Race, Property, and Citizenship

01 Jan 2021

The racial wealth gap is stunning. The net worth of an average white family is nearly ten times greater than that of an African-American family. A 2017 Report finds that, for African-Americans, today’s economy is an extractive one; if existing trends continue, the median African-American family will have a net worth of zero by the middle of the twenty-first century. This article examines these trends in terms of the relationship between race, property, and citizenship. American democracy has long celebrated economic independence as a desired element of citizenship, forging reciprocal bonds between state efforts to promote and protect property ownership and property owners’ greater investment in community and political stability. African-American have long been excluded from these benefits and, in the process, have never fully enjoyed the benefits of American citizenship. The result creates increased vulnerability, not just to white supremacy, but to economic exploitation. In the modern era, this predation has made home ownership, higher education loans, and marriage—the traditional pathways into middle class status—dramatically riskier for African-Americans than for whites. This article shows how the African-American community’s lack of political clout contributes to the lack of regulation and enforcement that allows racially motivated predators to act with impunity, undermining the rule of law and perpetuating racial subordination.