Ethnic Prejudice and Wealth Gaps: Does the First Lead to the Second?

California’s decision to grant reparations to black Americans has galvanized activists across the globe. Activists think that doing so will remedy the black-white wealth gap. Ensuring that blacks are on par with whites, however, is a strange goal, since East Asians outperform whites on several metrics, including education.  Rather than contrasting blacks with whites, political activists should investigate why blacks have lagged behind relative to other groups.

The dilemma is that rankings of economic and social standing position black Americans at the bottom of the pile. So, the fixation with closing the black-white wealth gap is odd because most groups perform better than blacks financially and professionally. Therefore, distinctions between blacks and whites obscure the precarious position of black Americans.

Other groups outearn white Americans, so racism fails to explain the underperformance of black Americans. Neither can discrimination be invoked as an explanation because anti-black racism has become a cardinal sin in North America. In fact, whiteness connotes such contempt that white activists pretend to be black or native American. Further groups with a history of discrimination like Italian and Irish Americans have attained parity with ethnic Americans.

Similarly, Asian Americans are singled out for their successes but their path to prosperity was not paved with gold. The Chinese and Japanese endured discrimination in labor markets. For Japanese men, the effects of internment were so persistent that they suffered reduced earnings by as much as 9-13 percent, years after the policy retired. Likewise, South Koreans are admired for their business acumen, but they encountered hurdles on the journey to success. Many Korean immigrants with advanced degrees were excluded from high-paying jobs due to language barriers and this led them to pursue entrepreneurship instead of white-collar employment.

Yet the rapid ascension of these groups indicates that people do achieve despite discrimination. Even more surprising is that many minorities experienced mobility before becoming professionally successful. Groups, like the overseas Chinese, Middle Easterners in Africa and the Jews became financially accomplished before their sojourn into elite professions. For example, West Indian blacks rose to such prominence in business in the early twentieth century that they were referred to as the black Jews and they did so in an era fuelled by anti-black racism. Currently, Nigerian Americans are gaining a reputation for professional eminence, despite research showing that they encounter discrimination and are even more likely to face ethnic discrimination than other black immigrants

Although, black Americans have generated gains over the past sixty years some think that their progress is too slow. But the protracted pace of black progress is slow for a reason. A superb work ethic is a powerful tool for improving the prospects of minority groups. Some black Americans are succeeding, but on average American blacks are not as competitive as whites or East Asians. Reports even contend that despite the propensity to employ blacks, employers detest their poor work ethic. Large swathes of American blacks lack the soft skills to enable their success in the working world.

Sociologists have discussed cultural impediments to work in the black American community, yet pundits pretend as if they don’t matter. Too many blacks are enmeshed in a working-class subculture that does not esteem professional values. A counterculture exists that venerates the materialism and thuggery of hood life at the expense of professional success. In these communities, role models are not professionals or upstanding citizens, but rather pimps and gangsters.

According to William Julius Wilson, several African American men are victims of a corrosive sub-culture that prevents them from achieving success in the formal economy. This sub-culture foments low trust and motivates black males to project aggression as a tool to garner respect.  Additionally, Elijah Anderson’s landmark ethnography on inner-city joblessness asserts that many unemployed young black men are unmotivated and uninterested in attaining a job, especially low paying jobs for which they qualify. 

For people possessing the hood mindset, work is not honorable, since getting rich quickly is the objective. Concepts such as saving and long-term orientation are foreign. This outlook imperils the progress of black Americans because it has become cultural, so even when they escape degraded communities, the culture embedded by the hood mindset will still flourish. Hence problems affecting black ghettoes also plague middle-class black communities.

Moreover, as a group black Americans are less productive than whites, save less, and are employed in lower-paying jobs due to lower education levels. Black Americans will remain a permanent underclass unless white liberals and black activists change their rhetoric. Black Americans have been hearing that they are victims of white supremacy for decades, yet this has not ameliorated their condition. Rather, the answer lies in pursuing new strategies like those that have helped over discriminated-against groups—such as the Japanese, Jews, and Nigerian Americans—overcome countless obstacles and build wealth as communities.

The usual social benefit policies have failed, and lavishing black communities with government money allows progressive whites to feel good about themselves, but unless black Americans can improve their own communities, these projects have gone and continue to go nowhere. Such project failures might even embolden racists who believe black people are inferior. Black Americans deserve better.

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