Posted on: February 3, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

By Emma Gomez, Arts & Entertainment Editor

When it comes to racial wealth disparity, our future may be found in the past.

By 2050, the average net worth of Black Americans Is projected to be 0 percent—the same as it was 50 years ago, according to political science professor Kevin Navratil.

The racial wealth gap was the topic of a virtual event Tuesday, the first of a series of “difficult conversations” Navratil is holding this semester with student support specialist DeWitt Scott. The new series is part of the college’s Democracy Commitment program, which Navratil coordinates.

“In 1968, we understood racism was much more overt,” Scott said. “Now, we don’t have overt discrimination such as laws preventing Black people from owning homes. We’ve had Barack Obama. We’ve had Oprah. But we haven’t even halved the gap.”

Polarization makes civil discourse difficult

Nobody is talking about important issues anymore–and when we do, we tend to argue and fight rather than have a civil conversation. That’s the problem Navratil and Scott say they are setting out to address. They chose this first topic in part because February is Black History Month.

Though the two speakers seemed to agree for the most part during Tuesday’s event, they said what made this a “difficult conversation” was the topic itself.

“Where else do you see these conversations happen publicly?” Scott asked. “These are just conversations we are not hearing that we think will move everybody forward because we get them out there and we examine thoughts.”

The point wasn’t to argue, but to make difficult conversations normalized, to demonstrate we can talk about this stuff without it turning into a “fist fight,” Navratil said.

Scott, who says politically he’s “left of left,” explained his approach to controversial topics during an interview via WebEx following the event.

“I’m a huge reader,” he said. “I always recommend reading things that disagree with you.” He reached to the bookshelf behind him and held up a book with Donald Trump on the cover. “I do not like this man. But I study his policies and the things that he’s about.” 

Scott, who is Black, then held up another book on the history of the Ku Klux Klan. “I study them.” He pulled out the book “The Bell Curve.” “This is about proving the intellectual deficiencies of Black people. I read it.” 

He held up “Mein Kampf,” Adolph Hitler’s manifesto. “I read it.”

“I tend to try to study things I disagree with. It takes the emotion out of it for me and helps me form a better counterpoint, a counterargument. Then we can speak intellectually about it.”

How can wealth gap be addressed?

During the event, the two brought up several talking points such as the history behind the topic and the fact that things haven’t changed much in about 400 years. Scott said giving minority communities access to information about how to build long-term wealth is the first step in addressing the problem.

“For the majority of Americans, the bulk of their personal wealth or family wealth is in their home,” he said. “Homeownership is touted as the American dream. It’s not only shelter and a roof over your head, but you have an asset that more than likely will increase over time.”

Investing in businesses through the stock market or entrepreneurship are the other main ways of building wealth, he said, allowing people to guarantee employment for themselves and their families and then hand down the business to their children.

“It has to be understood that this is something that won’t be corrected in our lifetime,” Scott said. It’s going to take some time. Everyone has to have a long-term view, that you have to prepare your children and your children’s children to take it further than you took it.”

An audience member asked, “If there were more people of color in power, would the gap still be the same?”

Scott responded, “When you have people in power, a lot of times they’re still beholden to certain policies. And the policies on the books are typically not racist… but they tend to have racist outcomes.”

Navratil said changing demographics are contributing to polarization in this country: “By 2040 there won’t be a majority population. Whites won’t be the majority. As a result, we’ll be seeing more ‘grievance politics,’ especially among some white people who fear losing their status as the majority.”

The event fulfilled their expectations, with approximately 20 people attending. Their purpose wasn’t to argue but rather to have a civil conversation about difficult topics.  

“If they’re not very difficult, this is something we would have all the time,” Navratil said.

Upcoming ‘Difficult Conversations’ topics

  • Feb. 15: The Black LIves Matter movement
  • March 1: Critical Race Theory
  • March 22: Why the majority doesn’t always rule
  • April 5: “Wokeism,” cancel culture and free speech
  • April 19: How cultural issues influence elections
  • May 3: Erosion of democracy in the U.S.

All events take place at 1 p.m. Links to these virtual events can be found here. No pre-registration is required.

Students in JRN 111-Media Writing contributed to this report.