The Racial Wealth Gap

Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver and Brandeis Professor Thomas M. Shapiro to discuss their seminal book Black Wealth/White Wealth

Black Wealth/White Wealth by Melvin L Oliver and Thomas M. Shapiro

Claremont, Calif. (March 24, 2021)—Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver and Brandeis University Professor Thomas M. Shapiro literally wrote the book on the racial wealth gap more than 25 years ago. First published in 1995, Oliver and Shapiro’s Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality changed the way we understand economic disparities and their connection to policy, history, and systemic racism in America.

On Tuesday, March 30, at 4 p.m. PDT, Oliver and Shapiro will appear together on Pitzer’s virtual stage for “The Racial Wealth Gap and Social Progress in Wealth Equality,” a discussion of Black Wealth/White Wealth’s findings and insights, then and now. This special event can be watched live via Zoom.

The 10th anniversary edition of Oliver and Shapiro’s award-winning book was published in 2006. Fifteen years later, Black Wealth/White Wealth remains a touchstone for discussions of racial inequality. Ta-Nehisi Coates cited the work in his Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations,” and The Washington Post recently quoted Oliver in its six-part series, “George Floyd’s America.” The book’s ongoing relevance reinforces its central thesis: structural racial inequality continues to underlie the racial wealth gap in America.

“Black families have about 83 cents for every dollar of income that whites have; if you shift to wealth, it’s 10 cents on the dollar,” Oliver said in February during True Equity: Systemic Change, the first event in a new conversation series at Pitzer. “That changes your mindset about what inequality is. Income we easily understand—we get it weekly or monthly. But wealth or assets, you have to accumulate those, and they’re often passed down intergenerationally.”

Black Wealth/White Wealth looks at the sociology of wealth, examining the long-term effects of what Oliver and Shapiro call “the sedimentation of inequality” in the US.

“And when you have wealth, you have a command of resources that you can use to generate life chances, whether that’s getting an education, buying a home, starting a business, or having better health,” Oliver said.

Oliver and Shapiro, who is the Pokross Professor of Law and Social Policy at Brandeis University’s Heller School, are both nationally recognized experts on racial inequality and asset development, a field that addresses barriers that limit communities’ ability to build financial assets.

Oliver served as the Ford Foundation’s Asset Building and Community Development Program’s vice president from 1996 to 2004. Shapiro is the former director of Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy (now the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity). The Center for Global Policy Solutions has honored both Oliver and Shapiro as “Asset Building Champions” for their dedication to closing the racial wealth gap.

“The Racial Wealth Gap and Social Progress in Wealth Equality” is produced by Pitzer@Home and the Pitzer College Alumni & Family Book Club. Black Wealth/White Wealth was the book club’s first reading selection for 2021.

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

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