Don’t Close the Gap, Build a New Structure

December 5, 2018

Three years ago, I worked with Roosevelt Fellows and economists Darrick Hamilton and Sandy Darity to demonstrate how intergenerational transfers are central components of wealth building and integral to the persistence of racial wealth inequality. Using the metaphor Umbrellas Don’t Make it Rain, we attempted to flip the script on the traditional narrative that education and income alone are the key drivers of upward economic mobility. I, along with many other scholars, have argued for years that racial wealth inequality is not an organic occurrence or a law of nature, but a man-made choice. But it was Roosevelt’s groundbreaking Hidden Rules of Race that finally provided the field with a cogent and powerful framework, analysis, and a compelling revision of our perspective on economic and racial inequality. This revolutionary work will serve as the foundation of my upcoming work as a Roosevelt Fellow.

We must challenge the current thinking about the racial wealth gap as part of traditional asset-building strategies, even moving away from the goal of “closing a gap.” I have said before that, in this context, working to “close a racial wealth gap” falls short of understanding the systematic, historical advantage whites have received from American economic policies over generations. It sanitizes the argument, and in some cases, gives us a false notion that transactional approaches without structural change will lead us to the “Promised Land.”

I believe that we should be working toward policy recommendations that promote social freedoms and reckon with the deeply entrenched systemic decisions that are actually driving racial wealth inequality. I look forward to drawing from the important work of Andrea Flynn on the economic exclusion and wealth of women, and further explore the effects of student loan debt and trends in debt and labor market outcomes exposed by Roosevelt Fellow and scholar Julie Margetta Morgan and Research Director and Fellow Marshall Steinbaum in The Student Debt Crisis, Labor Market Credentialization, and Racial Inequality.

I am deeply inspired by Roosevelt Fellow Rakeen Mabud and Program Associate Jess Forden’s focus on the future of work, and Roosevelt’s focus on the harms of increasing corporate power, including work from Roosevelt Senior Economist and Policy Counsel Lenore Palladino, which explores how financialized corporate behaviors are one of the primary drivers of economic inequality and the ways this impacts working families.

Ultimately, I am humbled and deeply gratified to be joining this impressive group of progressive and forward-thinking scholars and thought leaders. Roosevelt is uniquely positioned to support and advance pioneering ideas and policies that will tackle economic and racial inequality and challenge the power that comes with concentrated wealth. I am thrilled to be part of that process.