Increasing wealth, one’s accumulation of assets minus total liabilities (which is my attempt at saying: all you own minus all you owe), is an important aspiration. To have enough money in savings and income to provide for you and your family’s present and future is the American Dream. A future where everyone is free to profit from their own labor and secure enough to live comfortably is what the land of opportunity is based on. Well, in theory at least.

Theory vs. Practice

As theory is often distinct from practice, the United States, in her infinite wisdom, has founded this idea of unlimited, equal opportunity on systems of human ingenuity. As history demonstrates, human ingenuity in pursuit of any ideal is often accompanied by oversights that result in un-freedoms imposed on certain sectors of the population. Whether that be a free, democratic nation imposing legislation that keeps people “separate but equal,” or laws that determine home ownership illegal based on ancestry, or bills that deny access to quality education, the pursuit of freedom as understood through human intellect is flawed.

The claim here is not that we do not understand freedom per se, but that we as people can only get so close. Our personal experiences and communities of origin influence the ways we perceive freedom’s existence.

The United States is a country forged from unspeakably destructive practices. Atrocities that would cause many of today’s war criminals to blush. And their effects linger on in the lives of the disadvantaged and disinherited that call the U.S. home today.

Racism is one such atrocity that continues to plague this nation and will not be removed unless addressed head-on.

The Economics of Disenfranchisement

In a recent report from Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies, the racial wealth gap between black and white citizens of the United States is increasing at a rate that, if unaddressed, will leave black citizens with zero wealth by the year 2053. That is a frightening statistic if we consider the fact that black citizens, in 2053, will constitute a larger percentage of the U.S. population. This increase in percentage is important if we consider that an increasingly large segment of the population will not have the money necessary to participate in the economy in ways that will allow the economy to grow.

No wealth means no home ownership. No home ownership means banks lose income traditionally gained through mortgage payments. Less income from mortgage payments makes lending to small businesses more difficult and the chain continues.

I am not suggesting the collapse of the economy, but I have hopefully demonstrated that the economy will look drastically different. And we have yet to speak about the labor market, the education system (particularly higher education), and the health care system, all of which will be negatively impacted as more and more people are unable to survive life’s unforeseeable financial shocks (i.e., emergency medical care, corporate downsizing and layoffs, rising cost of education, etc.).

So, what are we to do? Why bring such a large problem to your attention?

The racial wealth gap was produced by systems of inequality that arose out of a racist past. However, that past did not die. The racism of our ancestors has become the racism of our grandparents, and the racism of our parents. It has evolved from shouting racist epithets in the streets or unleashing dogs, clubs, and fire hoses on innocent civilians. The racism that produced the wealth gap is the subtle, innocuous kind of racism that wears a mask of sincere “culture” critic. It’s the festering “suspicion” that black people are lazy and prone to criminal activity. It’s the putrid “inclination” that brown people lack the work ethic to compete in the modern job market or are simply unfit for contemporary office culture. The abhorrent “preference” to just have white co-workers.

The racial wealth gap is the result of generations excusing racist practices. It is the consequence of generations of U.S. citizens denying that advancement and socio-economic mobility is the fruit of un-freedoms imposed on their fellow citizens of a darker hue. The racial wealth gap is the refusal of the holy spirit’s unifying power in pursuit of a lesser, unholy spirit that praises antagonistic competition instead of an “iron sharpens iron” approach.

The Labor of the Spirit-filled Community

The racial wealth gap is the persistence of a national hope for a supreme human ingenuity where only something divine can stand. To allow the holy spirit the freedom to transform the market place as we know it would require that we take up the hard work of learning how the United States became “America,” the deeply racist land that we call home today. It requires understanding that wealth, by and large, is a product of disenfranchisement and dispossession.

To account for such intentional disadvantage demands that we who call ourselves enlivened by the spirit of Pentecost take up the work of bringing the labor of community back to the center of our gospel. Community is an action that seeks out the stranger, the widow, the orphan: the immigrant, the dispossessed, the descendants of the enslaved. Seeks them out for the sake of making community real.

To make community real demands that we live up to a practice of humility best embodied in the life of Christ.

Christ forfeited unlimited power to inhabit a corruptible body among an impoverished people in a perverted economy. He took up the cause of the widow and the orphan by living with them as one of them, not by preaching at them from a place of willfully ignorant power. Christ took up the flesh to know intimately what it means to exist as one society deems unworthy of inclusion. Christ saw himself as inseparably bound to those society had cast out. Is that, then, not our duty as well? Are we willing to look at the wealth gap as a product of our own exclusionary, arrogant tendencies? Only then will we be able to address and prayerfully overcome racism’s injustice.


Note from the Editorial Team:
Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.


Spread the Word!
Austin Washington

Author: Austin Washington

Austin Washington is a doctoral student at Boston University studying social ethics. Interested in race, economics, democracy and religion, Austin is interested in understanding expressions of Pentecostal spirituality as sources of civic renewal. Growing up in the COGIC, Pentecostalism has had a formative role in his social and religious development and he remains a part of the COGIC.

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