There aren’t a lot of rich black people. This obvious
no-brainer was presented to the reading public as though it was
a great revelation. Only the New York Times can get away with
making an obvious statement, miss its true importance, plaster
it on the front page and then act as though they have made a great
revelation unknown to the masses.
The issue that brought about this discovery for
the newspaper of record is the dearth of black faces on the boards
of New York’s major cultural institutions. Board members of major
New York City cultural institutions are wealthy, not merely affluent
or well-to-do. The lists of directors of New York’s operas, concert
halls and museums read like the social register who’s who. The
Times spent newsprint and a reporter’s time telling anyone who
is moderately observant what they already knew: there is a shortage
of black multi-millionaires. David Rockefeller, Jr. put it best,
“The criteria for selection is the same for minorities as for
nonminorities. The first one is money, the second one is influence.”
Both criteria leave blacks out of the loop.
There is a much larger point that went unnoticed.
Black people in New York City and the rest of the country are
not meeting even the most minimum standards of prosperity. We
rank at the top of every negative measure and at the bottom of
every positive one. Nearly half of all black men in New York City,
48%, do not work at all. A smaller number of black women, 42%,
are in the same dire
condition. It is little wonder that few brown faces
are to be seen at the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera.
According to a study published by United
for a Fair Economy, “The State of the Dream 2004: Income Disparity
in Black and White,” the income and wealth gap between blacks
and whites remains stubbornly wide. In 1968 black Americans had
55 cents of income for every dollar that whites earned. In 2001
blacks had 57 cents of income for every dollar earned by whites.
It took more than 30 years for blacks to earn an additional two
cents. At this pace blacks will reach income parity with whites
in 581 years. The gap in median income has actually fallen for
black Americans. In 1968 black families had 60% of the family
income earned by whites, in 2002 blacks earned only 58% of the
same income, a loss of 2%.
If the figures on income disparities are alarming,
the facts of black wealth creation give reason to both hope and
despair. There has been greater progress, but the gap is still
In 1989 blacks had 5% of the median household net worth of whites,
in 2001 the figure had risen to 16%. However, median household
black net worth was just $19,000 in 2001, including home equity.
White median net worth, including home equity, was $121,000.
The Times and others may fret that the high and
mighty have to fight for the attention of Ken Chenault and Richard
Parsons. They should be concerned about the conditions that lead
to such drastic disparities in the fortunes of ordinary working
black people. It is easy to beat up on the New York Times in its
well intentioned but silly expressions of concern.
What does it mean for a group of people to struggle
generation after generation and yet make little progress or fall
behind the dominant group? It would be gratifying to know that
the financially troubled Dance
Theater of Harlem could be bailed out by a wealthy black knight.
It would be even more useful if black people could know with certainty
that reaching educational levels on a par with white counterparts
would bring them to parity in income and wealth creation.
We continue to play by the rules that we are told
will lead us to economic security, even though it never seems
to work out quite as well as we were promised:
The reality is that we cannot compete with a group
whose median net worth is six times higher than our own. David
Rockefeller, Jr. made his money the old fashioned way. He inherited
it. Most white Americans are not Rockefellers, but their ability
to pass on wealth gives them a tremendous advantage over their
black counterparts, even those with similar incomes or education
levels. On the other hand, black people rely almost entirely
on salaries to survive. We are less likely to have families who
can assist with property purchases or the education of children.
The results are devastated communities and human beings. Each
one is capable of living up to a higher standard but unable to
do so because financial support is lacking in an uncompassionate
The Times could have at least some of the news that
is Fit to Print. They can start by telling their readers when
a story is really news or whether it is a retelling of the oldest
story of all. The rich do get richer.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly
Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.
She can be reached via e-Mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more
of Ms. Kimberley's writings at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com/