Economic Inequality: The Foundation of the Racial Divide

dmby Dedrick Mohammed

Today’s economic inequality is the direct result of Europe’s 500-year-long subjugation of the rest of the planet’s inhabitants. Even when corrective measures are undertaken, such as in the New Deal response to the Great Depression, widening economic disparity is often reinforced by the same “blue-eyed” elite that created the crisis. The identical forces that have plunged the world into financial meltdown are responsible for the fact that, in the U.S., “Blacks and Latinos have less than 15 cents for every dollar of wealth held by the median white family.”

Economic Inequality: The Foundation of the Racial Divide

by Dedrick Mohammed

“President Silva highlighted that the global economic downturn is the result of the irresponsibility and greed of white elites who manipulated markets that provided great short term wealth.”

Greed, economic exploitation, and dehumanizing stereotypes of inferiority have been the root of racism in the Western world.  Brutal, racist exploitation in the United States and throughout the Americas has been the means through which Western European economies have been built; belief in the inferiority of people of color justified the concentration of wealth in European hands.  As Howard Zinn writes in his classic A People's History of the United States "These were the violent beginnings of an intricate system of technology, business, politics, and culture that would dominate the world for the next five centuries."

Lula Silva, President of Brazil, brought to light the current racist global economic order during a visit from the Prime Minister of England Gordon Brown to Brazil, the country that was the primary destination of enslaved Africans during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  President Silva highlighted that the global economic downturn is the result of the irresponsibility and greed of white elites who manipulated markets that provided great short term wealth.  Additionally, he noted, this greed has caused disproportionate suffering to the poor of the world, primarily people of color.  President Silva's remarks have been mocked in much of the US press, ignoring his demand that global racial economic inequality be addressed as nations come together to rebuild the global economy.

”Blacks and Latinos have less than 15 cents for every dollar of wealth held by the median white family.”

The same week that President Silva highlighted the global racial wealth divide, scholars, activists, and experts from across the United States came to Washington DC to discuss the racial wealth divide in this country.  During this Color of Wealth summit, it was highlighted that Blacks and Latinos have less than 15 cents for every dollar of wealth held by the median white family, thus exposing economic inequality as the foundation of today's racial divide.  During the two-day summit there was excitement about the opportunities to bridge the racial wealth divide with an Obama administration that has recognized a greater role for government to play in increasing opportunity for all Americans.  Yet in the opening roundtable of the summit, John Powell of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity highlighted the historical failure of universal economic programs to advancing racial equality.  Powell noted that when policies fail to take into account institutional racism and the unique characteristics of disenfranchised minorities, often times greater racial inequality is created.  For example, many of the great liberal programs of the New Deal failed in creating greater racial equality. 

From the time of the civil rights movement till today those who highlight racial inequality are often times portrayed as troublemakers creating racial divisions rather than problem solvers exposing racial division.  One of those who were regularly criticized for being a troublemaker and creating racial division was Dr. Martin Luther King who was killed 41 years ago this April 4th.  Dr. King, in examining the need to master ones' fears, wrote:

“Courage and cowardice are antithetical.  Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is a submissive surrender to circumstance.”

Too many white Americans have surrendered to the circumstance of racial inequality, blaming racial inequality on the inferiority of disenfranchised groups rather than the systemic disenfranchisement faced by these groups.  In the past, the rationale for racial inequality was a belief in the inherent mental deficiencies of people of color. Today, the rationale is belief in deficiencies of morality or the work ethic of people of color.

“Many of the great liberal programs of the New Deal failed in creating greater racial equality.”

Yet there are some who are willing to go beyond the standard racial justifications of contemporary racism.  Thousands of white Americans are showing this kind of courage by participating in a week of “White Privilege Awareness” events occurring March 30th to April 5th.  In Washington DC,  Resource Generation will have a viewing of "Traces of the Trade," a documentary that follows white descendents of slave traders and their struggle with the privilege attained in their family through profiting off of the Transatlantic slave trade.  The Global Awareness Project will host a panel discussion as to how white privilege is an issue and challenge in the multi-racial Latino community.  Finally there will be a national gathering in Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated, to discuss and strategize how to courageously stand up to address white privilege and racial inequality. 

Dedrick Mohammed is Senior Organizer for the Institute for Policy Studies, in Washington, DC.  He can be contacted at [email protected]


The other economic divide

Democratizing opportunities for working people is an important first step, but something must also be done to shrink the income gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. The problem is, providing additional opportunities to working people of color in the current economic system can do nothing to change the demographics of the aristocracy or the wealth gap, because working people of all races are shut out of its ranks. None of us travel in the circles of our ruling elite. Only if working people are given access to wealth and power can we democratize the ranks of our government and business leaders, and eliminate the wealth gap.

Fixing the problem.

In order to fix the problem, we must admit that many Blacks and Latinos are wealthy in America.  How do some grow up to be lawyers and others from the same neighborhood drop out at 16 and never keep a job?  To be truly aware, we must look at the entire picture, not just look at those who fail.  Why not look at those who have made it and duplicate their methods of success??  If everyone failed, you would have a good point, but with a number of Blacks succeeding in the western world, your theories are seriously flawed.  

Narrow view...


I think Mr. Mohammed's Thinking and rhetoric is unfortunately less useful

than his information and stats. It's a reactionary rhetoric based in a onesided

blame for the very intricate and complex relations that the major players

(Europeans/US) of the colonial/post colonial age have created.

History is rife with mythologies that are used to bolster our feelings of victimization

and anger towards those who have exploited as well as benefitted from the exploitation peoples of color or non colored poor folks from around the globe and to perpetuate the erroneous idea that it's only the white man and his benefactor children who need to be held accountable and or awakened to the facts of life down below.

That the so called white man has succeeded for five centuries in dominating the world economy and all the sorrow and tragedy that it has wrought in the world can never be questioned for sure; however, such a narrow glimpse into the chapters of the worlds history, not to mention current events happening in Africa and Indonesia as two examples, leaves out so much more information on the foregoing dynasties and kingdoms of the world before Europe and the United States gainedthier Iron grip on the reigns of imperialism.  Moreover, such one sided thinking neglects and often denies the roles in which various peoples of color have played in the subjugation, slaughter  and wholesale of their people and lands so that they could attain and maintain power and control.
The mighty kingdoms of Dahomey raided and conquered small, sovereign states and  villages with the zeal of any  gold digger to supply the Europeans with able bodies to be enslaved. Where is the same standard held up for holding those west African nations accountable and the wealth afforded their benefactors for stock piling their brethren to sell for Glass beads and other European delights? Just as the White man has no monopoly on intelligence, he like wise possesses none in the realm of human greed and thirst for power; he simply got lucky and discovered gun powder and put it to ruthless use as the Moors did with the sword when invading Southern Europe and reigning for some 700 years.  And African Americans are as equally acceptable to the corruption of power and greed to the detriment of their own or others as any other group of people in the United States.Who are the Black and laTino drug Lords' customers? Who are the thousands of women being lured into the Drug-Money funded Porn industry? We are facing a greater challenge of classicism that convienent arguments of racisim can adequately no longer explain and that I believe trumps the race card on a  much broader scope. Obama is a very good example of the black elite who couldn't give a damn about the welfare of either poor working class whites or blacks or everything in between. Where's the CBC backbone, where are it's allegiances? Obamma isn't white with Blue eyes is he? Where's his solidarity to all the people of color suffering at the hands of racism when the world meets to look for solutions to the problem. He's bowing to the demands of criminal state and the elite both balck and white who laugh at the thought of reperations to anyone.

That there are white xenophobic fools and cowards greedy for power who don't like people of color and Black folks that don't like white folks and mexicans is no question. But they certainly know that those people of color and different ethnicities are as equally capable of attaining what they so masterfully protect and it is these powerful who propagate the idea of inferiority to the minds of the masses who, as history shows us, are more than eager to have a scape goat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If the powerful and elite Black and Latinos would stop towing the line of the imperial Juggernaut then maybe we would all be woken up to the fact that money is green no matter what color the hand that is holding it and blood is sho' nuf red as long as it is not thier's. And if the masses would some how stop buying into the same old warmed over Moral-Mythological mumbo jumbo and sentimental dupe jobs, like the one that backed Obama, we might begin to see where politicsand history begin and reality ends.

Also, when African Americans talk about reparations for slavery, I never hear or read any thoughts or inclusions pertinent to the Native American right to a stake in that claim.

Yes, those lands that were stolen and that now house Ohhhhhow......

The Fields were first made available so that the slaves could work them.
Where does one commence with the claims of entitlement in such a complex mess as we have here. However, land is a big  place to start.

Ending imperial rule by any color is the goal for economic freedom and equality.

People learn to love and live with one another, naturally when given the chance.

Also, Mr. Muhammad often quotes DR. King in his presentations, and concerning his recent quote here;
I would ask if he thinks that this moral equation is what  Dr. King had in mind when he on more than one occasion allowed himself to be intimidated by brooding civil rights leaders and  unscrupulous politicians into excommunicating himself from Bayard Rustin; his invaluable mentor, and  shamelessly ignored (til today even) Classic Black hero if there ever was one and who clearly recognized 40 years ago where and how the fight for economic equalities was to be fought. It certainly isn't in the the division of skin color. Just ask the Black Floridains about thier resentment towrds their dark skinned Cuban co-habitants that have been for over a decade swiping(in thier eyes) work right from under thier feet.


Attempting to cajole whites into feeling guilty for being what they've had no choice in becoming(white that is) is not in my opinion the battle ground to begin a fight for economic equality. The poor and opressed of every one of The United States' people, regardless of color and or ethnicicty need to unite and turn it out in the streets to demand thier rightful share.



" The poor and opressed of

" The poor and opressed of every one of The United States' people, regardless of color and or ethnicicty need to unite and turn it out in the streets to demand thier rightful share."
You put this far more eloquently and succinctly than I managed to. I couldn't agree more. Racial and ethnic division of America's working people is exactly what our aristocratic rulers want. The ethinic strife between the rest of the working class and the recent wave of mostly Mexican Hispanic workers is but the latest chapter in the engineered divisions among working people that both provide below market rate labor and expand the domination of the ruling class. This can only change if the working people of the nation unite over our common interests instead of focusing on the differences that divide us.
The ruling class is oppressing us all, and racial discrimination is one of its most effective weapons, because it keeps us fighting amongst ourselves. If only the working people had united behind the Hispanic labor movement of 3 years ago, we might have found ourselves in a much more powerful position today.