Tomorrow is Juneteenth. A holiday my family and many others have recognized for decades. Now, as of June 2021, it is a federal holiday in the United States.
I, for one, am grateful for this formal designation. Because the days leading up to celebrating this holiday provides an opportunity for all of us to remember (or learn) about our history, celebrate the progress made, and plant the seeds for the work still to be done.
Especially with regard to Black wealth.
This morning, CBS Sunday Morning did a wonderful profile of Paul Revere Williams, one of Los Angeles’ most well known architects. He is known for the grand, elegant “showcase” homes he designed for many of Hollywood’s stars and celebrities. And if you’ve ever watched a movie or television show that featured the Crescent Wing of the Beverly Hills Hotel, you’ve experienced the “art” of his work.
Watching the segment, I felt immense gratitude:
- to him for being such a trailblazer;
- for his granddaughter because of the work she is doing to preserve her grandfather’s legacy; and
- for the current owners (who are Black) of one his homes who had said home declared a historic monument.* A home that once had stated in its deed that it couldn’t be occupied by anyone who wasn’t caucasian. (*Talk about both protecting Mr. Williams’ legacy and creating generational wealth for their family!)
I also beamed with pride because of what Mr. Williams accomplished in spite of the norms of that time. And, I loved learning of his commitment to build small, affordable homes, too.
Watching the segment is yet another reason why I have such a disdain for deficit thinking, particularly, when it comes to Black wealth.
Or, the notion that the reason Black wealth isn’t greater is because there is something “wrong” with us individually and collectively.
Building and maintaining financial wealth is what enables individuals, families, and communities to plan for the future and respond to financial setbacks and emergencies with ease.
Being able to pass on wealth is what fosters generational financial stability.
But because of the history of the United States, my ancestors haven’t been able to build, maintain, and pass on wealth unimpeded. This fact is not to be used as an excuse or a crutch, but it is an important awareness to behold as we talk about and take action on building, sustaining, and passing on generational wealth.
And, it’s why, like last year, I am commemorating Juneteenth (June 19th), thinking about economic justice and resharing portions of what I wrote in 2022.
Perhaps if President Abraham Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated and President Andrew Johnson hadn’t reversed the “Special Field Order No. 15,” which redistributed about 400,000 acres of confiscated land from Confederate landowners to newly freed slaves, the wealth gap that exists today between Black and White families wouldn’t exist.
But, alas, it was and it does.
With staggering effects on Black families and communities, specifically, and the U.S. economy, more generally. (Side note: I really wish more people understood how increasing Black wealth would benefit everyone. But the mindset of scarcity, gluttony, and entitlement is a strong drug.)
As Greg Rosalsky of NPR’s Planet Money recently wrote, “…progress Black Americans made in politics, business, and culture in the mid-to-late 20th and early 21st centuries, the economists find there’s been very little progress in closing the average racial wealth gap since 1950. By 1950, the ratio of white-to-Black wealth fell to 7 to 1. Today, it’s 6 to 1.”
According to the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, White families had a median wealth of $188,200, compared to $24,100 for Black families.
In 2017, Prosperity Now, a D.C.-based advocacy and research organization and the Institute for Policy Studies released a study with an incredibly disheartening statistic:
I don’t know about you, but that takes my breath away.
It also makes me angry.
I get angry…
- When I think about those who lived, died, and survived being enslaved;
- When I think about those who thrived during Reconstruction, having created something from nothing, only to have it stolen from them or destroyed;
- When I think about the devastating impact of Jim Crow apartheid;
- When I think about the racism that is deeply embedded in our institutions and governmental policies;
- When I read about the persistent disparity between the wealth of Black and White families, and how it’ll take 228 years for the wealth of Black families to reach that of White families today!
So yeah, I get angry for a host of reasons.
But, it’s a good anger.
“Good anger” fuels action.
It can spark creativity.
It’s often the seedling for innovation.
I’d even go so far as to say it even increases my optimism about what’s possible.
And we each need to tap into some good anger in order to address the mammoth task ahead for us all.
I also believe it will necessitate a mental reframe on building, maintaining, and passing on Black wealth – a mindset where people recognize this to be a collective effort that both requires something of us all and benefits all of us, too.
Forget Catching Up, Though
As long as we don’t focus on catching up!
Because when there is a lead of 228 years, how in the world do you move forward without eventually feeling defeated and deflated?!
Instead of “starting from behind,” it is my opinion that a better use of our individual and collective time, energy, ideas, and creativity is to center growth.
And more specifically to set growth targets –
- for closing the income and opportunity gaps;
- for education;
- for entrepreneurship and small business ownership;
- for savings; and
- for all dimensions of wealth (financial, social, time, physical, and well-being).
Again: I truly wished more people understood how increasing Black wealth isn’t a zero-sum game!
Juneteenth is one of those holidays that is both celebratory and somber. It reminds us of how far we’ve come, as well as how far we still have to go.
Together, let’s celebrate…and Let’s Go!