On Wednesday, September 23, Chicago Beyond hosted the third session of our Unpacking series titled, “Unpacking Race, Wealth, and Individual Power.” We were joined by Brookings Institute Fellow and author Dr. Andre Perry and the Director of the UChicago Institute of Politics David Axelrod to discuss racial wealth inequality in America.
In the discussion moderated by Chicago Beyond Founder & CEO Liz Dozier, panelists talked about the manifestations of this inequality, such as the disparities it creates in Black homeownership, its impact on the public consciousness, and how it influences the ways we value each other and the communities we belong to. The discussion compelled the virtual audience to learn more about the way this inequity pervades society, challenge preconceived notions, and advocate for changes to policies and mindsets.
According to the Brookings Institute, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family. We must never forget how we got here, as David Axelrod reminded us, “These are not accidents. These are a function of longstanding policies that we see to this day.” Many policies cited throughout the conversation, like the GI Bill, granted enormous amounts of wealth and opportunity to the American public yet systemically excluded Black people from many of their benefits.
As Dr. Perry shared, the GI Bill, for example, wasn’t an isolated incident, and neither are the disparities we see in homeownership today, in which Black homes are significantly undervalued—resulting in over $156 billion in losses for homeowners and their communities.
Here’s what that $156 billion could fund:
The panelists also explored how deeming Black lives and Black assets “riskier” or “unworthy” of investment not only pervades the mindsets of banks and lenders, but members of the community themselves—especially our country’s youth. Axelrod shared a conversation he had with President Barack Obama where he revealed the most dispiriting part of his job as a public official was seeing firsthand that false sense of unworthiness in our nation’s students. The contrast was on display during visits to elementary schools where he saw kindergarteners filled with dreams and enthusiasm, and would then visit middle schools where he saw hope fleeting from students because of what they had come to perceive as the reality of what they could achieve.
These are the stakes associated with racist policies and the racial wealth gap it creates. Axelrod explained that the real risk is actually the byproduct of disinvestment, and how it ultimately hurts all of us. It’s how a lack of investment in Black communities limits the life chances of our nation’s youth, further exacerbating existing inequities and the racial wealth gap. Dr. Perry suggested that while the models that society operates on created these disparities, we must challenge them and “come up with new models together.”