In America, whites have 20 times the wealth of African-Americans. So says census data

Dear Kevin:

In America, whites have 20 times the wealth of African-Americans. So says census data.

Not 20% more. Not twice as much. Twenty times as much. Specifically, the median household wealth for whites in 2009 was $113,149, and the median household wealth for African-Americans was $5,677.

When I heard this a few months ago, it was not entirely news to me. When I was in Congress, I read the reports that the Federal Reserve sent to Members; to me, that was interesting reading. In the appendix to one of those Fed reports, from a survey of respondents selected in 2007, these numbers caught my eye:

White, non-Hispanic households – $149,900

Hispanic and African-American households – $23,300

So from $149,900 down to $113,149, and from $23,300 (including Hispanics) down to $5,677. These numbers confirm just how hard the Great Recession has whacked minority households.

But there is a deeper issue. Can someone please explain to me how, in a country where we are told again and again that we are “all created equal,” one group ends up with 20 times as much as another?

MLK’s dream was that his four young children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” What are we supposed to think – that one group has twenty times as much character as another?

In the face of incredible numbers like these, you will still find right-wingers who insist that America is now a color-blind society (except for the scourge of “reverse racism”). But the numbers tell a different story. They suggest that America is not a color-blind society, but rather a racism-blind society.

And ask yourself: when has any elected official, ANY elected official, ever discussed this inconvenient truth, and tried to discern what should be done about it? Why is there a veil of silence over such a salient, central fact about the country we all share?

I went to a wonderful parade on Saturday, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. And if there is one thing that we know in Central Florida, it’s how to put on a parade; we have several every day. All those smiling, happy faces that I saw on Saturday.

And it’s not my job to rain on anyone’s parade. That’s why I’m saying this today, not yesterday, when we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. But here we are, 49 years later, his “four young children” as old as I am, and one of them already gone from us.

And I have to say, about that dream of equality that he had, it’s still just a dream.

Just a dream.


Alan Grayson

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why . . . . I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Robert Kennedy, on dreams.


About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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One Response to In America, whites have 20 times the wealth of African-Americans. So says census data

  1. eslkevin says:

    Last August, just as the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was to be unveiled on the National Mall and in the wake of the debt ceiling debacle, philosopher Cornel West wrote a New York Times op-ed, Dr. King Weeps From His Grave. West excoriated President Barack Obama and his administration for failing to address this country’s truly pressing issues of poverty and economic injustice:

    The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.

    In the absence of such a vision, of a “King-worthy narrative to reinvigorate poor and working people,” West wrote that “right-wing populists” seized the moment to push through tax cuts while advancing “ridiculous claims” about how these would spur economic growth. He called for what King himself would have, for “revolution,” for something other than the majestic marble monument created to honor King.

    That monument was both lauded and criticized at its unveiling. Some five months later, a quotation carved in the marble is being changed. The inscription currently reads “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness” and is a much-shortened version of King’s words in a sermon known as the “Drum Major Instinct,” in which he told his Atlanta congregation how he would like to be remembered at his funeral. Poet Maya Angelou said that the shortened version of the quote made King sound like an “arrogant twit.” These are King’s own words:

    “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

    King made the speech in February 1968, two months before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. Looking at the complete version, I’m hard-pressed to see how the shortened version — utterly lacking King’s characteristic rolling cadences — could have been offered as a quotation. There can be no substitutes for his own powerful words.

    An even more significant change has occurred in the past five months since West wrote that “King weeps from his grave.” Back in August, this is how West described the revolution the needed to happen:

    …a revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

    West’s words now seem prophetic. A national sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo of rising inequality between the haves and the have-notes helped to fuel the Occupy protests that began last fall and continue even now in the cold of winter. The revolution that West spoke of has become real, not merely rhetoric.

    The question remains, how to keep it real? How can we create real change in lives of the the 99 percent, while adhering to King’s legacy of non-violent, peaceful protest in the name of social justice, economic justice and an equal place at the table for all?

    Read more:

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