By Quinlyn Manfull
According to a new study led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, white boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way while Black boys raised in top income brackets are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households. Black boys, even those raised in the wealthiest neighborhoods by the wealthiest parents, still fare far worse than white boys with similar backgrounds.
Income inequality and its cyclical effects have become far more prevalent in academic and political discussions and rightfully so, but the problem with a lot of current literature is that the analysis normally ends with the fact that more Black Americans are in poverty than white Americans, not acknowledging the long term impacts of cyclical poverty even for Black families who have made it to the top income brackets.
What is considered the greatest benefit of capital accumulation? The intergenerational aspect of it. The fact that your children will not have to work as hard to provide the same luxuries to their children. Not only are the bastions of opportunity that are reserved for the wealthy and white difficult to break into for Black families, but those who are able to do so rarely are able to pass those opportunities down to their children. The poverty trap remains nearly inescapable.
Overall, this study is phenomenal (and the infographics that come with it are superb, I highly recommend reading the full New York Times piece on the study). The study puts into words and pictures (I’m not kidding when I say super, super cool infographics) things many of us have known; academic validation of this truth is helpful in decolonizing our courses dedicated to capitalism, racism, their intersection, inequality and much more.
What does this mean for classes and discussions of inequality on our campus? Many times self-proclaimed leftists and even Marxists will support the idea that class divide us more than racial ones, that the color line was drawn in order to divide the already poor, that the effects of racism are only those perpetuated by systematic cyclical poverty.
This narrative is erroneous on so many levels. First of all, wealthy Black individuals still face rabid anti-black racism; but secondly, that the intergenerational benefits of capital accumulation are not accessible by Black families. The unwillingness for so many self-proclaimed socialists on our campus to stare racism and their own role in white supremacy in the face is their failure if you ask me.
Capitalism at its core was never made for People of Color to succeed. This is why our four-decade rampage of neoliberal Reaganomics has burdened families of color far more than their white counterparts.
Incarceration and the inherent anti-blackness rooted in our criminal justice system is one answer. Black men raised in the top 1 percent are as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000 annually. Racial stereotypes cross class boundaries, seep into schools and embed themselves into the minds of the mentors and teachers of even wealthy Black children.
Even when raised among affluence, assumptions of criminality still plague Black men at the earliest of ages. Benefits of wealth accumulation such as nepotism and higher education, etc., are harder to pass on when you are also facing negative stereotypes in the inner circle. It is more difficult to pass down your seat at the table if people are continually questioning if the seat should have been provided for you in the first place.
Finding all the reasons why this disparity is true is difficult, issues as deeply embedded into our state and our history as racism are tough to crystallize. But a few things are certain: discussions of income inequality and the consolidation of wealth must take into consideration how racialized intergenerational wealth is, that racism is not a problem reserved for the poor and that glossing over findings like this will never result in policies that aid in ending the racialization of poverty in the US.
If you ask me, capitalism was never supposed to work for anyone who wasn’t white, so it never will. The Black individuals who have made it to the top one percent are used in the narrative to claim that poverty is not racialized. But Beyonce, Kanye and the Obamas aren’t enough – for one because they all experience anti-blackness on a daily basis, but also because it is far more difficult for them to pass their wealth on to their children than it is for Elon Musk, George Bush or Taylor Swift.