Friday Reading List: Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch looked at recently compiled data on family wealth in the United States:

In 2013, the median white family held 13 times as much net wealth as the median black family and 10 times as much wealth as the median Latino family, according to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances. Just a decade earlier, the disparity was 7 to 1 for black families, and 9 to 1 for Latino families ... The median single-parent white family had roughly twice as much wealth as the median black or Latino family with two parents. This ratio is interesting ... it demonstrates that the financial advantages that come with marriage, like having two earners, qualifying for tax breaks for dependents, and the ability to share expenses, are insufficient to close the racial wealth gap.

I wonder if there's someone who can parse those results in a slightly different way. Let's go to Damon Young at VSB:

Whenever a large group of Black people happen to come together ... conversations about economic empowerment are not particularly uncommon ... And, when they happen, invariably you’ll have a few people who’ll lament the disproportionate amounts of money we spend on Jordans and weave and car leases and rims and apartment rentals; either implying or explicitly stating that this affinity for the type of depreciating assets that make us look wealthier than we actually are is what’s keeping us from actually building wealth. And perhaps, to make their point stick, they’ll even cite White people or Jewish people or Koreans as an example of who we need to model ourselves after. It’s an argument that persists because it retains the romantic veneer of pragmatism, logic, and pro-Blackness ... It has always been and will always be an argument based on low information and a latent belief that Black culture specifically cultivates an affinity for economic endangerment; one that was recently and thoroughly debunked by a study called “The Asset Value of Whiteness: Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap."

Young dives deeper into the debunking with his characteristic verbal panache. These results are particularly fatal for the coterie of education policymakers who argue that better schools alone can ameliorate the crippling effects of institutional racism and poverty. It should go without saying that it would be impossible to create remedies that don't include better schools ... but alone they're empirically insufficient.

Sharif El-Mekki is in Education Post, drawing connections between different generations' approaches to education as a part of Black liberation, focusing on his home town of Philadelphia:

[The Black Panther Party] worked tirelessly out of 19th and Columbia, 36th and Wallace Street, and other places, making education and the protection of Black youth their priority.The foundational aspect of education in the Party’s early activities is often forgotten about but the struggle to end the racist, poor education of Black children was central. Within the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Platform education was a focal point with the Party calling for “a decent education for our people.” Their core belief in the need for educational justice, something that was far beyond what was being taught in the school system, led them to first develop a free-breakfast program, which attracted my mother because as she saw it, “They understood the importance of developing the entire child.” Later on, they were able to establish liberation schools that focused on teaching children about their history, how to be critical thinkers and ways to improve the community.

El-Mekki describes how his own work, as a principal in a public charter school, connects to that history. This focus on Black youth was front and center during the Obama administration, through the former president's "My Brothers Keeper" program. Nick Chiles at The Hechinger Report wonders if that effort will persist in the Trump administration:

Since Obama announced My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) in February 2014, his engagement has led to an unprecedented surge in corporate, nonprofit and philanthropic support for this troubled population. In December, the White House described commitments of more than $1 billion from the private sector, calling the progress “remarkable.” MBK initiatives have been started in nearly 250 communities in all 50 states, along with nearly two dozen federal agencies and departments. Cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Compton and Detroit have started or expanded pre-existing programs. A range of foundations have committed millions of dollars for MBK’s six areas of focus: preschool education; reading proficiency by third grade; high school graduation; college attendance or career training; jobs; and reducing violence and helping ex-felons re-enter society. But as President Donald Trump takes over, leaders in the movement worry about his administration’s impact on the momentum they’ve created — and they hope Obama will remain involved.

The power of a decentralized approach, like the one described above, is that it can outlive the transition from one powerful executive to another. That's true in presidential politics, but it's also true in other forms or organizing and movement building.

Finally, I have a gift for you, which should keep you befuddled throughout the weekend. I went down a deep internet rabbit hole yesterday, when I learned that Steve Bannon - top White House advisor and central leader of the white supremacist alt-right movement - wrote a series of un-produced screenplays. One of those screenplays was a rap musical, based on Shakespeare's Coriolanus, set in the Watts section of Los Angeles during the 1992 uprising.

It's true! Here's Asawin Suebsaeng, a reporter at The Daily Beast:

Bannon also had an idea for a movie musical that even Lin-Manuel Miranda might find too aggressively left field: to take Shakespeare’s Coriolanus (based on the life of the Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus) and, according to Jones, “make a rap film out of it set in South Central during the L.A. riots—that was Steve’s idea." A copy of excerpts of the screenplay that was shared with The Daily Beast—The Thing I Am, written by Jones and Bannon—includes rap music, racial tensions aplenty, looting, gangster “foot-soldiers,” and chaos at “ground zero of the 1992 L.A. riots.” Coriolanus’s Menenius Agrippa, a senator of Rome, is recast as “Agrippa, ‘Mack Daddy’ of South Central, an ORIGINAL GANGSTA (O.G.) upper-echelon Blood.”

He also wanted to make a film about eugenics, which contains some questionable material, to say the least. As my mother says, "You can't make this s*#% up!"

Have a great weekend!