Seattle’s racial wealth divide: A new look explores how we got here

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Ebony White, director of the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at Prosperity Now.  (Courtesy Ebony White)

Every time I write about the way systemic racism affects our politics and society, the answer I get is almost always a compilation of the same few messages.

Usually they fall this way: “Why do you have to be all about racing? Focusing on race is REAL racism. “” Why do you live in the past? Slavery is over, we now have a level playing field. Why can’t you go on “And the constant favorite:“ I don’t see any color. I have a family member who is a minority and they have pulled themselves up and become successful. Why can’t the rest of you? “

When we look at inequality through only our individual experience and lens, it can be difficult to see the patterns and contours of the problem as a whole.

It is especially difficult when dealing with issues such as the racial gap and wealth, where even discussing the issue forces us to take stock of our own privilege, the legacy of generational wealth transfer (or lack thereof) and the link between Race and economy make inequality.

But that’s exactly what researchers at Washington, DC-based nonprofit Prosperity Now are putting in the spotlight with their new report, The Racial Wealth Divide in Seattle. Wealth is now working with people of color and low incomes to create financial security. The report is part of the Building High-Impact Nonprofits of Color project, which aims to help nonprofits eradicate economic racial inequality in local communities.

The report looks at the roots of the persistent and yawning wealth gaps between white Seattle residents and residents who are black, indigenous, and colored (BIPOC).

For example, the median white household income in Seattle is three times that of Native Americans and more than twice that of black residents.

Even before the pandemic, black workers were three times more likely to be unemployed than white workers. More than 60% of black and local tenants are burdened with housing construction costs, compared with 42% of white residents. Charged means spending 30% or more of your income on rent and utilities.

Significantly, in our pandemic season, 41% of Seattle’s colored households are “poor in liquidity” or lack sufficient assets to withstand three months of poor income. On the small business side, the value of white-owned companies in Seattle is about twelve times the value of black-owned companies.

It’s one thing to see where things are now, but it’s another to understand how we got here.

One of the most critical drivers of racial wealth inequality in Seattle is the history of residential segregation, restrictive acts and agreements, and redlining, which the report explores. These factors have prevented BIPOC people from building and transferring wealth, which has led to home ownership gaps where over 50% of white residents are homeowners but just over 25% of black residents own homes. Seattle also has the dubious distinction of being the third largest city in the country.

Ebony White, director of the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at Prosperity Now. (Courtesy Ebony White)

Ebony White, director of the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at Prosperity Now, said one of the things that sets this report apart from other reports of economic and racial inequalities is its longer perspective. The report looks at the “policies, practices and events” that have brought us where we are today.

“Modern racial and economic inequalities [are] the by-product of America’s most powerful people and institutions [having] created false narratives out there [a] Hierarchy of human worth and human worth based on race, ”White said. “Hence, we have systems in place that prohibit the ability of BIPOC communities to participate on the same level in society and create wealth for their communities.”

The wealth gap report is intended to serve as an accessible data tool for nonprofits, policy makers and others to see the problem more clearly and advocate for strategies that better serve the color communities. It is from the grassroots organizations and communities themselves where you find the best, most innovative solutions, White said.

Communities Rise is one of five nonprofits that are part of the Cohort Building High-Impact Nonprofits of Color Seattle. Others include Africatown, the White Center Community Development Association, Urban Impact, and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

Jodi Nishioka, managing director of Communities Rise.  (Kelly Chandler)

Jodi Nishioka, managing director of Communities Rise. (Kelly Chandler)

Jodi Nishioka, executive director of Communities Rise, said while much of the information in the report was not new to her, it is important for funders, government and others to go from “we kind of knew” to “but now we can really see it . ”

Nishioka said our culture contributed to this ongoing focus on individuals vs. systems.

“Our American Western view of individuality and capitalism really creates a structure in which people can look at that and say, ‘Oh, it’s not about race [or] Class. It’s about these individual people [who] don’t work hard enough or have the talent. So it’s not about past mistakes. It’s about the people now, ”said Nishioka. “And that comes from one, a place of privilege and two who really don’t have a deep understanding of race and how it affects our society as a whole, how deep it goes, and the systemic barriers.”

White hopes the report and the nonprofits that guide the work in the communities will help advance fairer policies.

“Seattle has the opportunity to advance more local policies that are inclusive and based on racial, economic and prosperous justice. [and] Justice solutions for all residents. “

Naomi Ishisaka:
[email protected]; on Twitter: @naomiishisaka. Naomi Ishisaka is the Seattle Times Assistant Editor-in-Chief for Diversity, Inclusion and People Development. Her column on race, culture, justice and social justice appears weekly on Mondays.