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Racial Wealth Gap the Focus of Oct. 30 Lender Center Event in Washington
In Washington, D.C., the population is booming, but rent and housing costs are spiking and wages for working-class and lower-income workers are stagnating. Those factors can create economic disparity and hardship, which makes this location an especially relevant setting for a roundtable discussion about ways to help resolve the racial wealth gap in America.
“The Lender Conversation: Interrogating the Racial Wealth Gap,” is planned for Monday, Oct. 30, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the National Press Club, with a reception to follow. Guests are asked to register to attend the public event, which is sponsored by the Lender Center for Social Justice and MetLife Foundation.
Panelists include researchers from Syracuse University and other academic institutions who will discuss how housing availability and costs, transportation and labor issues exacerbate the racial wealth gap. They will also offer solutions to help offset its negative economic effects.
The event is among several community-based academic gatherings and interdisciplinary research initiatives supported by a three-year, $2.7 million grant from MetLife Foundation, allowing Lender Center researchers to examine the racial wealth gap’s various dimensions.
Syracuse University panelists include Kristen Barnes, associate dean for faculty research and professor in the College of Law; Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern, associate professor of food studies in the Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics; Marcelle Haddix, associate provost for strategic initiatives and Lender Center for Social Justice co-founder; and J. Coley, Lender Center postdoctoral fellow.
Joining them are Jhacova Williams, assistant professor of public administration and policy at American University, and Dan Cronan, assistant professor of landscape architecture at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
We spoke with Haddix to learn more about the event and how Lender Center research efforts and community-building activities are generating new ideas about the economic and opportunity gap.
01What are the goals for this conversation?
It goes back to the reasons for founding the Lender Center as a proactive and not reactive space to create awareness and education regarding issues of injustice. We wanted the Lender Center to be a model, to bring interdisciplinary groups together offering different perspectives on problems and solutions, and a place for engaging faculty and students.
Having the MetLife Foundation grant allows us to expand that focus to include other external partners and stakeholders to broaden the conversation while also broadening the base for the emergence of possible solutions.
02How will an increased awareness of the racial wealth gap and its causes improve social equity?
The gap is a social justice issue, one of many we are exploring regarding equity and justice in health, education, technology, digital access and work in American society. Housing is characterized by spatial segregation, racial discrimination and affordability challenges. Labor markets are influenced by education, skills, discrimination and mobility. Both issues limit opportunities and choices for low-income households. This is an opportunity to drill down on the real issues causing the gap and possible solutions. At Syracuse University our faculty, postdoctoral researchers and fellow stakeholders are working to generate actionable steps and create change on this issue.
03What can participants and attendees gain from this conversation?
If you are a faculty member doing research, hearing from others who look at the issue from multiple and diverse angles supports knowledge production and problem-solving ideas. If you’re a policymaker, talking to people doing the groundwork lets you discover directly how community members are affected and how stakeholders can benefit from policy changes. If you’re a student or postdoctoral fellow completing graduate work to advance to a professional role, you’ll benefit from talking with people who are experiencing injustice in the community. This event involves professors, researchers, scholars, institute and nonprofit leaders and practitioners from the fields of economics, education, business, health and sociology. That range will help tackle the complexity of this issue.
04Economic and opportunity disparities between majority white and Black and Brown populations is a primary social dilemma. Why is it still so prevalent?
The racial wealth gap has been around for centuries. This country was founded on the gap; it’s clear that it was not intended for everyone to have equity. When you look at economic disparity in this country you must look at the legacy left by the enslavement of people, the colonizing of spaces, and the co-opting of spaces, property and wealth.
It’s essential to acknowledge where we’ve come from to know where to go. Conversations are now taking place around reparations, reconciliation and reclamation. If those are the goals, we need to ask what should be done to redistribute wealth. Questions about justice and equity involve values; they are about whose lives matter. We have to ask whether we really want to rectify things or whether we want people to stay in their current situations. We believe we can offer some model solutions that, if taken up by the right body or infrastructure system in this country, can lead to some real impact.
05Is the racial wealth gap fixable, given the state of people, politics and institutions in American society today?
I think it’s fixable if people, institutions and programs of power are willing, and if they see it as their charge and their mission to effect change. Those in positions of power have to say they want to right wrongs. If you’re a humanist like I am, it comes back to values. Do you care about human experience and other human beings? Do you want equity and justice? If that’s not the case, then no, I think we will perpetuate the racial wealth gap because the gap is so wide and so complex.
06Are more discussions and activities planned around this issue?
More roundtables are planned for Atlanta, Los Angeles and possibly New York, and a second symposium is planned for March in Syracuse. The events take advantage of stakeholder connections in each location to address issues specific to those areas.
In Washington, the focus is on labor and housing because wealth gap dynamics there are so affected by those factors. We’ll connect with thought leaders at Howard University and the Library of Congress. We’ll have an opportunity to explore Syracuse University Artist in Residence Carrie May Weems’ exhibitions currently on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In Syracuse, we’ll examine what happens when work reappears (the Micron and semiconductor-tech worker boom) and the Interstate 81 reconstruction to see how local racial wealth gap issues will be affected here.