OtherWords.org - August 21, 2019

Four hundred years ago this month, the first enslaved people from Africa arrived in Virginia. 

Slavery is often reduced to a crime of America’s long-ago past. But enslaved labor created the backbone for America’s capitalistic economy, allowing it to grow into — and remain — the world’s leading economy today. 

The effects of this reliance on unpaid African slave labor is still felt in America’s current racial wealth divide. Today the racial wealth divide is greater than it was nearly four decades ago, and trends point to its continued widening.

Although slavery officially ended in 1865, the unequal treatment of African Americans continued through Jim Crow, red lining, and mass incarceration, among many public policies. Our country’s historic racial wealth disparities continue to be perpetuated and increased by the trend towards extreme inequality in the United States.

To further paint a dire picture, a report released earlier this year by the Institute for Policy Studies found that between 1983 and 2016, the median black family saw their wealth drop by more than half, compared to a 33 percent increase for the median white household.

Our economy is still thriving off the backs of African Americans and other poor people. While black wealth plummets, the number of households with $10 million or more skyrocketed by 856 percent during those years.

On the other end, 37 percent of black families have zero or “negative” wealth, meaning their debts exceed the value of their assets. Just 15 percent of white families are in the same position. ...
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