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Racial Wealth Divide

Locked Out of the American Dream

Research & Commentary
May 19, 2016

by Antonio Moore

A new report shows black families struggling to gain access despite the illusion of racial equity we see on television.

The Urban League recently released its annual report on the State of Black American economics, within its pages a bleak picture is painted for African Americans. The report, titled “Locked Out,” shows that in most ways, Black Americans are unable to participate in the American economy.

Locked OutUnfortunately, according to Marc Morial president of the National Urban League, the report “tells an all too familiar story of persistent racial disparities in American life… making clear that the historic Obama presidency has not been a panacea for America’s long-standing race problem.”

The image of President Obama as proof of black ascendancy does not stand alone. The President’s image fits within a larger media culture that has normalized the image of the wealthy black celebrity. A decadent veil of entertainment covering the reality of the decaying black social condition.

While Time Magazine presents the only major black superhero, Black Panther, as also the wealthiest superhero, with the attributed fantastical wealth of $90 trillion, the reality is that black families in America are struggling financially. To whit, not a single one of the 100 wealthiest people in the United States is African American. The fantasy of widespread affluence in the African American community remains just that, a fantasy.

The decadent veil, as I’ve written about before, distorts the image of the black community both in the eyes of the African Americans and to the wider public. By decadent veil, I mean the actors, athletes, and other wealthy black celebrities who present the normalized image of a thriving and wealthy black community to all American homes, overshadowing the poverty and struggle most black families face daily.

Behind this veil, as Morial states in the report, is “a persistent structural locked in economic situation.” A structural economic backdrop undergirded by wealth inequality rising to levels not seen since the Gilded Age. Morial claims things have gotten better since the 1970’s, but when you consider that era was only ten years removed from the age of Jim Crow, the statistical differences appears negligible. [pullquote]Not a single one of the 100 wealthiest people in the United States is African American. [/pullquote]

The report notes 29 percent of blacks lived in poverty in 1976 compared to 27 percent now. Increases in blacks that have graduated high school and college, 28 percent in 1976 and 33 percent today for high school, and 6 percent in 1976 versus 22 percent today for college. One of the areas the report shows we have seen regression is also one of the most important for financial stability, home ownership. In 1976 43.7 percent of blacks owned homes, today it’s down to 43 percent.

The report also fails to account for the fact that the 1976 numbers are nearly entirely descendants of slaves. According to the Migration Policy Institute, “From 1980 to 2009, the African-born population in United States grew from just under 200,000 to almost 1.5 million”. If new immigrant Africans who are excelling at high rates were taken out of the modern total Black statistics, descendants of slaves as a group may be doing substantially worse than they were in 1976.

Despite black families being locked out of generating wealth, as the Urban League shows in their report, on television the country looks like the land of diversity, a fantastical place where faux ideas of record company empires are shown in sitcom form, as if the Lyons are producing products like the Cargill family.

As long as the shine of entertainment gives us million dollar NBA stars, we forget that those prime front row seats near the court rarely have black faces. Or that most black folks don’t even have the money to get through the door. No matter how hard the veil makes it to see, Black Americans remain locked out of education, jobs and justice.

Read the full Urban League report here.

Antonio Moore, an attorney based in Los Angeles, is one of the producers of the documentary Freeway: Crack in the System. He has contributed pieces to the Grio, Huffington Post, and on the topics of race, mass incarceration, and economics.  Follow on Youtube @Tonetalks

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