Several of the stories of True First involve men and women of African descent who lived the American Dream and rose to astounding financial heights. Oprah Winfrey, Berry Gordy, Samuel Fuller, John H. Johnson and Robert L. Johnson are but a few of the African Americans who are recognized not only for excelling in their profession, but for becoming incredibly wealthy in the process. They were the country’s first black millionaires, billionaires, innovators and philanthropists. Unfortunately, however, their achievements are all the more outstanding because they are exceptional. For most black families in America, accumulating wealth is still an almost exclusively white pastime.
Of the approximately 1.2 million households in America who hold 99% of the country’s net worth (the infamous 1%), only 16,800 are black. That’s less than 1.5%, and they’re mostly clustered at the lower end of the scale. White household who make the cut are worth on average $8.3 million while their black counterparts are only worth $1.2 million. Almost 30% of white households have reached a net worth threshold of $356,000 while only 5% of blacks enjoy this modest level of wealth.
One of the reasons for this massive disparity is that wealthy African Americans are usually the first in their family to achieve financial success. Remember, we’re only 7 or 8 generations beyond slavery. Only 7% of blacks receive any kind of inheritance whereas 40% of white American millionaires get a head start from the wealth accumulated by their ancestors.
According to a recent article in the Guardian, it’s only going to take three more years for white households in the U.S. to own 86 times more wealth than African American families. Even though many black Americans are earning middle-income salaries, they don’t have the same assets and net worth as whites because black communities often bear the brunt of economic downturns. A new report by Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies warns that if the current trend continues, the median wealth of African Americans will drop to zero by 2053.
The Equality of Opportunity Project recently released a controversial study that suggests income disparity is greater for black men than black women. It also indicates that even when black boys are raised in affluent households, their chances of remaining wealthy in adulthood are far lower than that of white boys. The report argues strongly that in the United States, race continues to have a stronger influence on upward mobility than class.
Which brings us back to the vision of True First. The series is reclaiming the men and women who broke the color barrier to became social, cultural, political and financial leaders. But leaders need followers. For their legacy to find fertile ground, we must continue to inspire, motivate and support new generations of black entrepreneurs, innovators and creative minds so that they too can become the true firsts of the new millennium.
Figures used in this article were sourced from Black Enterprise Magazine, an online publication and wealth-building resource for African Americans.