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In America, whites have 20 times that wealth of African-Americans.  So says census data.

Not 20% more.  Not twice as much.  Twenty times as much.  Specifically, the median household wealth for whites in 2009 was $113,149, and the median household wealth for African-Americans was $5,677.

When I heard this a few months ago, it was not entirely news to me.  When I was in Congress, I read the reports that the Federal Reserve sent to Members; to me, that was interesting reading.  In the appendix to one of those Fed reports, from a survey of respondents selected in 2007, these numbers caught my eye:

White, non-Hispanic households - $149,900

Hispanic and African-American households - $23,300

So from $149,900 down to $113,149, and from $23,300 (including Hispanics) down to $5,677. These numbers confirm just how hard the Great Recession has whacked minority households.

But there is a deeper issue.  Can someone please explain to me how, in a country where we are told again and again that we are “all created equal,” one group ends up with 20 times as much as another?

MLK’s dream was that his four young children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  What are we supposed to think – that one group has twenty times as much character as another?

In the face of incredible numbers like these, you will still find right-wingers who insist that America is now a color-blind society (except for the scourge of “reverse racism”).  But the numbers tell a different story.  They suggest that America is not a color-blind society, but rather a racism-blind society.

And ask yourself:  when has any elected official, ANY elected official, ever discussed this inconvenient truth, and tried to discern what should be done about it?  Why is there a veil of silence over such a salient, central fact about the country we all share?

I went to a wonderful parade on Saturday, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  And if there is one thing that we know in Central Florida, it’s how to put on a parade; we have several every day.  All those smiling, happy faces that I saw on Saturday.

And it’s not my job to rain on anyone’s parade.  That’s why I’m saying this today, not Monday, when we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  But here we are, 49 years later, his “four young children” as old as I am, and one of them already gone from us.

And I have to say, about that dream of equality that he had, it’s still just a dream.

Just a dream.


Alan Grayson

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why . . . . I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
 Robert Kennedy, on dreams.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Excellent diary. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tardis10, grannycarol, caul, Justina

    There is still much work to be done and many enemies of equality.  

    I'm from the Elizabeth Warren and Darcy Burner Wing of the Democratic Party!

    by TomP on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 08:37:08 AM PST

  •  Would you share what you think are the two to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Leo in NJ, caul

    four most important next steps to take toward equality? TIA.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 08:45:51 AM PST

    •  Not Diarist Here But Preventative Taxation On the (6+ / 0-)

      rich is needed to prevent them acquiring most of the net worth of society. That's what the 90-70% top marginal income taxes, and other higher taxes, prevented during the 50 year New Deal period when we built history's only large middle class here and across the developed world.

      The rich were rich, they still raced for the America's Cup in big yachts, but the masses of the people held most of the nation's family wealth.

      We removed that policy in 1981 and the rich recaptured most of society's family net worth.

      That leaves 3 other essential steps that others might think of that would bring minorities their fair share of the peoples' wealth.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 08:53:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Dr. King's Dream Became an Economic Nightmare (5+ / 0-)

    In his last years he worked for economic justice and was killed helping a workers' strike.

    On the day he died, or within a few years, the minimum wage would be the highest it would ever be again. College was the most affordable it would ever be again. Workers were represented by unions at the highest rate they would ever be again.

    Most shockingly, apparently blacks held the highest share of family wealth they would ever hold again. It's hardly just the recent recession. Every Admin and every congress of both parties has overseen the share of wealth of black families decline compared to whites, the entire time.

    Image Hosted by
    I can't find the source for this just now so take it with a grain of salt. If it's reasonably accurate, it's a national moral crime.

    We've spent 40 years doing the exact opposite of Dr. King's call.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 08:58:32 AM PST

  •  I would like to see the statistics with the 1% (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Greyhound, ColoTim, ItsaMathJoke

    taken out of the equation. While I don't disagree there is a wage disparity, I don't wish to see skewed figures.
    If 1% has 90%+ of the wealth in this country and they are probably close to 100% white, so you throw them in the equation and stand back and point at the mean and yell,"Look, white people make 20 times more than people of color"!!!
    These are not only skewed statistics, they are divisive and misleading. 50% of white household yearly incomes are less than $46,000.00 per year. The income of 50% of the average household of people of color is $32,500.00. There is still a disparity and it should be addressed, but there is no sense in exacerbating the situation.
    Statistics can be made to say many things and I'm not accusing Mr. Grayson of anything.

    "If you tell the truth, you won't have to remember anything", Mark Twain

    by Cruzankenny on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 09:49:57 AM PST

  •  How? Why? Look to the past (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Because despite the "Acres of Diamonds" narrative we like to tell ourselves in this country, it makes a huge difference how well off your parents and grandparents were. From the 2005 NYT book review of 'When Affirmative Action Was White': Uncivil Rights looking back to the 30's and 40's:

    At the time, most blacks in the labor force were employed in agriculture or as domestic household workers. Members of Congress from the Deep South demanded that those occupations be excluded from the minimum wage, Social Security, unemployment insurance and workmen's compensation. When labor unions scored initial victories in organizing poor factory workers in the South after World War II, the Southern Congressional leaders spearheaded legislation to cripple those efforts. The Southerners' principal objective, Katznelson contends, was to safeguard the racist economic and social order known as the Southern ''way of life.''

    Katznelson reserves his harshest criticism for the unfair application of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, a series of programs that poured $95 billion into expanding opportunity for soldiers returning from World War II. Over all, the G.I. Bill was a dramatic success, helping 16 million veterans attend college, receive job training, start businesses and purchase their first homes. Half a century later, President Clinton praised the G.I. Bill as ''the best deal ever made by Uncle Sam,'' and said it ''helped to unleash a prosperity never before known.''

    But Katznelson demonstrates that African-American veterans received significantly less help from the G.I. Bill than their white counterparts. ''Written under Southern auspices,'' he reports, ''the law was deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow.'' He cites one 1940's study that concluded it was ''as though the G.I. Bill had been earmarked 'For White Veterans Only.' '' Southern Congressional leaders made certain that the programs were directed not by Washington but by local white officials, businessmen, bankers and college administrators who would honor past practices. As a result, thousands of black veterans in the South -- and the North as well -- were denied housing and business loans, as well as admission to whites-only colleges and universities. They were also excluded from job-training programs for careers in promising new fields like radio and electrical work, commercial photography and mechanics. Instead, most African-Americans were channeled toward traditional, low-paying ''black jobs'' and small black colleges, which were pitifully underfinanced and ill equipped to meet the needs of a surging enrollment of returning soldiers.

    Of course, there's a lot more at the link and in the book. But it would make a huge difference in my life if one of my grandfather's hadn't been eligible for the G.I. Bill and the other one had worked in a non-unionized job. My parents would probably not have been able to afford college and the likelihood that I would have been able to do so would have been substantially decreased as well. The money that my grandparents left their children didn't make them rich, but it wasn't insignificant in allowing some of those children to afford houses of their own. Until I was 9, my parents' household had no money because they were union organizers, but it was voluntary poverty. When my dad eventually decided to go back to teaching, he had a degree and the ability to instantly jumpstart his earning and start saving for the move to the country my mom wanted. We lived for three years in Oakwood, Venice, which at the time was a pretty tough neighborhood and integrated only because we lived there and I am virtually certain there was no other family as favorably placed to leave it for somewhere better. Plenty would have liked to, but they had parents and grandparents who hadn't gotten the chances and help mine had.

    My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
    --Carl Schurz, remarks in the Senate, February 29, 1872

    by leftist vegetarian patriot on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 10:05:24 AM PST

  •  Conservatives might say that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leftist vegetarian patriot

    the starting line is equal, but the finish line is not.

    That said, the dollar amounts aren't really critical, especially when you consider that ownership of material wealth has long served as a sop to disguise that human rights weren't/aren't being respected.

    The principles of the Constitution were violated before the ink was dry by reducing owned persons to 3/5.  Moreover, ownership of persons is the American original sin and persists in the fact the children, legally, are the property of their parents. The Senate ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child would be a good campaign issue--something actually achievable.
    Once children have rights, it will be more difficult to make them the next targets of human husbandry--people exploiting them to their detriment.  Referring to them as "our most precious resource" is not a good idea because of our history of extracting, exploiting and exhausting our resources.

    Finally, focusing on the victims/prey is not very useful.  It's the human predators that need to be reined in.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 10:18:17 AM PST

    •  I agree with almost all of your comment (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama

      and the general tenor of every bit of it. However, this one line

      The principles of the Constitution were violated before the ink was dry by reducing owned persons to 3/5
      is not quite right. Long before the Constitution was even thought of, those people had had all their rights stripped from them. The infamous 3/5th clause didn't do anything to them that hadn't been done already. The thing that made that particular clause so noxious is that it gave more representation to the people who owned and oppressed them and ensured Southern control of the Congress until the Civil War.

      Abraham Lincoln spoke many times about the evils of slavery and the right of all men (including black men) to govern themselves, but in his 1854 speech against the Kansas-Nebraska bill he also said the following (emphasis added):

      Still further; there are constitutional relations between the slave and free States, which are degrading to the latter. We are under legal obligations to catch and return their runaway slaves to them--a sort of dirty, disagreeable job, which I believe, as a general rule the slave-holders will not perform for one another. Then again, in the control of the government the management of the partnership affairs--they have greatly the advantage of us. By the constitution, each State has two Senators--each has a number of Representatives; in proportion to the number of its people--and each has a number of presidential electors, equal to the whole number of its Senators and Representatives together. But in ascertaining the number of the people, for this purpose, five slaves are counted as being equal to three whites. The slaves do not vote; they are only counted and so used, as to swell the influence of the white people's votes. The practical effect of this is more aptly shown by a comparison of the States of South Carolina and Maine. South Carolina has six representatives, and so has Maine; South Carolina has eight presidential electors, and so has Maine. This is precise equality so far; and, of course they are equal in Senators, each having two. Thus in the control of the government, the two States are equals precisely. But how are they in the number of their white people? Maine has 581,813-- while South Carolina has 274,567.Maine has twice as many as South Carolina, and 32,679 over. Thus each white man in South Carolina is more than the double of any man in Maine. This is all because South Carolina, besides her free people, has 384,984 slaves. The South Carolinian has precisely the same advantage over the white man in every other free State, as well as in Maine. He is more than the double of any one of us in this crowd. The same advantage, but not to the same extent, is held by all the citizens of the slave States,over those of the free; and it is an absolute truth, without an exception, that there is no voter in any slave State, but who has more legal power in the government, than any voter in any free State. There is no instance of exact equality; and the disadvantage is against us the whole chapter through. This principle, in the aggregate, gives the slave States, in the present Congress, twenty additional representatives-being seven more than the whole majority by which they passed the Nebraska bill.

      Now all this is manifestly unfair; yet I do not mention it to complain of it, in so far as it is already settled. It is in the constitution; and I do not, for that cause, or any other cause,propose to destroy, or alter, or disregard the constitution. I stand to it, fairly, fully, and firmly.

      But when I am told I must leave it altogether to OTHER PEOPLE to say whether new partners are to be bred up and brought into the firm, on the same degrading terms against me, I respectfully demur. I insist, that whether I shall be a whole man, or only, the half of one, in comparison with others, is a question in which I am somewhat concerned; and one which no other man can have a sacred right of deciding for me. If I am wrong in this--if it really be a sacred right of self-government, in the man who shall go to Nebraska, to decide whether he will be the EQUAL of me or the DOUBLE of me, then after he shall have exercised that right, and thereby shall have reduced me to a still smaller fraction of a man than I already am, I should like for some gentleman deeply skilled in the mysteries of sacred rights, to provide himself with a microscope, and peep about, and find out, if he can, what has become of my sacred rights! They will surely be too small for detection with the naked eye.

      My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
      --Carl Schurz, remarks in the Senate, February 29, 1872

      by leftist vegetarian patriot on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 10:49:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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