RACIAL INEQUALITY

Why So Many Black Americans Are Stuck in Survival Mode

Racism stymies upward mobility

Allison Wiltz
Published in
5 min readSep 12, 2023

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Woman laying on a wooden bench | Photo by Ogo via Pexels

If you've ever lived in survival mode, you know what it's like to try to juggle competing interests, to wonder whether you have enough food to last until payday, whether you can afford utility bills, or even make your rent or monthly mortgage payments. As one report shows, more than half of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, so it's clear this is a common experience, not a rarity. And yet, we cannot ignore the white elephant in the room, that the typical White family has "7.8 times the wealth of a typical Black household." So, if you're Black in America, you are much more likely to be stuck in survival mode than your White peers.

Far too many people see poverty as a personal failing rather than a systemic one. When they see someone struggling to keep a roof over their head, feed, and clothe themselves and their family, some pretty disturbing assumptions are made. For starters, many assume that Black Americans are lazy and, thus, are responsible for their circumstances. "If they just work hard enough, they will not be poor anymore" is a common refrain. We see this critique coming from racists but also from self-help gurus who portray the path to wealth as easily attainable with hard work. However, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "It's all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps." Sadly, that's precisely what many people are doing.

The uncomfortable truth is that Black Americans have been systematically deprived of opportunities to amass generational wealth, do not have equitable access to college programs, and are paid less even when working the same positions as their White counterparts. According to economic experts, "there is no reason to think the wealth gap will ever close without potentially trillions of dollars in investments in Black households." In other words, unless reparations are paid, statistical models do not suggest the racial wealth gap will ever close, trapping millions of Black Americans in second-class citizenship. Having money allows White people to invest in properties and businesses, travel freely, and pass on generational wealth…

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Allison Wiltz
Momentum

Womanist Scholar bylines @ Momentum, Oprah Daily, ZORA, GEN, EIC of Cultured #WEOC Founder allisonthedailywriter.com https://ko-fi.com/allyfromnola