400 Years After Slavery’s Start, No More Band-Aids

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Above Photo: Bill Johnson/Flickr

It’s time to heal the deep wounds of racism — not only to ensure equity for African Americans, but for our entire economy.

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.

The racial wealth divide is an issue that affects all Americans — and the overall health of our economy.

As the black population increases, low levels of black wealth play a key factor in the overall decline in American median household wealth — from $84,111 in 1983 to $81,704 in 2016. Across all races, the number of households experiencing negative wealth has increased from one in six in 1983 to one in five households today.

Many conversations around the depletion of black wealth point towards false narratives about the work ethic of African Americans. This is a myth — studies show that college-educated black families have less wealth than high school-educated white families. And single-parent white families are twice as wealthy as two-parent black families.

The Institute for Policy Studies concludes that these outcomes are not the result of individual behavior, but the result of black Americans having fewer resources to begin with — resources they’ve been denied for 400 years, ever since the first slaves were kidnapped from Africa and brought to America to provide free, strenuous, and valuable labor.

Employment, income, homeownership, stock ownership, entrepreneurship, and virtually all other economic indicators show stark divides around race. To truly overcome these divides, we need a massive, targeted investment similar to the massive, targeted investments that historically appropriated wealth to white communities.

It’ll take bold structural reform and the political will to finally achieve economic justice for African Americans, because clearly ending slavery wasn’t enough.

By creating a formal commission to study the issue, lawmakers can take a serious look at what reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans in America could look like. Inaction — or worse, repeating the same mistakes that led to this situation — will simply widen the divide and create greater economic instability for the country at large.

Four hundred years later, it’s time to stop putting a temporary bandage on the painful and relevant history of American slavery. It’s time to heal the deep wounds of racism and inequity once and for all.

Not only to finally provide African Americans with the economic equity they deserve, but to ensure the health of our economy for generations to come.

  • Greeley Miklashek

    My Black patients, who were about half of my medical practice, often had a good belly laugh at how, with the GOP takeover and the permanent institution of Fascist government in the US, we were all in the same boat now: “wage slaves” one and all. Go Bernie!


    How can anyone be proud of a people who doggedly and systematically did everything possible to crush the descendants of Africa- Slavery, Jim Crow, 2 million in jail. ghettoes and few school or job opportunities. SYSTEMATICALLY crushing them down- if one thing had to come to and end, they instituted another system of oppression in its place. If the Blacks were let out of jail tomorrow the whites would figure out another instrument of oppression within 24 hours- probably concentration camps. I never ends. I am ashamed, not proud.

  • Marjorie Trifon

    A systematic. practical, humane plan for REPARATIONS is a core part of the Presidential platform/stump speech of MARIANNE WILLIAMSON. IMO she must be a core part of a SANDERS-GABBARD Administration: either as Secretary of Peace, or Secretary of Children and Youth. she is a Force of Nature.

    Follow her appearances on YouTube.

    She is a newly-minted politician, having forged an awesome Life Purpose as a best-selling author [several times], speaker, spiritual leader. Here’s one example of her authenticity: years ago, @the height of the AIDS crisis, when heartless, fake President Reagan, was ignoring the suffering and dying of those most affected then–in the 80’s-gay men-Williamson founded AngelFood in L A , a non-profit kitchen-delivery-@-no-cost to the victims–free nourishing at home delivery of meals. There’s no doubt that she saved many lives.

    Here’s another example: She also served on the Board of http://www.results.org, a non-profit that was founded [and still exists] to “generate the political will to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty.” I have personal experience of the effectiveness of RESULTS, having myself been a volunteer-activist from 1988-2013. We held an International Confertence in DC every summer, during which we spent a full day up on Capitol Hill, meeting w/ MOC. persuading them to co-sign and to introduce and to vote for, low-cost, high-impact solutions to hunger and poverty. In that mission, we came to know and to support the brilliant, highly effective work of Dr. Muihammad Tunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, in Bangladesh. Dr. Yunus pioneered MICROCREDIT, or MICROENTERPRISE in his native country. Tremendously charismatic,Yunus had graduated from Vanderbilt University w/his PhD in Economics, then returned home to teach.

    I have first-hand knowledge of his personal magnetism and effective leadership; in 1990 I joined 27 others of my colleagues in RESULTS on a fact-finding mission to Yunus’ Grameen Bank, after first going around my own South Carolina community raising awareness of the Bank as well as the money to finance my world-traversing trip to Southeast Asia. On the 2-week voyage of discovery, we activists met with actual formerly destitute borrowers of the Bank, who had, wthe help of Bank employees, each other, and their own grit, had lifted themselves up from abject poverty.

    Founding Angel Food, serving on the Board of RESU8LTS:these are probably only two of Marianne’s contributions to end the suffering of others. That’s a quickie snapshot of the heart and character of this Force for Good.