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by Elizabeth Tharakan

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Elizabeth Tharakan SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF THE WHITENESS OF WEALTH Summer 2023 Int’l J. L. Ethics Tech. 2 (2023).
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Author Information: Elizabeth Tharakan, College of Arts and Media, Southern Illinois University Carbondale.


Peggy McIntosh details “white privilege” 1as including: being in the company of people of her own race; renting or purchasing affordable housing in a desirable area; having pleasant neighbors; shopping alone without being harassed or followed; and turning on the TV or opening the newspaper to see heavy representation of people of her own race. 2 The history of slavery is one major source of wealth disparity: four generations ago, African-Americans were a form of wealth as slaves and even before that, Africans in Africa were seen as primitive. The socioeconomic disadvantages to African-Americans and finding solutions to this problem, especially solutions through funding HBCU’s, targeted debt relief, and increased Black representation in the media, are the aims of this paper on the black-white wealth gap.

The average per capita wealth of White Americans was $338,093 in 2019 but only $60,126 for Black Americans. 3 On average between 1950 and 2010, Black households held about 7 percent of their wealth in stock equity; among White households, it was 18 percent. According to the 2016 General Social Survey, a 55% majority of white Republicans agree with the statement that black Americans are worse off financially “because most just don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up out of poverty.” 4 42% of white Republicans thought black Americans were lazier than white Americans and 26% rated black Americans as less intelligent. 5 The history of the black-white wealth gap is entrenched in slavery and its after-effects. These effects include the Jim Crow rules, the sharecropping landownership system, discrimination, Congress passing unfair tax laws, the tenfold wealth gap, and attempts to fix it with affirmative action.

One solution is the benefit of educating black students at historically black colleges and universities such as Howard, Morehouse, and Spelman: Wealthy philanthropists like Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, making massive donations to HBCU’s so that Black universities can offer more scholarships to deserving Black students. Robert Smith, the wealthiest black man in the United States, promised to pay off the debts of the Morehouse College class of 2019. Therefore, enabling black students to afford college and allowing them to face fewer obstacles to graduating college are worthwhile, positive aspects of the HBCUs. The best solution to the black-white wealth gap is targeted debt relief, as opposed to blanket debt relief. Scholars argue for increasing Pell Grants so that they cover tuition, room, board and course materials to help more Blacks graduate debt-free. 6 Black students have less access to generational wealth and are the most likely to rely on debt to finance their educations. In this way, targeted debt relief would dramatically help Black students and college graduates. Another solution is more favorable representation of Blacks in the media. Stuart Hall argued that the solution to negative representations of Blacks were favorable portrayals of Blacks.

Keywords: African-American wealth, black-white wealth gap, celebrity financial gurus, Black representation, media effects.

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