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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why Many Can’t See the White-Black Wealth Gap

Neil Lewis, Jr. explains why “Why Many Americans Can’t See The Wealth Gap Between White And Black America” at FiveThirtyEight:

The reality is that our nation is still racially segregated. And it’s segregated in ways that limit our opportunities to learn about each other’s life experiences, even if our laws do not formally segregate our nation as they once did. This means that some live in a world in which they rarely encounter the conditions that bring harm to others everyday; others can’t escape those very conditions.

….The places where we live affect not only our access to resources, but also who we meet, interact with and become friends with. And because our neighborhoods are so segregated, our social networks are also siloed — about three-quarters of white Americans don’t have any nonwhite friends, according to a 2014 survey from PRRI. The nature of segregation in the U.S. means that we only end up seeing and learning about what our own groups experience, making it hard to understand the lives of people outside of our own group.

This explains, in part, why Americans have such a hard time understanding just how unequal our nation is, and moreover, the racialized nature of that inequality. For example, if you ask Americans about racial wealth gaps, you’ll find that they severely underestimate those gaps; according to a 2019 paper from a team of psychologists, Americans think the Black-white wealth gap is 40 to 80 percent smaller than it actually is.

Regarding racial inequality in the U.S., Lewis notes that “There is a mountain of evidence documenting its manifestation in education, health, criminal justice, employment and many other domains. And there are experts who have devoted their careers to studying how the structure, culture and politics of American society (re)produce inequality, as well as pathways for disrupting those cycles.” Further, Lewis argues, “if we want to disrupt long-standing patterns of racial inequality, our best course of action as a country might be to rely on that evidence and expertise instead of trying to convince people that the disparities exist, as it will always be hard for people to see inequality if it doesn’t bring harm to their own lives.”

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