The Racial Wealth Gap: An American Epidemic Hard Not to See

If you’re a white person who grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb like me, the people who you grew up around we’re mostly white. Why is it that, even after The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed, our communities and neighborhoods are still very segregated? The answer is pretty simple and plain to see. Years and years of systemic racism and classism intersecting with each other.

Black Americans and people of color have endured 250 years of slavery and 100 years of legalized discrimination with Black Codes and Jim Crow, and 53 years of housing & job discrimination, mass incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline, and police brutality. This myth that we are living in a “post-racial” society is completely and utterly false. This has been especially proven with the aftermath of the 2016 election. 

The Racial Wealth Gap is America’s most pressing epidemic that keeps spreading and spreading like a disease. The Institute for Policy Studies recent report The Road to Zero Wealth: How the Racial Divide is Hollowing Out the America’s Middle Classshowed that between the years 1983 and 2013, the wealth of the median black household declined 75 percent (from $6,800 to $1,700), and the median Latino household declined 50 percent (from $4,000 to $2,000). At the same time, wealth for the median white household increased 14 percent from $102,000 to $116,800. 

The disease sadly is predicted to keep spreading in the future. The racial wealth gap has only kept widening after the Civil Rights Era. It is anticipated that by 2020, which is just two years from now, Blacks and Latinos will lose even more wealth. If this trend continues, the median black household wealth will hit zero by 2053. 

What virus caused this disease to spread? It’s called the Federal Housing Administration. Founded in the 1930s during the New Deal Era to create loan programs to help make homeownership more accessible to Americans, it is known for its color-coded maps as a way to determine who got the loans and who didn’t. What follows is a racist coding system and policy that made your neighborhood. Green and blue colors designated the “good” neighborhoods and yellow and red designated the “bad” neighborhoods. Many of the neighborhood were designed as red because black and people of color lived in them. This became known as redlining, systemic racism which prevented blacks and people of color from not getting home loans and being discriminated against in the green “rich, white” neighborhoods. 

Redlining caused not only the segregation of housing but education as well. After Brown v. Board of Education, schools are still illegally segregated, and the school-to-prison pipeline has emerged. 80% of Latinx and 74% of blacks attend heavily segregated schools. Those statistics are shocking, school segregation was supposed to end in 1954, yet little to no progress has been made. 

If the red lines are drawn to segregate people of color into the most marginalized neighborhoods, then they are drawn to send them to disadvantaged and poor schools while their white counterparts across town get to enjoy the luxuries of newly renovated buildings, projectors in every classroom, Mac computers, and updated textbooks.

This redlining of housing districts and the illegal segregation of schools has only fueled the school-to-prison pipeline to grow even more in the past ten years. Black students are three times as likely to be suspended or expelled compared to white students. Black students make up only 16% of public school enrollment, but 42% of them have received multiple suspensions from school. The "zero-tolerance" discipline that public schools have adopted into their system has resulted in Black students facing disproportionately harsher punishment than white students in public schools.

This information and statistics may seem shocking to you, but if you take a look at the history of the intersections of racial and economic inequality, you would know that what is happening now isn’t all that surprising. The next thing to do if you are a white person like me who grew up in an upper-middle-class lifestyle is to check your privilege. How can you and I distribute the wealth to black and brown communities? Am I willing to give up my power and privilege so that people of color can move up the ladder? Ask those questions to yourself, and most importantly educate yourself and learn and listen to people of color.