Why the Surprise?

Since the civil rights act, people black and white and of all levels of education have been pondering and debating- Why, with the end of de jure segregation, does de facto segregation continue? Why, if the American dream is attainable, have black people by and large not attained it? The answer to this question seems fairly obvious to those who are not blind to economic realities. Dr. Martin Luther King, who we celebrate today, and all the other civil rights activists, and abolitionists before them, achieved the equality of black workers to be equal to white workers. What freed slaves never got, and what black persons today can only dream of, was a share in the means of production. It is the nature of capitalism that, barring exceptional mismanagement, wealth accumulates. The Walton family will be wealthy for many, many generation; a virtual noble family in that they will never have to be workers again if they are content with a reasonable lifestyle.

On a much broader scale, families that own their own homes, and whose homes are worth a significant ammount of money, have an asset that in mose cases accrues value and presents something of a safety net to borrow against if things go sour. Though family farmers will decry how unprofitable their farms are, and while small busness owners often face tough competition from subsidized box stores, both of these provide a great deal of financial security that can be passed down from family to family (or turned into capital if subsequent generations opt for a different lifestyle).

Whatever the difference in wages between blacks and whites, the difference in assets is much larger. Lisa Keister, of Ohio State, suggests that had blacks invested in more stocks in the 1960’s, they would be more equal with whites today. But she concedes that “because wealth ownership tends to persist across generations, dramatic changes would be rare.” This even if blacks showed the same financial forethought as whites back in the 1960’s, when of course blacks had nothing better to think about than their financial outlook 40 years into the future.

Blacks and whites cannot be considered to have had equal financial oppurtunity until the end of de jure segregation and discrimination, and no doubt consider to suffer from significant racism. Given the massive disparity of capital at that point, is it any wonder than a few generations later, whites still own the means of production and the main financial assets in this country? Sporadic affirmative action or ‘reverse racism’ cannot even come close to the net effect of the massive differences in ownership that whites accumulated during centuries of slavery and discrimination. What did King himself say?

“You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry… Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong…with capitalism… There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism. ”

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