White Racial Delusion

As of 2010,” the New York Times reported last April, “white families, on average, earned about $2 for every $1 that black and Hispanic families earned, a ratio that has remained roughly constant for the last 30 years.” But blacks have suffered a far bigger fall in income since 2007 than any other racial group and their net worth (disproportionately concentrated in housing) has fallen to its lowest level in decades. A recent Urban Institute study shows that the wealth gap between blacks and whites, “already dismal” before the onset of the Great Recession, has widened in the wake of the latest economic downturn. As Times reporter Anne Lowery observes:

when it comes to wealth — as measured by assets, like cash savings, homes and retirement accounts, minus debts, like mortgages and credit card balances — white families have far outpaced black and Hispanic ones. Before the recession, non-Hispanic white families, on average, were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families, according to the Urban Institute’s analysis of Federal Reserve data. By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy. …The dollar value of that gap has grown, as well. By the most recent data, the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families”[3]

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";color:#333333″>Where do so many whites get the kind of racial attitudes and beliefs that lead them to approve a thuggish and armed white watch captain’s vicious stalking and killing of an unarmed black teenager and to think – against all evidence – that Caucasians have replaced blacks as the leading victims of racial discrimination in the U.S.? While a full explanation would have to go back to the origins of North American racial oppression in the rise of black chattel slavery during the 17th century, part of the contemporary explanation comes from a deadly interaction that has developed over many decades between racial segregation on one hand and the picture of black America many whites get from mass media on the other hand. Persistent strong residential and social separation means that most whites have little direct or proximate contact with the mostly working and lower class black population and community. The large number of black Americans who struggle to get by with hard work in a terrible job market (particularly bad for black Americans) and under an unjust plutocracy are largely invisible to white America. The white population’s main source of “information” on black Americans comes from the mass media, where two predominant black images prevail: (a) dangerous and threatening lower-class and ghetto-dwelling black criminals (mostly male) and gang-bangers; (b) highly successful blacks who have “made it to the top,” even to the White House. The first category (a) are a regular staple on the local evening news and the local newspapers, their alleged hideous crimes and violence routinely reported without the slightest hint of any historical or socioeconomic context on the savage paucity of economic opportunity in the highly segregated, poverty-concentrating communities to which they are consigned. The second category (b) deceptively suggests the abundant presence of black faces in high places, feeding the inaccurate white sense that black Americans (still the poorest racial group in the U.S. except for the miserably oppressed and forgotten Native Americans) have somehow outpaced the white majority on the whole. And since the dominant white culture since slavery has long painted the black population with the terrible brushes of laziness, brutishness, irresponsibility, the only way that many whites can or will understand this alleged black rise is in terms of “reverse racism” – purported endemic anti-white discrimination. 







But it doesn’t seem very likely that the nation’s dominant ideological institutions are going to advance an honest discussion of class inequality – and class oppression – in America. Those institutions are themselves owned and controlled by the same very disproportionately white “1 percent” (the real economic elite is much smaller) that has been pulling the political and policy levers for decades to distribute wealth and power ever upward, to the point now where the 400 richest Americans possess as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of the nation [10] and U.S. is more comparable to Latin America and Africa than it is to Western Europe and much of Asia when it comes to inequality. The reigning cultural and ideological authorities prefer to keep the nation stuck in endless partisan battles and debates pitched around race, gender, sexual orientation, guns, religion and other “values” and identity-based “wedge” issue and divides – anything to keep the real economic ruling class and power elite in the shadows. As the prolific left author and commentator Chris Hedges recently noted on The Real News Network, “both sides of the political spectrum are manipulated by the same forces. If you're some right-wing Christian zealot in Georgia, then it's homosexuals and abortion and all these, you know, wedge issues that are used to whip you up emotionally. If you are a liberal in Manhattan, it's–you know, they'll all be teaching creationism in your schools or whatever…Yet in fact it's just a game, because whether it's Bush or whether it's Obama, Goldman Sachs wins always. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs” [11] 

[email protected]) is the author of many books including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (Rowman&Littlefield, 2007), Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008), and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, forthcoming January 2014). He is also a contributing essayist in Francis Goldin et al., eds. Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA (New York: HarperCollins, forthcoming in October 2013)


Selected Endnotes 

1. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/07/vast-racial-gap-on-trayvon-martin-case-marks-a-challenging-conversation/

2. May 23, 2011), http://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/whites-believe-they-are-victims-racism-more-often-than-blacks


http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/theviciouscircle.pdf; Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York” New Press, 2010).

www.princeton.edu/sociology/faculty/pager/Pager, MARKED: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2007); Pager, Devah, Bruce Western, and Bart Bonikowski. 2009. "Discrimination in a Low Wage Labor Market: A Field Experiment." American Sociological Review 74(October):777-799; Devah Pager, and Lincoln Quillian. 2005, “Walking the Talk: What Employers Say Versus What They Do,” American Sociological Review 7(3):355-380;  Devah Pager, 2005, “Double Jeopardy: Race, Crime, and Getting a Job,” Wisconsin Law Review (2):617-660; Devah Pager, 2003. “The Mark of a Criminal Record,” American Journal of Sociology 108(5):937-975; Devah Pager and Eric Grodsky, 2001, “The Structure of Disadvantage: Individual and Occupational Determinants of the Black-White Wage Gap.” American Sociological Review: 66(4):542-567;  Devah Pager and Lincoln Quillian, 2001, “Black Neighbors, Higher Crime? The Role of Racial Stereotypes in Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime,” American Journal of Sociology: 107(3): 717-767.


9. Yen, “Exclusive: 4 in 5.”


11. Chris Hedges, “America is a Tinderbox,” July 24, 2013, http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=10461

12. A classic text is Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: W.W. Norton, 1975).

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