Project 21 New Visions

B.B. Robinson

Well-Conceived Plan Needed if Black-White Wealth Gap is to End


by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. (bio)


There is a black-white wealth gap.  It's a quantifiable reality. Getting rid of it, however, may be an impractical, albeit sincere, goal.

While this equality goal is not insurmountable, there is no precedent for it ever having been achieved -- and that raises serious challenges when developing a strategy for success.

In recorded human history, a substantial black racial demographic group has never experienced a wholesale rise to economic equality with its white counterpart within a leading world power.  This excludes, of course, the rise and recognition of a select few individuals from a racial minority group (e.g., Robert Johnson or Oprah Winfrey).

Clearly, at this point, black Americans are in no position to affect a rise by leveraging economic or military means. The latter, in fact, is unlawful and can produce very adverse outcomes such as the riots of the 1960s.

Our Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal."  Our government has certainly enacted enough laws over the years to allegedly ensure equality of opportunity.  But it is a very expensive proposition to expect any government to create and protect such opportunities for everyone.  Besides, there is no guarantee that those for whom the laws are intended will take full advantage of them.

In a religious context, blacks often equate their condition to that of the Biblical Hebrews in Egypt. These people cite how God aided the Children of Israel — and could similarly help them today. That narrative has the Hebrews exiting Egypt, not achieving economic parity with the Egyptians.  It's not the same.

In a 2006 article entitled "The Economics of Identity," three black economists — William Darity, Patrick Mason and James Stewart — argued that it is not anomalous that whites operate in a racial manner and prefer to affiliate with those who are similar in every respect. Interestingly, Yale University researchers Karen Wynn and Paul Bloom told "60 Minutes" last year that this appears to be an inborn characteristic of all races — not just whites.  We all like and support those who look, act, talk and think as we do.

Consequently, it is perplexing why black Americans even expect white Americans to facilitate our rise in the first place.

By considering the over 40 million black Americans as a nation within a nation, developmental economists must argue — as they do in the context of a North-South divide — that there are many reasons why black America may never achieve economic convergence with its white counterpart.

Therefore, it is time that we ask a fundamental question:  If black-white economic equality is outside of the realm of possibility, to what should black Americans aspire?

(Again — this is not to say that black-white economic equality is absolutely impossible to achieve.  But given history, culture, and economic reality, it does not appear to be a reasonable and realistic goal.)

If the desire remains to strive for black-white economic equality, then blacks should be able to present plausible assumptions and describe a realistic scenario within which this equality can be achieved.  Such goals are not now in the public domain.  

It's the duty of black Americans and those who claim to be our leaders to do more than say something — we need to actually do something.  If we truly want the black community to begin to move toward more economic parity with whites, a well-conceived plan needs to be developed.

Otherwise, when considered seriously, black-white economic equality is merely a pipe dream with little prospect for any movement toward such a laudable goal.

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B.B. Robinson, Ph.D., is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. You can visit his website at www.blackeconomics.org. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.


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