2015 was, by some definitions, a historic year for race relations in the United States. On one end of the spectrum, Black Lives Matter firmly established itself unequivocally as much more than a hashtag, but an organized and determined struggle to stop police terror and inequality. From the opposite side, those unequivocally supporting law enforcement drew more allegiances with tea party narratives, attaching themselves to the idea that America’s divisions were solely to blame on President Obama, and not, well, you know, American history itself.
As the struggle for racial equality enters 2016 with nationally coordinated movements like #ReclaimMLK, it is imperative that we couple the fight for equality within the criminal justice system with the fight to close the wealth gap between black and white families, a struggle that still leaves an overwhelming amount of work to be done.
The data that was used to support the Federal Reserve’s bleak numbers that the middle white American household is worth 13 times that of the middle black household may have used accounting that actually understates the gap in wealth between white and black families in America.
Professor Edward Wolff in his report for the National Bureau of Economic Research stated that in performing this calculation the Federal Reserve was including consumer durables that should be excluded when calculating assets.
According to Wolff’s report the median black family is actually only worth $1,700 when you deduct these durables. In contrast, the median white family is worth $116,800 using the same accounting methods. In accounting for the losses of the Great Recession he wrote “black households” median net worth actually fell from $6,700 to $1,700, and the ratio relative to white households plunged from 0.06 to 0.01.”
As we rightfully celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we must do so while reconciling ourselves with the reality that his dream is far from realized. Passing the Civil Rights Act in 1965, or even further tearing down the Confederate Flag in 2015 does not mean too much if we aren’t prepared to work harder to increase wealth in black communities.