Some people think that when we talk about the racial wealth gap we’re saying all white families are rich. No. We’re saying white families historically did not have racist systems in place to prevent them from buying homes or going to college or starting business for generations so the current numbers of wealth (not income) are stacked much more in favor of White wealth than Black wealth.
The racial wealth gap does not necessarily play out in the form of “rich family who paid for my college.” This can play out by just *help* in college to help reduce loans. I had 60K in debt when I graduated college. BUT! It would have been worse if my Dad hadn’t paid my rent for me after my divorce.
The racial wealth gap does not necessarily play out in the form of “rich family who helped me start my business” but knowing your family can help if you get behind on bills one month could help you be brave enough to start your business to begin with. Or your family may be willing to cosign on loans for businesses with their collateral in the form of home loans.
The racial wealth gap does not necessarily play out in the form of “rich family who helped me with the downpayment of my house,” but it might play out in, “life insurance policy that helped me renovate my house after my parents died.”
The racial wealth gap may simply play out in the form of not having to take care of ailing parents when they age because they have their own retirement plans. Maybe they own a home that can be sold to pay for end of life care.
The racial wealth gap can play out in very small ways like when I got pregnant at 18 and had several family members gave me all of their really nice baby hand-me-downs. They didn’t need to sell them for the money when they were done having kids and that meant I didn’t need to use my limited income to buy the stuff.
Even having family members who lived middle-class lives in other cities allowed us to travel more as kids because we would have free places to stay.
Even help opening a starter checking account that won’t charge you fees, or offers overdraft protection is a sign of wealth. Small “safety nets” like this are possible if you parents who are economical stable with even a small savings account or who own a home.
Some decisions we make that don’t even relate to “wealth” are actually influenced by it. Like maybe you have the luxury of moving away from the town your parents live in because you don’t have to worry about taking care of them, so you can spread your career search net wider and in maybe more economically viable areas.
Do not blow off discussions of the racial wealth gap simply because you didn’t come from a “rich” family. Most of us didn’t. But that doesn’t erase the fact that Black households only have 10 dollars of wealth for 100 dollars of wealth that White households have. AND THIS HAS NOT SIGNIFICANTLY CHANGED IN 70 YEARS. Our denial as White Americans is chronic and pathological and putting up a huge road block to any discussions of repairing this generational injustice. (Read: “The Misperception of Racial Economic Inequality“)
NOTE: This is just my casual/simplified/personal take on this issue, hoping to help open people’s eyes a bit more. But for more academic/sourced information read “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap” by Mehrsa Baradaran. Or for a short read, there’s the recent article “What Is Owed” by Nikole Hannah-Jones at NYT or listen to her podcast interview on the same subject.