“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.” – Frederick Douglass
Research reports laden with statistics describing the challenges facing Black Americans are nothing new; in fact, most Blacks have become anesthetized to the pain. However, the most recent report of the Pew Research Center on wealth inequality raises the bar. Its findings should serve as a splash of frigid water in our faces and hopefully wake us up to the horror unfolding before us. The clock is truly ticking on Black America and it will take a monumental effort to rescue our community.
The Pew reports notes that the median wealth of white households is now 20 times that of Black households. How bad is the disparity? The media wealth of white households is $113,149 compared to just $5,677 for Black households. Wait, if that does not disturb you there is another statistic that should. The data reveals that one-third, 35%, of Black households had zero or negative net worth in 2009, the year from the Census Bureau Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) used as the end point for the report. While all Americans have been impacted by the Great Recession and the implosion of the housing market, Blacks and Latinos were most affected. For Blacks, economic conditions that were already deplorable have now pushed African-Americans to the brink of disaster. What little Black wealth that existed, was tied principally to home ownership, and once the market collapsed, most Blacks, including the Black middle class, lost their principal asset.
When you combine these figures with the unemployment and joblessness crisis, mass incarceration, high school dropout rates, and mortality due to chronic illnesses, it becomes clear that Blacks are quickly becoming disposable Americans. Simple prescriptions – get a job, start a business – to change our economic course are not a sufficient response to our situation. The Black unemployment rate is shameful, and Black men are being permanently excised from society through lack of employment and incarceration, and violent death. Business development is a logical alternative but the Pew report notes that equity in Black businesses decreased from $23,403 in 2005 to $10,000 in 2009. Most small businesses are started with personal investment or support from family and friends. If the median wealth of Black households is just under $6,000 and 35% of Black households have zero net worth, where does the money come from to start a business and who will have the money to support your business? Moreover, the evaporation of home equity means many families will have no real option to help finance their children’s education and that young African-Americans will not be the beneficiary of any transfer in wealth, making homeownership that much more of a pipe dream. Mind you, this is not about the poor; the Black middle class has been destroyed. And while there are certainly affluent Blacks, their ranks are thin and the distance great between them and the rest of the community. They are rich enough to wall themselves off from the carnage in their community.
These statistics would be alarming at any point of time, but they confront us at a time of tremendous change in America. We are on the verge of becoming a nation where people of color – Blacks, Latinos and Asians – comprise the majority. By the end of this century, white Americans will likely be the “minority” but still hold control over the nation’s economy and political structures. It is a possibility that points to disaster for the United States. It is the coming of apartheid in America, with similar results for our nation as South Africa experienced. If Blacks are marginalized to the point of being deemed disposable, the nation will suffer from the loss of productivity and intellectual capacity, and not the least from rising hostilities that will not only inflict harm within the Black community but will eventually be deflected outward toward the white minority, as was the case in South Africa.
The irony is not lost upon us that as the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the battle over slavery that divided America; that the very existence of African-Americans is now in peril. It will require the same courage, sacrifice and determination that Blacks of that era exhibited for African-Americans of present day to see that future generations will truly be a free people in the 22nd century.