The racial wealth gap is deeply entrenched in past injustices, which breeds today’s inequalities. Since the end of slavery, the black population held less than one percent of the United States’ total wealth. That number has remained stagnant even in the face of a thriving economy more than 150 years later. In fact, the racial wealth gap is continuing to widen with the median wealth among white households at $171,000, which almost 10 times more than that of black households at $17,600. In our modern society, the racial wealth gap is driven by the effects of racism and its justification for creating unfair public policies.
Being born into an Asian family and growing up middle class, I’ve never experienced the extremes of wealth inequality, though I have seen the hardships of families that struggle even to put their next meal on the table. Through my community service at the Lilburn co-op and the Gwinnett Student Leadership Team, I am able to interact with people from all backgrounds and thus broaden my understanding of the world. Recently, I volunteered at the annual Village of HOPE, a homeless outreach organization, where I helped to serve a Christmas dinner, wrap gifts for the children, and create food boxes for each family. After enjoying a meal with the families, I led them to the Toy Warehouse, a floor not unlike what I imagine Santa’s Workshop to look like with mountains of toys spanning in all directions. It was truly the happiest day for Anika and Sophia as they dragged me from table to table, quickly filling up their baskets with Barbies, board games, and puzzle sets. In the midst of all the laughter and joy, though, I couldn’t help noticing that the majority of families were African-American with a minority of Hispanics, signifying a greater issue at hand.
Though social inequalities are almost always caused by a myriad of interconnected factors, the effects of racism and its justification for certain public policies are the cause of the racial wealth gap. Because America is a model nation for capitalism, it is easy to justify policies by blaming it on the free market and economy. For instance, people often say “Maybe blacks just aren’t as entrepreneurial and hardworking” or “Maybe they’re not taking advantage of all the ways capitalism creates wealth,” but the real reason lies in the fact that African-Americans couldn’t obtain credit, which becomes the 20th-century financial vehicle for accumulating wealth. African-Americans were kept from accessing credit because the Federal Housing Administration redlined areas with “high-risk” and “low-risk” loans, and the way they determined the level of risk was based on race and perceptions pertaining to race. Today, the perception that blacks will create problematic schools propels many parents to prevent the integration of lower-income neighborhoods into higher-income schools. Policies that limit African-Americans from access to greater resources contributes to the racial wealth gap through a domino effect, which makes it hard for many to escape the cycle.