By Ralph E. Moore Jr.,
The Moore Report
Wealth and its distribution in the United States is a fascinating study. From wealth gained during centuries of free slave labor to debates over minimum wage law, there’s a lot to discuss and fairness has nothing to do it.
The poet Nikki Giovanni once said in her 1968 poem, titled “Nikka Rosa,” that “Black love is Black wealth.”
Octavia Vance Smith, my maternal grandmother, always said, “If you have your health, you have your wealth.” But despite the wisdom of these two great women, the deepest, darkest of loves and the epitome of physical fitness “don’t pay the rent.”
Face it, under this capitalist economic system, some who are at the top have a whole lot of wealth, most in the middle have some to just a little and those at the bottom of the ladder have none. This flagrant, unfair spread of wealth and income was built to benefit White America. The stubborn hold the system has on keeping people in their financial place, while also suggesting that equal opportunity will make you rich one day is not supported by the facts.
As the old saying goes, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” And it seems to stay true.
Wealth is measured in so many ways: what’s in the checking and savings accounts? What does one own? A house or two or three or more? How many cars are at one’s disposal? What about a boat or an airplane? Who in the family graduated from college– and what college? Are any family members professionals? A doctor? A lawyer? A businessperson, a banker or a professor?
How did things get this way?
How did some–like rich and famous athletes, entertainers, inventors and financial investors– get so much, while others, living penniless, jobless, uneducated or homeless– have so little?
We hear that “money can’t buy you love,” but we know it buys political influence all the time in the form of campaign contributions which give access to politicians and influence over them. Yes, money does talk. Indeed it does and that is why poverty is on the rise and the American middle class is shrinking.
Racial prejudice has its place in how wealth has been spread or better yet concentrated in the hands of a few. According to educational materials released by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the G.I. Bill, or the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, cleared the way for returning service members to receive benefits that improved their life and the lives of their family members in exchange for their service and sacrifice. Everything from “payments for tuition and living expenses for those electing to attend college” to “low-interest loans for entrepreneurial veterans wanting to start a business” were offered as benefits for those who served the country for at least 120 days as an active duty member of the military.
“The bill not only helped individual service members, but also stimulated long-term economic growth,” reads information released by the Smithsonian, in efforts to help students understand history through art.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act into law on June 22, 1944, it was only a few weeks after D-Day, the day the Allies landed in Normandy, France. Some thought of that battle as the beginning of the end of the second World War.
Due to White supremacy and the commitment to Black subjugation, thousands of Black veterans were lynched in the years following World War II. The New Deal was a raw deal for Blacks who bravely and selflessly served their country in World War II.
Black Americans could not buy houses in better neighborhoods using the G.I. Bill, so many were forced to remain in rundown, segregated communities.
“Though the law was deemed a political and economic success, there was one segment of veterans who were denied many of the bill’s benefits – African Americans. One of the more important benefits that African-American service members were unable to take advantage of were low-cost mortgages,” reports the Smithsonian. “In theory, this benefit allowed all veterans to purchase homes in the quickly growing suburbs, homes whose value would rise steadily in the coming decades, creating new wealth for vets in the post-war era. However, Black veterans were not able to take advantage of this benefit because banks would not make loans for mortgages in Black neighborhoods.”
The way things are now, the wealth gap was built and sustained by the government to keep Blacks down. Blacks worked hard, fought overseas, paid taxes and struggled to get the vote for decades. Yet African American financial progress was either stopped or eliminated (see Tulsa, Okla. in 1921 and Rosewood, Fla. in 1923). It is clear that in the game of American wealth, Black folks are not supposed to win.
The U.S. Census Bureau informs us that the wealth gap between Black and White American households persists. The median family income for White households in 2019 was $76,057. While for Black households, it was $46,073.
Black wealth has been regenerated by Black people for centuries: we left enslavement with nothing and survived. We were systematically segregated from getting jobs or raises and promotions and thrived.
But what would have happened if our parents and grandparents had gotten loan guarantees to buy houses in the 1940s? Our community would look substantially better in terms of wealth.
Black people fought for freedom around the world only to return home and be denied economic justice– and it was a detrimental blow to the African-American community.
If folks had been able to get student loans back then, the current and forthcoming generations would have more wealth, more generationally implanted professionals and more businesspersons firmly based in the trades. If things had been different, the Pledge of Allegiance which states “liberty and justice for all” would have included economic justice that applies to people of color. But White supremacy is a zero-sum game, especially as it pertains to Black wealth. And as it stands, Blacks have to lose, so White people can win.
Sadly, that has always been the American Way.
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