The fallacy of this line of thought, the sorry argument used by a range of people on a range of topics — especially opponents of affirmative action — is the idea that class, often conceptualized in terms of mere income levels, is the same for everyone. That someone who is Black and poor is necessarily comparable to someone who is White and poor. The attempt is to avoid a discussion where differences and disparties have to be confronted for a much less difficult conversation that pretends we’re all the same and everybody has the same problem and everything about the problem is the same since we can call it by the same name — “class” or “poor.”
“…the accumulated advantages of systemic white supremacy are far from minimal. As Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro explain in their book Black Wealth/White Wealth, even though young two-earner black couples have closed the income gap between themselves and young two-earner white couples of similar educational background, their life situations remain quite different, thanks to the effects of past racism. Because the parents and grandparents of young whites were able to accumulate assets and professional security at a time when the parents and grandparents of blacks were restricted in their ability to do the same, today’s young black couples—though roughly earning the same as whites on the job—continue to have a net worth that is less than one-fifth the worth of young white couples.
Inheritance of parental assets and ongoing financial support from parents has given the typical young white couple a net worth almost $20,000 above that of similar blacks. Indeed, the wealth gap between whites and blacks has increased over the past twenty years even as the income gap has closed. Housing preferences alone for white Americans in the middle of the 1900’s (provided via racially restrictive FHA lending as well as blatant anti-black discrimination by banks offering conventional mortgages) were worth hundreds of billions of dollars in equity and now are part of nearly $10 trillion being inherited by white baby boomers and their children.
Even whites below the poverty line are more likely to own their own home than blacks with three times more annual income, because of assets passed down from white parents. This wealth disparity makes it much easier for whites to maintain or improve their economic status intergenerationally.
The black middle class, though growing, remains far more vulnerable to economic disruption than its white counterpart. In fact, the typical black middle-class family has net financial assets of less than $300 and would be unable to sustain even one month of unemployment at the poverty level, due to a lack of net worth. By contrast, 75% of whites have enough assets to go a month without income and 40% could last three months without pay.
I don’t want to belabor the point . . .
Although whites suffer poverty too, black poverty is more severe… Seven out of ten poor whites live in stable, mostly non-poor neighborhoods, while eighty-five percent of the black poor live in mostly poor areas (Johnson and Chanhatasilpa, 2003: 98; also, Smith, 1995: 128). Blacks are three times more likely to live in extreme poverty than whites (less than half the poverty line) and six times more likely to live in concentrated poverty neighborhoods (Wachtel, 1999: 294, fn15.) Indeed, three-quarters of persons living in concentrated poverty neighborhoods are people of color (powell, 2001: 6).
… because it’s silly. To decontextualize the historical and present-day reality as if race hasn’t always and still happens to put an astericks (*) on the “class” experience of African-Americans regardless of the size of their bank account is an amazing trick.