass either with the acceptance of the two major parties, or despite them. Correcting these economic disparities is obviously a complicated question; however, there is no shortage of available ideas with which we can begin implementing policy. To begin with, the Senate could consider debating one of the Reparations measures that it has failed
to consider for the last 15 years. America will continue to fall short in providing meaningful solutions to racial inequality if we as citizens refuse to recognize the prominent role of African slave labor in our early economic expansion. Furthermore, we must not only address the legacy of slavery, but the lasting effects of Jim Crow in which the accumulation of black capital was not only discouraged, but actively destroyed.
What remains to be seen is if the Federal Government will choose to wake from its historical amnesia and address these very real disparities. They must understand that people will become increasingly disassociated with a system that does not represent them. Ultimately, what we as a populace demand will determine the outcome of these social conflicts.