Tuesday, July 21, 2009

CNN Presents Black in America 2

Last year, CNN's Soledad O'Brien brought a rather intimate and important look at the promise and the problems of African-Americans in the news series, 'Black in America'.

This year she brings us 'Black in America 2', (July 22-23, 7pm Central) which explores the subject further in light of America's first African-American president.

There are those who saw Barack Obama's election as the closing chapter on race relations in this country. 'Post-racial' was a phrase that was thrown around frequently - as if wishing would make it so. The fact is, seven months into the term of the nations first black president, he has no more been able to solve the racial problem than he has been able to solve the economic crisis. Why? Because the roots of both run deep and tap the bedrock of the soul of our country.

The effects of the racial bigotry are not just social, the are systemic, as Thomas Shapiro, author of the books, "Black Wealth/White Wealth" and "The Hidden Cost of Being African-American," points out.

"Closing the racial wealth gap needs to be at the forefront of efforts to achieve economic opportunity in the 21st century."

"Without sufficient assets, it is difficult to lay claim to economic security or true opportunity in American society."

"Fifteen years ago, my work with Melvin Oliver identified the racial wealth gap as a fundamental axis of racial inequality, finding that African-Americans owned eight cents of wealth for every dollar owned by whites."

"The good news is that the wealth (median net worth) of non-whites increased $6,600 per person from 1998 to 2007. The bad news is that the racial wealth gap is widening."

"The latest Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) data indicates that a much wider breach has opened up in racial wealth inequality from the mid-1990s to now. This pattern reflects a firmly embedded racial stratification."

"In 1998, the net worth of white households on average was $100,700 higher than that of African-Americans. By 2007, this gap had increased to $142,600. The SCF survey, which is supported by the Federal Reserve Board, collects this data every three years -- and every time it has been collected, the racial wealth gap has widened."

"In short: non-white wealth grew slowly and incrementally while wealth in white families grew 40 percent. Why such a huge gap (read the rest of his commentary here)?"

Such a gap is not just a matter of 'the poor being with you always'. There are systemic economic inequities when whole classes of people cannot catch up for generations. And addressing such inequities call for acknowledgement of them and intentionally correcting them.

Race is the inconvenient and uncomfortable conversation to be had in this country. Ms. O'Brien's series and President Obama's election aside, post-racial America remains an unfulfilled dream unless we are willing to correct the damage done by 'racial' America.

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