Well-oiled machine.

When thinking about systemic racism/oppression, it’s helpful to think of it as a well-oiled machine, with different parts keeping it running. There are cogs, wheels, pulleys and belts, among other things, and each one is equally important in making sure the whole thing is at peak performance.

 Among these parts, are the smaller, yet still vital, nuts and bolts, that help keep to all together. But before we get into those, let’s pull out the wealth divide cog and examine it.

 The first thing to realize about the wealth divide, is that it started with a head start. To put it into perspective, in comparison to Black people, white people have had a very long (to the tune of 400+ years) head start in the ability to acquire and pass down wealth. And this would be something that we call a…say it with me, privilege. I don’t think I need to go over, in detail, how slavery created wealth for slave owners (that could be passed down), while Black people who were enslaved, had nothing. Or how newly freed slaves, with just the clothes on their backs (if they were lucky), had to figure out housing, clothing, food, income and safety, while their counterparts continued to accrue wealth.

There are so many other things to mention though. Like, how in the housing shortage of the early ’30s, and subsequent housing programs of the New Deal, the government made a consorted effort to create suburban housing for white people. Black people were intentionally left out of this and segregated into housing projects. To help facilitate that, we had redlining, where banks refused to issue mortgage loans, for areas that were predominantly Black and brown. You know, the nuts and bolts.

 There was the overt act of impeding our want to be sufficiently educated and not allowing us into white schools and universities, which ultimately resulted in us having to take low-wage jobs. 

We have employment discrimination, which still occurs today, where qualified Black and brown people are sometimes not hired. If they are, it very often is with them receiving a lower wage. The current wage gap is indicative of that.

Housing discrimination, predatory lending and banking discrimination are all still happening today. Somewhere in all of that, is the practice of only showing “lower quality” areas, to Black and brown people looking to buy homes.

And I have to mention, that education and homeownership are thought to be linked, and while that’s true for most people, it just isn’t AS true for Black people. Now, yes, Black people who have more education are somewhat more likely to purchase a home, and if you stopped your inquiry there, you might not see where there’s still disparity. But if you look at the overwhelming homeownership gap, even with higher education, it’s pretty clear. In fact, homeownership among Black people is declining – it’s back to the same rate that it was 50 years ago. And one of the biggest differences is wealth. White high school drop-outs have significantly more wealth than Black people with Bachelor’s degrees and (sometimes )higher. Re-read that last sentence so it hits home. Education does NOT guarantee that Black people will have adequate wealth – enough to be able to purchase a home.

Okay, I know that most, if not all, of what I just said are things that you already knew – but if we’re talking about the wealth gap, then it’s necessary to mention. Because while all of these situations, these hindrances to wealth acquisition for Black and brown people happened/are happening, white people, on the other hand, have had the ability to (and often have been successful at it) create an economic foothold, that usually carries on for future generations.  

Don’t get it twisted, when I say “wealth,” I’m not just talking about someone’s rich ass uncle, who comes from old money and has vacation houses in the Hamptons and Belize. Wealth, in this conversation, also means the ability to get to and stay in the middle class. It includes being able to pass down things of monetary value, like a car. Or having the funds available to assist family with down payments, being able to help with college costs or being able to navigate unforeseen circumstances, without being catapulted into poverty.

Going back to being able to sustain middle-class status, most people in the US, for relevancy – most white people, obtain their middle class “wealth” from homeownership and the equity that it creates. It sets up their children and children’s children to be able to do the same. Essentially, if you are born into the middle-class, it is infinitely more likely that you’ll stay there (for most people). Knowing that, and knowing the difficulties Black and brown people have faced in regards to homeownership and well, everything, what effects do you think that has had on wealth in our communities?

Y’all know I had to bring some (a lot of) stats for this one, right?

  • The median net worth for white people is $171,000. For Black people, it is $17,600. For Hispanics, it’s $20,700. That is a 10 times difference between white and Black people.
  • White people own a primary residence at a rate of 73%. It is 45% for Black people and 46% for Hispanics, respectively.
  • Black homeowners’ first homes are less expensive, but with more debt. Average first home prices for Black people are at $127,000 and at $139,000 for white people. Yet, the debt is about $90,000 for Black people and $75,000 for white people. It’s important to note that the difference in debt is higher than the difference in home value. 
  • The percentage of homebuyers who purchase their first homes before 35, is 87% for white people and 53% for Black people; with about 18% of Black homebuyers not owning a home until they turn 60. Another note, is that white people who purchase homes early in life, see the largest increase in house wealth by age 60. Black people, who purchase homes early in life, see a $53,000 difference(less) in house wealth by age 60.
  • Black homeowners are less likely to sustain homeownership. The percentages vary by age, but at 45, for example, 34% of Black homeowners switch to renting, as opposed to 9% of white people.
  • Black people and Hispanics are 3X more likely to be steered into subprime loan products and 70% more likely to go into foreclosure.
  • Net housing wealth for white people is $215,000. It is $94,000 for Black people and $129,800 for Hispanics.
  • 60% of white people have retirement accounts. Followed by 34% and 30% for Black people and Hispanics.
  • Vehicle ownership is 90% white, 73% Black and 80% Hispanic.
  • For family-owned business equity: 15% white, 7% Black and 6% for Hispanics.
  • Publicly traded stock is had by 61% of white people, 31% of Black people and 28% of Hispanics.
  • 19% of Black households have zero or negative net worth. That percentage drops to 9% for white households.
  • White people are more likely to have higher education, at 39% having a Bachelor’s or higher. This is compared to 23% and 17% for Black people and Hispanics.
  • When different races of people have the same education, in this case, a Bachelor’s degree – median wealth is not equal. It is $98,000 for white people, $68,000 for Black people and $78,000 for Hispanics. 
  • According to the Federal Reserve, there are demographics that white people are more likely to have – such as having received an inheritance and being older. More than half of their households are age 55 and up. Other organizations state that they are far more likely to receive help with the downpayment of their first home, which is huge. It takes Black people and Hispanics between 10-28 years, to save enough for their first downpayment.
  • The homeownership gap between Black people and white people is growing.
  • The wage gap between Black people and white people is growing. It is at the highest point that it’s been, in the last 20 years.

The state of wealth (and the reasons for said wealth disparities) within different races, also impacts how communities are affected by crises. The great recession of the 2000s, saw an average net worth loss, at a rate of 40%. But when you look a little deeper, you see that Black households’ net worth dropped by 53% and white households by 17%.

Or look at the current pandemic, where the most negatively impacted groups are children, working-age adults and yup, Black people. If you’re Black and a working aged-adult, well you’re significantly more vulnerable. A Black child? Considerably more disenfranchised. And when you think about how the unemployment rate for white people and Hispanics is improving (less so for Hispanics – but still improving)during this pandemic, and how it is getting worse for Black women, who are typically the breadwinners for their families or who are on equal footing with their Black male partners, it’s not hard to see why.

All the current research suggests, that the pandemic has done extensive damage to Black households(that likely cannot be fixed for MANY generations) and the TINY bit of wealth gains that we’ve amassed, that were already diminishing before this pandemic hit. We’re STILL dealing with the remnants of racist past policies and the policies of present, trying to get on equal footing, only to be met with obstacle after obstacle. Hell, even when we are able to move up the ladder, and have children who are born to higher income brackets – research has shown that unlike their white counterparts, Black children often don’t stay in these higher income brackets, despite frequently having obtained higher education. Research shows that Black children born to poverty, have the highest rate of remaining in poverty and staying there in their adult lives. That Hispanic children, who have similar poverty rates as Black children, are able to get out of poverty (and stay out) at almost the same rate as white children. And I just cannot believe that with all of this information, that’s readily available for anyone, there are still people who have the unmitigated gall, to say that we all have the same opportunities and obstacles in 2020. 

The most ingenious and insidious part of this whole machine, is how many people on the receiving end of its benefits, are unable (or unwilling) to see the damn machine, let alone all the different parts of it. I mean, we’re talking about a machine that’s enormous, that you simply shouldn’t be able to miss. That is old and rusted in parts, spewing steam or smoke or something that has the stench of bygone days, but also has shiny, new, modern parts, with touchscreens and voice activation and pressure control, from the countless renovations and updates, that have happened over the years. But some people will swear this machine just doesn’t exist. As they’re looking dead at it. As you’re pointing to it and mentioning the upgrades. As they lean towards it, hand out, waiting to receive their ….privilege coins. Before sticking them in their pocket, putting their fingers in their ears and screaming “la la la I can’t hear you.”

Or something like that.


When JanayB isn’t posting memes, scrolling through “wokebook” posts, ordering food and otherwise being your typical millennial, you can find her here destroying white tears and basking in her unapologetic blackness. Get in touch with her at JanayBsays@gmail.com.

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