How can Biden close the racial wealth gap, as he marks 100th anniversary of Tulsa Race Massacre?

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In Tulsa, Oklahoma, President Biden today unveiled new measures to address the racial wealth gap. They focus on housing and government contracts. Not included are reparations or debt forgiveness.

Biden chose Tulsa to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The city was once home to a thriving Black community called “Black Wall Street.” Then a mob of white people attacked the area, killing hundreds of Black people, and looting and destroying businesses and homes. 

The Tulsa Race Massacre is a symbol of stolen potential, according to Anne Price, president of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. 

“Think about the kinds of flourishing businesses in Tulsa that could have been passed down or the wealth from those businesses passed down to future generations,” Price tells KCRW. “You’re really talking about stolen wealth. And in that regard, I think that certainly Blacks in Tulsa particularly are owed. But Black Americans are owed more generally, from the wealth that has been taken from them over generations since the beginning of emancipation.”

Price points out that Biden’s proposals might also help address structural racism in the area.

“For example, addressing housing discrimination is really critical. For those who really have been locked out of the housing market, increasing the ability for them to have a greater amount of funds to put down on a home is clearly very important,” she says. “So I see these as attempts to really think about the kinds of policies in the past that have held families back that are rooted in structural racism. Whether they will go far in addressing the racial wealth gap is another story.”

She points out that historically, Black Americans have been at a disadvantage.

“Right after the Civil War, Black Americans held less than 1% of the nation’s wealth. And today, they hold about 1 to 2% of the nation’s wealth. So we haven’t moved the needle. And in fact, racial wealth inequality is actually getting wider.”

The concept of reparations is gaining popularity among political leaders, and Price says it could also help chip away at the racial wealth gap. 

“I would see something like baby bonds, which is really a program that would enable every child born in America some seed capital that would grow over time, based on their wealth position at birth. … We know it’s a long arc, but it could be something that could be truly transformative.” 

Price adds that addressing issues of debt and student loans will be critical to help young people build wealth.

“When we think about a generation right now that’s really been locked out of opportunities because of student debt, that we have to do something drastically and urgently to address the fact that if those young folks do not, are not able to accumulate wealth, and pass it down to the next generation, we’re going to see even bigger levels of inequality going forward.”