Dismantling the False Paths to Equity

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans      I’ll never forget the surprise on a colleague’s face who was working to build a nonprofit community development organization in the Mississippi delta several years ago when we first met.  A lot of her work had been focused on schools and enhancing their curriculum for young people.  When I questioned her and stated flatly that education was fine and good, but was not a path to equity, she had a stricken look on her face, as if I had tossed a cup of cold water in it.  We went back and forth for several minutes. I referenced studies and research, and she spoke from a lifetime of deeply-held personal ideology and belief and a family tradition that had been dictated from her mother and followed by her large family to some success around the country.  It was not an argument that I sought or thought I could win, even as I was trying to nudge her towards organizing for power, so I left it quickly and retreated to safer ground for further discussions.

The Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Nikole Hannah-Jones, eviscerates such claims without much worrying about any middle ground in a recent article in the New York Times citing the fact that, “college simply does not pay off for black Americans the way it does for other groups.” They are as likely to be “unemployed as white Americans with a high school education.”  Black graduates still hold “less wealth than white Americans who have not even completed high school.”  As many studies have noted, and she underlines, they are forced to borrow more for college and have more debt when they graduate.  Even conservatives, like the Times own columnist, David Brooks, have finally conceded that education is not the path to racial equity.

Of course, that is not to say that other paths to racial equity are all that much better.  Hannah-Jones enlists an array of facts,

  • Poor white families making less than $27,000 annually have as much wealth as black families making between $48,000 and $76,000.
  • Black families save at a higher rate than white families and offer more financial support for their children’s higher education than whites.
  • Homeownership isn’t the answer, as ACORN has painfully come to realize, since black Americans have higher mortgage rates with equal credit and their homes do not appreciate value in their neighborhoods.
  • Family structure isn’t the answer, because white single women with children have the same amount of wealth as black women with no children, while the average white single parent has twice the wealth of the typical two-parent black family.

If as a society and a country we want to achieve more equity, especially racial equity, it is impossible not to follow paths that involve significant reparations.  There’s just no way around it.