Statistics regarding Boston's racial wealth gap are devastating. White households in Boston have a median net worth of $247,500, but Latinx households come in at $1,907, while Black households claim a median of only $8.
These numbers are real, and there are real people behind these numbers whose voices need to be heard. Boston and the United States as a whole need to do better, particularly in the wake of COVID-19, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color.
On June 22, Eastern Bank held a virtual town hall titled Color & Capital For Good, which included a panel of local minority leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs. They discussed the wealth gap from their firsthand perspectives and offered Boston's business community advice and solutions for addressing this generations-old disparity.
Entrepreneurs of Color Discuss the Racial Wealth Gap
The panel was moderated by Bernadine Desanges, founder of Know Your Truths. Speak Your Truths., who spoke personally about the pains of systemic racism. "Through all of my hard work, my earnings still are matched $8 compared to $200,000-plus of my white counterparts," she said.
Jessicah Pierre of Queens Company also spoke openly, saying, "I feel compelled to work on the racial wealth gap because I am deeply affected by it as a Black woman. As a [Black] woman who was raised in a low-income immigrant household, I have watched my family struggle for all my life. . . . I don't want my children to go through those same struggles."
Similar feelings were expressed by Josiane Martinez of Archipelago Strategies Group, who discussed learning English and being the first person in her family to go to college. "I needed to work twice as hard," she said. "You know, sometimes three jobs."
Malia Lazu of Berkshire Bank pointed out that American capitalism itself is based on free labor and elite ownership, while Natalia Urtubey, the director of small business for the city of Boston, backed this up, pointing out how Boston's contemporary income inequality was directly caused by the past. "Properties were passed down from generation to generation . . . black folks, immigrants, were not able to purchase property, and if they were, it was devalued," she said.
Every participant acknowledged the deeply personal toll that the wealth gap takes and the extra work demanded from business leaders of color as well as the fact that real change will require big solutions. As Segun Idowu of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts bluntly explained, "I'm talking about stuff my grandfather was talking about seventy years ago . . . you know, I'm thirty now. By the time I'm forty, if I'm still talking about this same thing, sitting on a panel discussion hosted by Eastern Bank or someone else asking why there's a racial wealth gap, I will have failed, and so would the rest of us."
Desanges concurred. "The civil rights movement has ended, yet we're still fighting for the same things," she said.
What Can Close the Racial Wealth Gap?
COVID-19 has changed the national landscape, brutally highlighting the systemic inequalities that have tainted this country for generations. Action is needed. Change is needed. Restructuring a fundamentally racist system is necessary, but it will not be easy.
"My commitment is to make sure that we're able to inspire other entrepreneurs of color to have the same resources, information, and help," Daniel Perez of DPV Transportation said. Idowu mentioned that one of the obstacles to change has been ambivalence among white people to issues of racial inequity. White business leaders in particular need to take a look at capital, culture, and who's in charge. There are only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500 and most Black people in leadership are diversity or equity officers rather in positions that make decisions about where capital is directed.
Martinez echoed Idowu, calling for a new social contract. "We cannot continue to adopt the same policies and practices and expect different results," she said. She calls on business owners of color to hire other people of color and on allies in business to use their power to make changes, starting by looking at income discrepancies between their CEO and lowest-paid workers and analyzing how their companies build and distribute wealth. Commitment to change is needed at every level.
Lazu pointed out that the Black dollar stays in the Black community for less than 6 hours. How can businesses change this? Urtubey suggested looking critically at vendors to ensure companies support local and minority-owned small businesses, while Pierre and Perez both discussed the importance of ensuring a business's leadership represents the community it serves and asking how a business can support its community.
There must be equitable access to opportunity; greater access to bank accounts, credit, and capital; better collaboration between the public and private sectors; stronger support for minority-owned businesses; and a push to bring voices of color into bigger leadership positions. Those who have experienced racism firsthand will have the experience, knowledge, and insight to finally close the gap for good.
As COVID-19 rages across the world — and at home — and disproportionately impacts marginalized communities, help Eastern Bank to close Boston's racial wealth gap.