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The Inclusive Economy

Black History Month 2017: Our Focus Should Be On Celebrating History. And Making It.

By Dedrick Asante-Muhammad on 02/09/2017 @ 09:00 AM

Tags: News, Racial Wealth Divide

February is Black History Month, and as our nation celebrates this year, a positive light will once again be shined on African Americans’ many contributions to and influences on this country’s history and culture. Although this is an important moment for reflection, we also must focus on the present day realities of African Americans in the United States. In particular, Black History Month is an ideal time for us to explore the undeniable correlation between race and wealth, as well as how we can move forward as a nation to bridge the ever-growing racial economic divide. As CFED supporters and allies know best, there is still a long way to go in our shared mission of advancing civil rights and expanding opportunity for African Americans. Indeed, in an opportunity economy, there is no room for racial wealth inequality.

Much has happened since last year’s Black History Month. In the past year, we’ve witnessed the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement to a nationally recognized slogan, which exposed the unfair treatment of many African Americans by law enforcement officials. These issues also entered the spotlight during the 2016 presidential elections, which provided a platform for politicians to draw attention to the fact that African Americans are disproportionately targeted and imprisoned for non-violent crimes. This Black History Month will also be the first since the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened to the public toward the end of the first Black president’s second term, itself an historic moment. These are all notable advances in the mission to bring attention to the continued hardships faced by African American families.

Nevertheless, we have much history yet to make if we are to usher the nation into an era not defined by racial economic inequality. As CFED and the Institute for Policy Studies reported in August, racial economic inequality is on a path to expansion, not contraction. From 1983-2013, African American median income wealth declined from $6,800 to $1,700, while White median income wealth increased from $102,200 to $116,800. If these trends continue, by 2043, when White people are projected to comprise a minority of the nation, African Americans will have median wealth of just $425. Over that same timeframe, however, White wealth is projected to increase to $131,980.

Rampant inequality helps to explain, in part, why demand for change is sweeping across the nation. From the newly elected president to the millions of people finding themselves on protest lines, it seems that our nation is finally realizing the current trends are unsustainable.

In this context, this year’s Black History Month feels like one where our attention should be focused on making history, rather than solely reflecting on the great deeds of the past. Pulling our country away from an increasingly calcified apartheid socioeconomic order will itself change the course of history. To that end, CFED will remain steadfast in working with you to make 2017 another powerful year in forging a path toward overcoming racial wealth inequality.

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