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Black Wealth From Kanye to Donald Glover: America's Decadent Veil

Black Wealth From Kanye to Donald Glover: America's Decadent Veil
(L to R) President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West stand together in the lobby at Trump Tower, December 13, 2016, in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 11 May 2018 12:19 PM EDT

Now more than ever in America, wealth is a generational asset.

As such, the financial successes or oppressions experienced by a person’s ancestors have a pronounced influence on the advantages and disadvantages in his or her own life. In the recent report “What We Get Wrong About Closing The Racial Wealth Gap,” I, along with Professor Sandy Darity of Duke University, the New School’s Dr. Darrick Hamilton, and several other economists, expose the most prevalent financial mythologies surrounding the black-white wealth divide, demonstrating how these are in effect merely substitutes for a necessary confrontation with our nation’s deep history of racism and how it was used to create long-lasting, unequal levels of wealth among whites and blacks.

From a belief in educational attainment as the solution, to black family disorganization as the problem — and even to black celebrity as the decadent veil wealth cover — we show how America has been led to incorrectly assume that individuals’ actions are the most important factor in building wealth, rather than observing how government has and continues to help in determining capitalism’s multi-generational familial winners and losers.

Perhaps nothing so exemplifies this disconnect than the recent statements made by artist Kanye West.

His tweets and on-air rants, ranging from support for President Donald Trump, to American slavery being owed — at least in part — to an apparently weak and deficient black mentality that led to them choosing to be enslaved, have been both bizarre and blatantly disrespectful. Above all, they promote the idea that personal opinion outweighs history and the reality of the moment faced by black families across this nation. Our report identifies and summarily dispels all of the disinformation required for the so-called personal action ‘solutions’ espoused by Kanye, President Trump, and others like them to exist. Our findings show America is not the land of milk and honey for a group connected to a legacy of institutional oppression, and how framing the burden of overcoming that legacy as one of personal choice keeps black America in — to echo Kanye’s own reference to the phrase — “the sunken place.” Yet if West ignorantly misunderstood the range of choices given to the negro during slavery, Donald Glover in his video "This Is America" challenged all elements of how that lack of choice has manifested a lasting consequence in modern America. Glover takes choice and shows how limiting it can truly be by challenging the role of interracial connections, and the caste image of Black America as entertainment while they suffer from the impact of generational choices made upon them and their communities.

Subscribing to the dogma of personal choice as a means of uplift has never benefited black people economically. Our report shows that, on average, a black household with a college-educated head has less wealth than a white family whose head did not obtain even a high school diploma. We discovered too that even when black people find work, white households with an unemployed head have a higher net worth than black households with a head who is working full-time. These kinds of dramatic differences in access can’t just be explained away as mere coincidence. The reality is that behind this difference are the bodies of slaves used for free labor, and the black homes that were either taken or devalued by redlining practices by Federal Housing Administration officials during Jim Crow. America’s financial closet is chalk full of skeleton stories that led to the destruction of black wealth. Critically, these differences are of a type that require a reckoning, a resolution, and a repairing; one that acknowledges our history’s impact on our present and commits to a transformative reparation before moving forward.

We live in a time where the level of inequality in the United States — for those who work for a living — is described by famed economist and author of the best-seller "Capital in the 21st Century," Thomas Piketty, as being “probably higher than in any other society, at any time in the past, anywhere in the world.” In light of this, how, then, can black America allow so many to speak on our current predicaments who are unaware of the truth of the data? When Kanye West remarks on his own financial condition, stating, “Even when I tweeted that I was in debt, that gave me power,” he demonstrates a staggering detachment from lived reality of the many truly powerless black families in debt across this country. There is no power in being unbankable, or having to use payday loans to get by. There is fundamentally no power in blackness without fully understanding the historical consequence of that blackness in America; there is only continued struggle.

Our report’s analysis puts a spotlight on black celebrity, explaining that the growing numbers of black celebrities does not prove the racial wealth gap is closing. We contend that “[b]lack celebrity has largely been placed at the vanguard of an imagined black achievement of affluence.” The words of Kanye West only affirm this. With all the attention given West, lost are the voices of the millions of activists rebuking President Trump for his regressive tax plan, his push for food boxes over food stamps, and the recent statements from the head of HUD, Ben Carson, on raising rents on the low income, all policy decisions that promise to have a devastating impact on the already fraught situation of black life in America.

Wealth in America is undergoing a paradigmatic shift. And owing to our country’s unique history of racially discriminatory wealth-generating policies, there’s no group more vulnerable to its effects than African-Americans that descend from U.S. slavery. No dangerous, misguided beliefs can help correct this. As noted in our report, using the example of ‘black family disorganization’ — the oft-cited root cause of the racial wealth gap — “[t]hese explanations tend to confuse consequence and cause, and are largely driven by claims that if blacks change their behavior, they would see marked increases in wealth accumulation.” However, wealth begets wealth, and any response to the racial wealth gap which proposes to be transformative simply cannot afford to make the same mistake of repackaging as a cause the consequence of one group’s having been deliberately locked out of opportunities to create wealth for hundreds of years.

Mythology around finance and wealth does not help with this at any level. Getting it right on the narrative around race and wealth is as important as finding any solution.

Antonio Moore, an attorney based in Los Angeles, is one of the producers of the Emmy-nominated documentary "Freeway: Crack in the System." He has contributed pieces to the Grio, The Huffington Post, and on the topics of race, mass incarceration, and economics. Follow him on YouTube Channel Tonetalks. For more of his reports, Click Here Now.

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Now more than ever in America, wealth is a generational asset.
kanye west, trump, black wealth
Friday, 11 May 2018 12:19 PM
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