raceAhead: Olympics Diversity and the Racial Wealth Gap

August 10, 2016, 2:51 PM UTC

A new study, published Monday, states that the racial wealth gap is so wide, that it would take 228 years for black and Latino families to amass the wealth that white families currently have. My colleague, Chauncey Alcorn, has an excellent analysis here.

It’s worth noting two things. First, that by 2043, the year that people of color will become a majority in America, the gap will have doubled. And second, that the gap is driven entirely by public policy decisions, which are things we can actually control.

The Corporation for Enterprise Development and Institute for Policy Studies published the study, using thirty years of publicly available federal income, pension and other data, to shift the conversation about the well being of families of color from income, to a more significant marker of success – or failure – which is wealth.

“Over the past 30 years, the average wealth of White families has grown by 84%—1.2 times the rate of growth for the Latino population and three times the rate of growth for the Black population. If the past 30 years were to repeat, the next three decades would see the averagwealth of White households increase by over $18,000 per year, while Latino and Black households would see their respective wealth increase by about $2,250 and $750 per year.”

This report joins a growing portfolio of credible thinking on systemic barriers that that exist in the land of opportunity, ones that will not be solved by hiking up sagging pants or the shaming of hip hop fans.

But it also offers a history lesson on the development of the middle class in America, starting after The Great Depression and World War Two, when government investment in protecting the wealth of citizens was at a high point. “But the programs directing those public investments were either intentionally designed or implemented to create discriminatory barriers for households of color,” the report says.

As a result, there is no way forward unless we all become policy wonks and equity experts, and change the redlining in housing, finance, education, labor practices, and quite specifically, tax policies, that have favored white households for decades. The disadvantages “are impossible to overcome without racially-aware policy change.”

The report is a must-read, and a great way to kick-off your wonk journey if you’re new to policy talk.

But it occurs to me that this is also a design problem in disguise. Do we know how to build systems in which someone doesn’t need to lose for someone else to win?



On Point

The Brookings Institute responds to charges that it panders to big donorsThe well-known think tank was the star of an investigative piece by The New York Times, which explored the cozy relationship that the organization had with deep-pocketed corporations, and how the need for corporate cash might impact the research they publish, specifically as it relates to public policy. Brookings denies the allegations in a detailed post.Fortune

The five dimensions of poverty
Here is a recent, two-part series from the now-embattled Brookings Institute that explores how five significant disadvantages - household income, education, concentrated spatial poverty, health insurance, and employment – can doom someone to poverty, and how black and Hispanic adults are more likely to suffer from them. One of the hidden advantages of being called out by the New York Times is that people re-read your old research.

Justice Report: Baltimore police harass black residents
The U.S. Justice Department will release a “blistering” report today, that finds the Baltimore Police Department has hounded the city’s black residents for years, stopping, searching and harassing them with little or no reason. The New York Times previewed the report: One black man in his mid-50s, was stopped 30 times in less than four years, with no charges ever filed.
New York Times

NAACP President arrested in protest for voting rights
Cornell Williams Brooks and 20 others, including members of the NAACP youth council, were arrested and charged with trespassing after a six-hour sit-in at the office of Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte. "This isn't your grandfather or grandmother’s 1965 voter suppression," Brooks said, who was there to discuss the restoration of Virginia’s Voting Rights Act. "This is multiracial, Jim Crow 2.0 voter suppression that affects young people." Goodlatte did not take the unscheduled meeting.
NBC News

An instantly iconic photo celebrates the diversity of the Rio Olympics
Egypt’s Doaa Elghobashy and Germany’s Kira Walkenhorst became online darlings yesterday, as a photo of the two beach volleyball athletes - one wearing long sleeves and a hijab, the other a sport bikini – helped symbolize a newly diverse world of sport. Policies matter: The international volleyball federation changed regulations before the 2012 London Games to not exclude cultures that prefer not to wear the standard bikinis or shorts.
Global News

The Woke Leader

How new technology helped change public policy in 1890
When Jacob August Riis immigrated from Denmark to New York City in 1870, he had nothing but the clothes on his back and a dream of a better life. Just twenty years later, as a pioneering photojournalist, his photos documenting the wrenching slum conditions that he and other immigrants lived in got the attention of then police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, and helped change public policy. His pictures can still deliver a shock.
Smithsonian Magazine

Jokes about stereotypes may not be funny, but they mean something
An English professor-turned-appellate-lawyer put his PhD dissertation to good use on Twitter yesterday, by posting a fascinating thread that helps explain the social function of humor. Turns out the standard “just joking!!” disclaimer, specifically when it comes to jokes about racial stereotypes, really isn’t about being funny at all.  “We use humor to bring people into - or keep them out of - our social groups. This is what humor *does.* What it's for," explained Jason Steed.

Some activists are facing unusually harsh punishments for public protests
Anti-police violence protestors, most of whom are ordinary citizens struggling to get by, are being slapped with harsher-than-necessary punishments after being arrested on civil disobedience charges. Unlike some of the bold-faced names who show up at major rallies, these largely anonymous individuals are still languishing in prison.


Long ago it was said that 'one half of the world does not know how the other half lives.' That was true then. It did not know because it did not care. The half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate of those who were underneath, so long as it was able to hold them there and keep its own seat.
—Jacob A. Riis