Making Black History in 2017

Co-written by David Ashaolu, Intern, Racial Wealth Divide Initiative

As we celebrate the another Black History Month 2017, a positive light will once again be shined on the many contributions and influences that African Americans have had on this country's history. Although this is an excellent time of reflection, the focus should also include the present day realities of African Americans in the United States; specifically the continued correlation between race and wealth, as well as how we as a nation can move forward in bridging this growing racial economic divide. Although this past year has brought about some advances for African Americans, there is still a long ways to go in the mission of advancing civil rights and providing equal opportunity for African Americans.

Much has happened since last year's Black History Month. In the past year, we've witnessed the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement to a nationally recognized slogan, which exposed the unfair treatment of many African Americans by law enforcement officials. These issues also entered the spotlight during the 2016 presidential elections, which provided a platform for politicians to draw attention to the fact that African Americans are disproportionately targeted and imprisoned for non-violent crimes. This Black History Month will also be the first since the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture opened to the public toward the end of the first Black president's second term, itself an historic moment. These are all notable advances in the mission to bring attention to the continued hardships faced by African American families.

Nevertheless, we have much history yet to make if we are to usher the nation into an era not defined by racial economic inequality. As CFED and the Institute for Policy Studies reported in August, racial economic inequality is on a path to expansion, not contraction. From 1983-2013, African American median income wealth declined from $6,800 to $1,700, while White median income wealth increased from $102,200 to $116,800. If these trends continue, by 2043, when White people are projected to comprise a minority of the nation, African Americans will have median wealth of just $425. Over that same timeframe, however, White wealth is projected to increase to $131,980.

Rampant inequality helps to explain, in part, why demand for change is sweeping across the nation. From the newly elected president to the millions of people finding themselves on protest lines, it seems that our nation is finally realizing the current trends are unsustainable.

In this context, this year's Black History Month feels like one where our attention should be focused on making history, rather than solely reflecting on the great deeds of the past. Pulling our country away from an increasingly calcified apartheid socioeconomic order will itself change the course of history. We will all need to put forth tremendous efforts to make 2017 another great year of Black resistance and overcoming inequality in the United States of America.