The Color of Wealth, a response to MC Serch
I greatly appreciated many of the points that MC Serch made in his interview, like his comments about Elvis and reparations, for example. But let’s stay grounded in the reality, not the flash of fantasy delivered to us by the hip hop images we are bombarded with.
MC Serch: …“ the amount of freedom and power that black people have…”
REALITY--“For every dollar owned by the average white family, in the United States, the average family of color has less than one dime.” (The Color of Wealth: the Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide by Lui, Robles, Leondar-Wright, Brewer, Adamson, and United for a Fair Economy)
What we’re talking about here is the difference between income and wealth. Income comes and goes. Wealth is passed on from generation to generation. What does this mean? 50 Cent could become a multi-millionaire in his lifetime, but if that money is not around at the time of his death to pass on to his family, it remains income, not wealth. His next generation must start from scratch, which is more typical for most Black Americans, as well as people of color, in general.
MC Serch: “When people say it’s a black and white issue, it’s not. It’s a poor or rich issue.”
REALITY—“Racial differences in intergenerational assets are the key to understanding the gross inequality between blacks and whites and net worth. Most wealth acquisition today takes place by a shift in assets from the older generation to the younger generation. Groups that have less wealth to bestow upon their offspring yield the next generation with less wealth,”…the typical white household is nearly five times more likely than black households to own a business asset…” (Darrick Hamilton, Assistant Professor at the New School for Management and Urban Policy, as quoted in Black Enterprise, 6/30/09)
While we all know that race is a social construct, race, unfortunately, does matter, and it cannot be taken out of any equation, especially in discussions about who wields power and who does not. Simply put, when it comes to race in America, white folks are clearly the dominant group (which gives them the many unearned privileges that having white skin brings), while people of color are the target. Given that reality, MC Serch’s comments imply that race is not a factor in the accumulation of wealth, and that the deceptive images of rich black people that are put forth in the media are representative of blacks in America as a whole.
The real deal is that the racial wealth gap between whites and blacks has been widening since Africans were kidnapped and brought here, and it has never stopped. According to the Federal Reserve Bank’s most recent survey, “African Americans were 13 percent of the population in 2001, but owned only 3 percent of the country’s assets.” (The Color of Wealth) The source goes on to report that “…half of all white families but only one-fifth of black families, have parents who can help them buy a home…the average inheritance plus financial gifts given to a white family in 2001 was $20,685, which is enough for a down payment…ten times more than the average African American legacy, which was around $2,000.”
While I believe MC Serch is well-intentioned, the views he expressed as confused. How can he be in favor of reparations for blacks on one hand and on the other hand, insist that wealth is not about race? In addition, regarding how he likes to see himself, as someone who has the ability to see people for their character and not their color, saying and believing this actually sets him up to collude with the opposite of what he wants to stand for—racism. It is a common belief among white people that color-blindness is a good thing, when in fact, not to notice people’s color is a) not physiologically possible, unless some physical damage has been done to one’s eyes, b) often negatively impacts people of color by implying that there is something wrong with their color, and c) ignores the ever-present role that race plays in America.
But everything is fine now, right? Race no longer has anything to do with how wealth changes hands in America. Correct? After all, “The guy with the most money wins,” MC Serch said. (Now, who do you think that “guy” is most likely to be?)
Anika is a Black Writers Alliance Gold Pen Award Nominee. Her book, Free and Other Stories, was chosen as one of 2002’s best short story collections by Black Issues Book Review. Her work, in Gumbo: a Celebration of African American Writing, was also broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Americana series. Founder of Books Of Hope, a Boston-area program that encourages youth to write, self-publish, and sell their own books, she is currently doing anti-racism/literacy consulting, and writing a novel about early race relations in Massachusetts.