Racism and Personal Worth

If you’re one of those people who are wondering why our so-called economic recovery is passing you by here’s why: Thanks to the devastating economic collapse that has plagued our nation for the last several years we know:

1. Wealth has, with the assistance of federal policies and tax breaks, flowed into the hands of the few to an unprecedented extent. The top decile of pre-tax income earning Americans accounts for 50 percent of the total income of U.S. families—the highest level since 1917, with the top 1 percent of wage earners controlling nearly a quarter of the nation’s total income.
2. Wealth disparities are falling disproportionately on people of color, especially their children. More than a third (34%) of African American and 29% of Latino children live below the poverty level in the U.S.
3. Nearly half of African Americans born into middle-class families have spiraled down into the bottom 20% of income distribution compared to 16% of white children.
4. Between 1984 and 2007 the wealth gap between blacks and whites increased four- fold. (Some sources here and here)

These facts not only reveal the increasing immiseration of people of color, but of working class and middle class whites. They are realizing the fallacy of the American Dream as they struggle to survive in the face of increasing costs for food and fuel and devaluation in personal property and assets.

People of color have long been on the short end, receiving far less compensation for wages and, as I have shown in my book, injuries awarded by judges and juries. The color of one’s skin not only affects employment, housing, educational, and health opportunities and outcomes, it follows some people to the grave. The question is “If you were queen or king for a day, which one of our social institutions would you try to reform and how would you do it?”

(Dr. H. Roy Kaplan is in the Department of Africana Studies, University of South Florida, and is author of The Myth of Post-Racial America: Searching for Equality in the Age of Materialism.


  1. island girl in a land without sea

    when i first read the lede, i thought that the article would be about self-concept and internalized oppression among PoC! just another example of the frames and filters we bring to every interaction.

    although surely there is a connection between financial worth and self-concept in a racialized, consumerist, capitalist society.

  2. ralph

    Excellent Question!

    If I had a magic wand, I’d wave it over the education system, thereby eradicating any and all words pertaining to people’s skin color, shade, hues and any other physical descriptors we currently use to ascertain someone’s so-called racial category.

    These words that categorize people according to color as they have been used in the last 400 hundred years would be completely removed from the national lexicon!

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

      Uh, yeah, I gotta disagree with you Ralph. Not with your intention, but your implementation.

      Referring to skin color is no big deal. Especially where it pertains to children. Kids are observant. They’re gonna notice difference in complexion whether adults mention it or not. And it wouldn’t do to remove pictures as well as descriptors, cause most kids imagine the world to look like them. Growing up, unless it was otherwise clear, I always assumed people in the books I read were black. I was probably 3 or 4 chapters into a Judy Blume book before I realized the characters were white. Up to that point, I thought it was strange to call a black child, “Fudge.”

      So removing race will ultimately backfire. Kids will assume all the good, successful historical figures are white, and the bad ones black. On the other hand . . . I do know of a black kindergarten boy who drew George Washington black because since the present president is black, all presidents are black.

      But I digress. Research has shown that the best thing to do is to tell the truth, give children a true and inclusive account of history rather than telling them slavery wasn’t all that bad or that slaveholders were just products of their culture.

      And anyway, the post was about money, not the babydoll test.

  3. H. Roy Kaplan Author

    I’ve been reading the comments precipitated by my recent blog. Some good points have been made about the effects (real and presumed) of racism on educational and occupational achievement in our society. The remarks reveal that even well-intentioned people, regardless of ethnicity and color, have difficulty discussing issues related to race and racism in our society. If readers of this site find some of the comments rude and blunt, imagine what appears on the thousands of hate websites where people are even less constrained about their feelings.

    We may never know the true intent or beliefs of anonymous bloggers, but I think it is safe to assume that anonymity gives people a feeling of security, cover, if you will, which allows them to be more candid than they might otherwise be. It seems to me that much of the discussion I’ve read here is among people who may have different perspectives on the causes and consequences of racism, but essentially agree that it is a pernicious factor of life in our society. Perhaps we should contemplate focusing on the real sources of oppression and exploitation, stop attacking one another, and begin to engage in activities that heal, rather than further fracture our society.

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

      I’m sure you’re busy, Dr. Kaplan, but if you get a moment, could you be more specific? You can leave an explanation at my blog in the guestbook if you like. Your comments reads like something I’d right if I were trying to draw an issue to conclusion and avoid further difficulty. I feel like I think I know what you’re saying, but I’m not sure.

    • beverlywhayes

      Mr. Kaplan – is your intend to look for someone or thing to blame for racism? We are all created by God and live to the best of our ability. But here is the hitch – if there is no example in the home, life becomes hard! Black, white, Asian. The lack of the family UNIT is causing children to look in the streets. No amount of money will fix that problem. We need to come together not inspection salaries, we need to care not hand out money with no guidence, we need our neighborhoods back not the HOOD. The family is broken and the system can only make matters worst by plugging holes with money instead of education. Just like in the jails-what happen to reabilitation, teach them to live, love and care.
      Bev Hayes

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