The Racialized Wealth Gap

For this week’s post, I wanted to highlight a study done by researchers at the Institute on Assets and Social Policy that was released recently.

The study found that the wealth disparity between White and Black households has more than quadrupled, regardless of whether a family (White or Black) is making a lot of money or a little bit of money.  To understand the study, it’s important to understand the difference between wealth and income.  Wealth refers to the total net assets to which a person has access (owning a house, a car, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc).  Income, on the other hand, is the amount of money that someone is making at any given time.

As such, the study found that the average White family has 18 times the wealth of the average Hispanic family and 20 times the wealth of the average Black family.  This has been a problem for a while (as in 1995, White families had 7x the wealth of Black or Hispanic families), but the current economic crisis has brought the wealth gap to historic inequality.

That kind of disparity was hard for me to understand until I saw it in dollar amounts.  The median white household today has a net wealth of approximately $113,000, while the median Hispanic family has a net wealth of $6,325 and the median Black family has a net wealth of $5,667.

Check out a great video from CBS News that highlights the problem.

Now the frustrating part of this study is that it should be a call to reform in the United States, a call for us to understand the root causes of this problem and look for just and equitable policies that can change this reality.

However, we list in a society that says that regardless of what racist or sexist policies exist, regardless of what weight history places on the current generation, or regardless of what sociological patterns exist, we live in a society of rugged individualists.  If your net worth is low, it must be your fault.  Thus, much of the commentary and commenting being done across the internet in response to this startling study has been placing blame on Black and Hispanic families for (among other things) not saving enough or for being too lazy (despite the fact that white and black families save at the same rates).

However, we do not live in isolation.  We are a product of our history, and when one group of people has a 600 year jump on wealth accumulation (or even a 10 year jump), that makes for some drastic inequality, for wealth (not income) is what is passed from generation to generation.

For those who doubt the concept of white privilege, this is yet another example of the ways in which we, as white people, have a leg up.  Our families have had, for the most part, significantly longer than families of color to accumulate wealth and invest our wealth in areas that are less liquid (in bonds as opposed to the housing market).  As such, we have easier access to the ever-more-expensive world of college education, and we have more stability and safety during times of economic upheaval.  Even our tax policy today is designed to benefit white folks, for our lowest tax rates are on investment or capital gains, which, according to this study, are primarily a tool of white wealth.

In this time of calls for economic reform, there is indeed a need for economic reform, reform that helps those who have been historically and are currently oppressed and discriminated against to accrue wealth in ways that will lead to a more just nation.

A Letter to Baby Jett

A few weeks ago, I reposted Andrea Gibson’s question, indeed a vital question in Feminism, “What will you teach your son?”  Well, I’m not wholly sure that I want children of my own, and even if I have children, how I am I to know if I will have a son?  In lieu of kids of my own, though, I do my best to be a great uncle to my sister’s three girls and one boy.

This week, though, I was given a whole new world of responsibility.  When my dear friend Stacie told me she was pregnant many months ago, she and her partner came to me and said, “Jamie, we wanted to ask you to be the Godfather, but we’re not sure where you stand with God . . . so . . . will you be our kid’s Fairy Godmother?”  How else could I answer than with a resounding “YES!”

After agreeing, I stopped to think . . . this is an incredible amount of responsibility!  It is my responsibility to ensure this child’s growth in all things Magic, Maternal, and Magestic, particularly in ways in which the parents are unable.

Well, this week my responsibility began as Jettison (Jett) Wesley Ray Craven was born.

So, on this, the week of his birth, I want to dedicate my blog to Andrea’s question in the form of a letter to my Fairy Godson.

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July 19, 2011

Dear Jett,

Welcome to our world!  I know you’re probably wondering why on Earth your loving parents would bring you into this crazy world, and not just because you’re on sensory overload and can’t stop pooping.  This is a world of opposites.  While filled with so much love, there is so much hate.  While filled with so much joy, you will undoubtedly experience an incredible amount of sorrow.  While you may be blessed to have all of your needs cared for, there are many more who are not so lucky.

In all of this, there are a few things I want you to know, so I decided to put together a list of little take aways for you on this day of your birth.  These are just a few of the lessons I have learned about being a man, a white man, and since you’re new to this being a white man business, I thought I would share them with you.  Don’t worry . . . if you forget any of these little nuggets of wisdom, I will be sure to remind you.

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Self Care and Social Justice

On the first day of my training to become a sexual assault survivor’s advocate at Earlham College in their RAINN-recognized advocacy program, I came to class prepared for the hard stuff.  I even had brought a box of tissues, knowing that the material would be difficult.  What I didn’t expect, though, was a lesson on stuffed animals, long runs, Cherry Garcia ice cream, and listening to good music.

The first week of advocacy training focused almost completely on self care.  Now, before this lesson, I suppose I considered self care in a passive sense . . . I knew that I needed to do some things that make me happy to add balance to my hard work.  However, never before had I considered self care as not only vital but the first, most primary exercise in any social justice work.

We were tasked with creating a self care plan – a carefully-crafted plan for how we would take care of ourselves as we trained and eventually worked in the trying, hurt-filled, saddening, yet incredibly fulfilling work of advocacy.  My self care plan involved eating licorice, cuddling with Chickadee Longbottom (a stuffed chick I’ve had for a long time), and listening to a mix of music that makes me most happy.

Cat Stevens “Trouble,” One of the songs included in my self care mix

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Confessions of a Male Feminist

More and more lately, I’ve been hearing revulsion to the term “feminism.”  I’ve heard folks (both male or female) called a feminist, only to respond to the effect of, “I’m definitely not a feminist!” I’ve heard guys saying, “I don’t think I could ever date a feminist.”  It’s left me wondering: What do people think Feminism really is?

I actually didn’t self-identify as a feminist until a course I took Freshmen year of college at the University of Denver.  On the first day of class, the professor asked us to raise our hands if we considered ourselves a feminist.  About 8 hands went up in a class of maybe 30, and they were all women.  The teacher then asked us to raise our hands if we:

  • Think women should be paid the same amount as men for equal work.
  • Think women should be able to wear whatever they like without fear of sexual assault.
  • Think women have the right to withdraw consent for sex at any point in a sexual encounter.
  • Think women should be able to make their own decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health.
  • Think women should be free of leering and cat calls at all times.
  • Think women should have equal access to jobs and educational opportunities as compared to men.
  • Think women should be equally represented in business and political offices.
  • Think that both men and women are hurt by restrictive gender norms that define how we should act, dress, and talk.
  • Think that above all else, men and women are equal and should be treated as such.

I raised my hand to all of them.  In fact, almost everyone in the class raised their hand to just about every statement.  The professor then said, “If you’ve raised your hand to any of these statements, you are a feminist.”

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