Black Wealth Transfer and Confronting the Racial Wealth Gap
The second installment of Bloomberg’s Power of Difference series on Black wealth offered a deep dive into issues that impact intergenerational Black wealth transfer. The three part series, hosted by Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, seeks to highlight and encourage dialogue about the structures that aid in Black wealth accumulation and extraction.
Speakers discussed why wealth transfer remains pivotal to building wealth in the United States and explained how the historical lack of opportunity for Black families to preserve and pass on wealth has contributed to the prevalence of racial wealth inequality today.
Inherited wealth plays a pivotal role in advancing the economic launch point for future generations. Despite the pervasiveness of the American rags to riches story, the wealthiest families have certainly benefited from this capital infusion power–about 30% of the Forbes 400 inherited at least $50 million. Middle and working-class families can use transferred capital and assets to boost emergency savings, make down payments on homes, pay tuition for private schools and higher education, and invest in the financial markets or new entrepreneurship.
Black families, however, are five times less likely than white families to receive a sizable inheritance. When they do, the amount is still typically three times lower on average than what white families receive. This disparity has contributed to Black Americans falling behind in wealth accumulation while white generational peers are empowered to move towards further economic stability and advancement. Black families have certainly been capable of growing assets even in the shadow of Jim Crow and other forms of systemic racism that persist to this day. So why haven’t they been able to hold on to this wealth and pass it to their heirs?
Before the Race Massacre of 1921, the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a vibrant, thriving community of Black residents, like many of the “Freedmen’s Towns, and “Freedom Colonies established after the Civil War. Families there owned land, operated businesses, and ran community-sustaining institutions to create property wealth with an estimated value of over $200 million in today’s dollars, earning Greenwood the moniker “Black Wall Street.” When the Greenwood neighborhood was burned to ashes during a violent racial attack, hundreds of residents lost their lives and businesses, thousands of survivors were left homeless and impoverished, and many of them were hunted down, executed, or imprisoned. Laws were passed by the city of Tulsa to impede the rebuilding of Greenwood by survivors and their families. The most disheartening part of Greenwood’s story: this was not an uncommon occurrence.
In Chicago alone, approximately 1,000 Black homes and businesses were burned down during the Red Summer of 1919, a season of racism-fueled on Black communities across the nation. The segregation and violence of Jim Crow, in particular, have been theorized to have had a pervasive impact, stifling Black innovation and entrepreneurship with the threat of violent reprisal for Black wealth building.
In the latest Power of Difference event, speakers discussed how racially driven violence toward Black people like in Tulsa, Chicago, and elsewhere — particularly during the several decades following the abolishment of slavery — was used to rob Black people, destroy their property and intimidate them from building wealth. Government policies, local and federal, often neglected to protect Black communities from this ongoing threat, and instead have codified many racially discriminatory policies such as redlining, government seizures under eminent domain, and disenfranchisement. In turn, such practices have systematically destroyed and eroded the value of Black wealth since the Reconstruction era, with the effects felt to this day.
Pathways to recovery and resilience
Despite economic impediments and discriminatory policies, strategic options and vehicles for securing assets can help more Black families strengthen the economic mobility of future generations. Session speakers painted a detailed picture of how to address these systemic injustices: loopholes in state property inheritance laws can be closed; discriminatory institutional practices and local ordinances, such as those that might assign more value to land according to who owns it, can be revoked; and concentrations of wealth in Black communities, like those created in Greenwood can be systematically encouraged through initiatives that can start at the individual level.
Sean Anderson, a curator from The Museum of Modern Art, discussed the Reconstructions, Architecture, and Blackness in America exhibition he created with scholar and architect Mabel Wilson and 11 Black architects, designers and artists. Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the project aims to encourage reflection on how Black communities strive to build and rebuild in the face of economic and social challenges, and “…how history can be made visible and equity can be built”. The exhibition sparks questions about topics such as “What might our nation look like today if all-Black towns of the past had been allowed to thrive?” and “How might Black community spaces be used to prepare for threats imposed by climate change?”
Reggie Lee, Partner and Chief Transformation Officer at The Carlyle Group described the ten-year journey he took to reclaim the family land that his great grandmother, a formerly enslaved person, had purchased during the Reconstruction era. His story serves as a case study for reclaiming and preserving family-owned assets. For example, to keep the newly reclaimed property intact for future generations, using a trust to ensure legacy building.
The panel Q&A delved into reasons for the continued loss of Black assets and different ways better laws, policies, and individual practices could help reverse this trend. Lack of wills and vehicles like trusts, for example, can make family land and other asset claims vulnerable to loopholes in policies, such as heirs property laws (aka ownership in common) or inheritance taxes. However, it is estimated that 70% of Black Americans do not have a will or estate plan.
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