The past 40 years were the best times ever to be Black in America. But, is it still? While the size of Black underclass has tripled since the 1980s, a Black middle-class that was thought to be flourishing may have fallen on hard times. Studies show: “the wealth gap between White and Black American families has more than quadrupled over the last generation”.
What better man to have on such an issue than the richest Black man in America? Robert L. Johnson, founder and chairman of the RJL Companies says “a wealth gap Tsunami threatens African American families” and is calling for a national dialogue to get on the problem. In a presentation he made to members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Johnson advocated legislative activity on the issue. Johnson said, “We must admit the harsh reality of a history of institutionalized racism and economic discrimination against African Americans is the primary cause of wealth disparity between Black and White Americans and now we must be willing to talk about race recognition remedies”. He said: “I recognize that public policy based on race is extremely provocative and controversial but controversy should not prevent a reasonable dialogue about a societal dilemma that is real and economically devastating in its potential to millions of African Americans".Blacks have never caught up economically and the studies Johnson cites show Blacks at a stalemate. According to a 2007 Pew Charitable Trusts study, "nearly half of African Americans born to middle-income parents in the late 1960s plunged into poverty or near-poverty as adults" and "forty-five percent of Black children whose parents were solidly middle class in 1968 – a stratum with a median income of $55,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars – grew up to be among the lowest fifth of the nation's earners, with a median family income of $23,100." The US Census says “White household median net worth is 10 times that of Black households”. African American medium net is $11,800 compared to $118,000 for Whites.
Except for the activism among people like Johnson, African Americans that assimilated into Mainstream America have done little to change economic, social and legal practices to help the majority of the race. The study’s researchers, Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy, say the racial wealth gap “reflects public policies” such as tax cuts on investment income and inheritances which benefit the wealthiest” and “tax deductions for home mortgages, retirement accounts, and college savings all disproportionately benefit higher income families”.
Why are other African Americans afraid to push for more government actions that address race inequities? While “race specific” legislation is a anathema to post-racial America, public policy based on race is exactly what South Africa is using to redress wrongs of its past. South Africa’s Black economic empowerment is driven by legislation and regulation to overcome the inequity left by apartheid. Why can’t something similar happen in America to correct similar wrongs.
By and large public policy-makers have abandoned Black and inner-city communities, preferring instead to cater to the interests of the presidential administration, political party, corporation or organization they feel more obligated to. Before the CBC, Bob Johnson suggested an array of race recognition policies and activities - available through www.rljcompanies.com.
Bob Johnson is a man with a storied past in Black economic development programs and activities. People on the streets and suites should pay attention to the gravitas Johnson brings to this issue. Even assimilated Blacks make look at their balance sheets and agree that the growing wealth gap qualifies as a "compelling national interest" that should initiate "narrowly tailored" policies based on race. The “Post-Racial” philosophy the nation’s “establishment” wants Blacks to continue accepting hardly acknowledges the racial nexus of wealth disparity between Blacks and Whites. Blacks seeking to help the masses of African Americans off the bottom of the nation’s economic pile should be calling Congress and joining Jonson in saying: that “if we are serious about closing the wealth gap we must first be willing to talk about race-recognition remedies”.
(William Reed is available for speaking engagements via BaileyGroup.org)