Monday, November 19, 2007

Forty Acres and Other Factors in the Racial Divide

Would forty acres and a mule, the much rumored but seldom seen reward for free slaves, have made a difference? In an article in the New York Times, Henry Louis Gates Jr., a professor at Harvard, says it might. African Americans were largely left out of many waves of land grabbing by which a largely white population took possession of the real estate we now know as North America.

So it is not surprising that African Americans today tend to have less assets than the descendants of other Americans who simply took the assets they have. And, of the many measures by which one can gauge the current racial divide, few are more telling than the ratio of assets or net worth. One's net worth can be equated to one's stake in society, the extent to which a person or group of people is are part of, and has a vested interest in, society.

The median net worth of non-Hispanic black households in 2004 was only $11,800 — less than 10 percent that of non-Hispanic white households, $118,300. These numbers suggest black families have less than one tenth of the stake in society that white families do.

Here's another telling statistic: At current rates, one-third of all black males, one-sixth of Latino males, and one in 17 white males will go to prison during their lives. This is a prime example of institutionalized racism. America puts more of its population in prison than any other 'civilized' country; and it puts a grossly disproportionate percentage of its minority population in prison. Does anyone seriously think white folks are THAT much more law-abiding than black folks?

The number comes from a report by a group of leading criminologists that concluded America's prison system is a costly and harmful failure. Let us take studies like this, and informed opinions like those of Prof. Gates, as a sign of hope; hope that the racial divide will eventually be narrowed, by people who care and who continue to work on this problem.