Systemic Racism Video: Wealth Gap

In the first video in the series, Jay Smooth explains the part of systemic racism known as ‘the wealth gap’ in this short (1:07) video:

The text for the video is:

Did you know that in 2010 Black Americans made up 13% of the population but had only 2.7% of the country’s wealth? That the median net worth for a white family was $134,000, but the median net worth for a Hispanic family was $14,000, and for a Black family it was $11,000? That the median wealth for a single white woman has been measured at $41,000, while for Hispanic women it was $140, and for Black women, $120?  Did you know that? Do you know what that’s called? Systemic Racism, and yes, it’s really a thing.

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, list several sources for the facts about the wealth gap, including a report from Demos, The Racial Wealth Gap, which features several bar graphs such as this one:

Net Worth Chart

Share of Net Worth Held by Each Race (2010)


If you’d like to read and learn more about the wealth gap and systemic racism in the scholarly literature see:

  • Conley, Dalton. Being black, living in the red: Race, wealth, and social policy in America. University of California Press, 1999. Abstract: This book demonstrates that many differences between blacks and whites stem not from race but from economic inequalities that have accumulated over the course of American history. Property ownership—as measured by net worth—reflects this legacy of economic oppression. The racial discrepancy in wealth holdings leads to advantages for whites in the form of better schools, more desirable residences, higher wages, and more opportunities to save, invest, and thereby further their economic advantages. A new afterword by the author summarizes Conley’s recent research on racial differences in wealth mobility and security and discusses potential policy solutions to the racial asset gap and America’s low savings rate more generally. (locked)
  • Crowder, Kyle, Scott J. South, and Erick Chavez. “Wealth, race, and inter-neighborhood migration.” American Sociological Review 71, no. 1 (2006): 72-94. Abstract: Racial differences in wealth have often been thought to underlie racial differences in residential segregation and neighborhood attainment, but research supporting this claim is limited. The authors of this article use data from the 1989–2001 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), in conjunction with tract-level decennial census data, to examine the effects of household and parental wealth on the migration of black and non-Hispanic white families between neighborhoods comprised of varying percentages of Anglos (i.e., non-Hispanic whites). They find generally modest effects of wealth on these patterns of inter-neighborhood migration. Consistent with one version of the place-stratification model of locational attainment, the effects of both household and parental wealth are stronger among blacks than among non-Hispanic whites, with the sharpest racial difference emerging among renters. Racial differences in household and parental wealth, however, can account for only a trivial portion of the pronounced racial difference in migration into neighborhoods containing larger percentages of Anglo residents. The authors conclude that explanations for the racially stratified inter-neighborhood migration streams that underlie and reinforce black-Anglo residential segregation will need to look beyond the influence of wealth and other socioeconomic resources. (locked)
  • Feagin, Joe. Systemic racism: A theory of oppression. Routledge, 2013. Abstract: In this book, Feagin develops a theory of systemic racism to interpret the highly racialized character and development of this society. Exploring the distinctive social worlds that have been created by racial oppression over nearly four centuries and what this has meant for the people of the United States, focusing his analysis on white-on-black oppression. Drawing on the commentaries of black and white Americans in three historical eras; the slavery era, the legal segregation era, and then those of white Americans. Feagin examines how major institutions have been thoroughly pervaded by racial stereotypes, ideas, images, emotions, and practices. He theorizes that this system of racial oppression was not an accident of history, but was created intentionally by white Americans. While significant changes have occurred in this racist system over the centuries, key and fundamentally elements have been reproduced over nearly four centuries, and US institutions today imbed the racialized hierarchy created in the 17th century. (locked)


  • Feagin, Joe R. Racist America: Roots, current realities, and future reparations, 3rd. Routledge, 2014. Abstract: This third edition is significantly revised and updated, with an eye toward racism issues arising regularly in our contemporary era. This edition incorporates more than two hundred recent research studies and reports on U.S. racial issues that update and enhance all the last edition’s chapters. It expands the discussion and data on concepts such as the white racial frame and systemic racism from research studies by Feagin and his colleagues. The author has further polished the book to make it yet more readable for undergraduates, including eliminating repetitive materials, adding headings and more cross-referencing, and adding new examples, anecdotes, and narratives about contemporary racism. (locked)


  • Keister, Lisa A. “Race and wealth inequality: The impact of racial differences in asset ownership on the distribution of household wealth.” Social Science Research 29, no. 4 (2000): 477-502. Abstract: What accounts for persistent racial differences in wealth ownership? Previous research has debated the role that differences in asset ownership play in creating and maintaining wealth inequality. I use survey data to model the ownership of seven assets and find that whites are indeed more likely than blacks to buy high-risk, high-return assets. I then use a simulation model to explore the effect that these differences have on the distribution of wealth. I separate the effects of asset ownership from the effects of racial differences in family wealth history, earnings, education, marital behavior, fertility, and other influences on wealth inequality. I find that removing racial differences in asset ownership reduced wealth inequality drastically, but not completely, and that racial differences in educational attainment account for much of the remaining difference. I estimate how changes in historical patterns of portfolio behavior and educational attainment would have reduced inequality, and I explore the implications of these findings for reducing wealth inequality in the future.  (locked)
  • Oliver, Melvin L., and Thomas M. Shapiro. Black wealth, white wealth: A new perspective on racial inequality. Taylor & Francis, 2006. Abstract: The award-winning Black Wealth / White Wealth offers a powerful portrait of racial inequality based on an analysis of private wealth. Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro’s groundbreaking research analyzes wealth – total assets and debts rather than income alone – to uncover deep and persistent racial inequality in America, and they show how public policies have failed to redress the problem. (locked)

  • Shapiro, Thomas M. The hidden cost of being African American: How wealth perpetuates inequality. Oxford University Press, 2004. Abstract: Over the past three decades, racial prejudice in America has declined significantly and many African American families have seen a steady rise in employment and annual income. But alongside these encouraging signs, Thomas Shapiro argues in The Hidden Cost of Being African American, fundamental levels of racial inequality persist, particularly in the area of asset accumulation–inheritance, savings accounts, stocks, bonds, home equity, and other investments. Shapiro reveals how the lack of these family assets along with continuing racial discrimination in crucial areas like homeownership dramatically impact the everyday lives of many black families, reversing gains earned in schools and on jobs, and perpetuating the cycle of poverty in which far too many find themselves trapped. Shapiro uses a combination of in-depth interviews with almost 200 families from Los Angeles, Boston, and St. Louis, and national survey data with 10,000 families to show how racial inequality is transmitted across generations. We see how those families with private wealth are able to move up from generation to generation, relocating to safer communities with better schools and passing along the accompanying advantages to their children. At the same time those without significant wealth remain trapped in communities that don’t allow them to move up, no matter how hard they work. Shapiro challenges white middle class families to consider how the privileges that wealth brings not only improve their own chances but also hold back people who don’t have them. This “wealthfare” is a legacy of inequality that, if unchanged, will project social injustice far into the future.  Showing that over half of black families fall below the asset poverty line at the beginning of the new century, (locked)


Next in the series, employment.