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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 significant. 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:

“Analysis of Social Security Administration data tracking individuals 10 years after retirement demonstrated the net worth of black people was 90 percent smaller than that for white people with similar educational backgrounds, work histories or lifetime earnings.” – Social Work Research journal

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 system.

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 in .  Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at



June 3 2004
Issue 93

is published every Thursday.

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