Early this year I started working with author JLove Calderon on a multimedia project she started called Till the White Day is Done. Part of that effort was her interview with MC Serch (of 3rd Bass and executive producer of Nas' Illmatic) and my response to it. Below are both the interview and my brief response. Hopefully we'll be producing more of this in the future.
In the interview, MC Serch comments on the role of both race and class in analyzing the causes of injustice and inequality. He comes clearly down on the side of class trumping race, stating:
“We have to look at economics and see where it plays, and not race. Because now more than ever the guy with the most money wins.”
“I find it idiotic when people say, ‘It’s a black and white issue.’ It’s not. It’s a poor or rich issue.”
Without a doubt, Serch is right that class is tremendously important. It goes without saying that with enough money, a person can have access to almost anything. But an important aspect of looking at the differences and inequalities between the working and middle classes and the upper and ruling classes, is the racial makeup of those classes.
Numerous studies have shown both that the wealthiest Americans are almost exclusively white and that on average, whites are wealthier than people of color. For example, a 1997 paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, of all places, points out that the richest 1 percent of U.S. households own 33 percent of the wealth in the U.S. And of that richest 1%, 92.1% are white.Thomas Shapiro, director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, writes that in 2007, white households had a net worth that was $142,600 greater than black households, up from $100,700 in 1997. Shapiro states that “the racial wealth gap [is] a fundamental axis of racial inequality,” and that these numbers show “a firmly embedded racial stratification.”
Following Serch’s suggestion, by looking at these numbers to see who the guys with the most money are, the answer is definitive: the white guys.Most white people reading this are probably wondering, “Well, if white people are the rich ones, then where’s my share?” That’s a fair question, because obviously most white people are not rich. But the fact still remains, even if we’re not rich, on average we still have more resources and wealth than people of color do, simply because we’re white.
At first glance, that last sentence doesn’t make very much sense. A more in-depth explanation will have to wait for another blog post but the brief explanation is this: The reason white people across the board have more money is because for hundreds of years, the U.S. economy was built along racial lines designed to favor whites at the expense of all others. Through the mechanisms of genocide, slavery, exclusion acts, Jim Crow laws, and redlining and other racist financial practices, whites amassed wealth, reinvested it and passed it on to their children; while entire segments of the population, especially blacks, were barred from owning anything and the wealth they did produce was taken from them.Stretch that out over 400 years and it’s easy to see why whites as a whole are in such a better financial condition. That legacy of unequal wealth distribution and white supremacy is why in 2009, it’s still the case that the wealthiest people in the U.S. are almost all white, and that whites across the board are wealthier than any other racial group.