By Dr. Brian Dixon|Jul 16, 2019
A few days ago, I sat down and added up how much money I’ve made in my career to date. The total came to $1.56 million. Not bad for an African-American man who grew up in a single-parent home deep in the piney woods of East Texas.
As a black man, I make 70 cents for every $1 a white man makes. If you do the math, I actually should have made $2.2 million. That's a difference of $650,000.
So where's my money?
I have several ideas for how I would like to spend that $650K. As an impact entrepreneur, my money tends to go back into the community. My first thought is how many more Together Forward projects I could have funded.
I could have invested in:
Even if I had selfishly used that money toward a mortgage or personal expenses, the community would still be richer for it. Money increases stability, and I could pour more of my other disposable income into solutions-oriented organizations and projects in the city.
When Black Americans lose a large percentage of the money we should be making, the whole community—the very fabric of our shared American existence—is impoverished for it. And I haven’t even mentioned the pay gap that Black women experience, making just 61 cents for every dollar a white man makes.
Why is this happening? Because the American body politic has been robbing ourselves since the very start of our democracy.
I’d like to say that income inequality is actually the best it's ever been, but it’s actually getting worse. According to a 2017 study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco,
“In 1979, the average black man in America earned about 80% of the average white man ($15 versus $19 per hour). By 2016, this gap had grown such that the average black male worker earned just 70% of the hourly wage of the average white male worker.”
A look at household wealth conveys a bleaker picture. The data show that whites hold a lot more wealth than blacks — but white Americans aren’t aware of this gap.
According to the New York Times, “Black families in America earn just $57.30 for every $100 in income earned by white families, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. For every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.” If you’re not shocked right now, read that last sentence again.
Studies have shown that Americans associate blackness with poverty. It’s important to note that this wealth gap is the inheritance of the radical failure of reconstructive and restitutive social policy.
Did you know, for instance, that the U.S. government has never commissioned a study examining the effects of slavery? Studying the consequences of chattel slavery in the U.S. is the starting point to understanding the reality of our racial economic disparities.
We, Black Americans, continue to be penalized by the negative social policy and lack of reparations for the harm caused our ancestors.
We have been wronged for far too long. I’m not advocating that every Black American should get a check in the mail tomorrow. We can’t address these systemic issues until we can get to the bottom of the effects of slavery in America.
Fortunately, there is a bill in committee that addresses this lack of understanding around these racial gaps and possible ways to solve them. The bill is called H.R.40 - Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.
The purpose of the bill is:
“To address the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to study and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”
This proposed bill to study reparations for slavery is particularly exciting, but it’s nothing new.
Ta-Nehisi Coates notes in his famous Atlantic article, The Case for Reparations, that John Conyers Jr. submitted this bill at the beginning of every Congress for the past three decades.
After Conyers’s departure amidst sexual harassment charges last fall, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee took up his mantle and submitted the bill for the 2019-2020 calendar year. Sen. and Democratic Presidential candidate Cory Booker introduced a Senate companion bill in early April.
This topic is particularly salient because of talk on the campaign trail.
The Rev. Al Sharpton has been asking 2020 Democratic Presidential hopefuls if they would sign H.R. 40. Notably, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Kamala Harris have publicly discussed a need for reparations of some kind to address the racial wealth gap.
This new talk of reparations is motivated in part by the fact that the black vote really matters.
According to a 2017 Pew poll, 61% of Americans agree that “The country has not done enough to give equal rights to blacks.”
A 2016 Marist survey found that 26% of Americans said the U.S government should pay reparations as “a way to make up for the harm caused by slavery and other forms of racial discrimination.” A survey done in 2018 from Data for Progress likewise found that 26% of Americans supported some kind of compensation or cash benefits for the descendants of slaves.
While several 2020 candidates have been discussing reparations on the campaign trail, Perry Bacon Jr. notes that the actual policies tend to be “somewhat vague acknowledgements of the inequality that black Americans face.” We don’t know the form reparations would take in part because we’ve never studied how we would even begin to remedy the effects of slavery in America.
The support for H.R. 40 is mounting. Why now? Perhaps because the farther we get from 1865, the more Americans will come to terms with our history of inaction—and will want to work to right our wrongs. Racial income inequality will persist as long as we refuse to name and claim our own nefarious history.
Yep, I wish I could have that $650,000. But a good first step would be the passage of H.R. 40 so we can finally formally recognize that African Americans are still being robbed of the rightful payment for our labor.
With accolades spanning my career as a child psychiatrist, entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker, I advocate for a more sensible U.S. healthcare solution that appeals across all party lines. I am a Texan, born and raised. My psychiatry practice, Progressive Psychiatry, is based in Fort Worth.Read Full Bio