Ask Kids & Race: Isn’t it More About Class Than Race?

Got a question about race, racism, or privilege? You’ve come to the right place. We’re here to answer questions and help you figure it out. Email us at askme@talkingrace.org Questions can be asked anonymously.

Dear Kids & Race,

Shouldn’t we be talking less about race and more about the “haves” and the “have-nots”? After all, you can have a rich Black person and a poor White person. Why do we need to focus on race so much?

—Anonymous

I think this is a common idea in our society. While talking about class is uncomfortable, it’s infinitely easier for us to talk about than race.

Yes, it is possible for Black people to be wealthier than White people, but it is not very unlikely. The median White family has ten times the net worth of the median Black family. 1 out of every 5 Black families has zero or negative net worth. This is no accident. There are many historical reasons why Black and Brown people have fewer assets and more debt than White families, having to do with discriminatory housing, hiring, and education policies. (This “Adam Ruins Everything” clip can give you a run-down on America’s long history of housing discrimination.)

It is simply the case that there are many more hurdles to wealth for the average Black person than for the average White person.

Furthermore, even if a dark-skinned individual beats the odds and becomes wealthy, they will still have to deal with the effects of anti-Black racism. To paraphrase our Director, Jasen, when he gets pulled over by the cops, they don’t ask for his bank balance.

This topic also becomes murky when we lump non-White people together in categories like “people of color.” The average income for Asian-Americans was actually higher than for the average White income, although White people still have more “wealth” than Asian-Americans. Broken down by ethnicity, we can see that different groups face different barriers. These groups also have access to different resources to respond to these barriers.

Poor people can be any race, and all “have-nots” should be of concern to us. But we can’t disambiguate the conversation about class from that about race in this country. There have been too many fingers on the scale for us to discount the continuing effects of racism on Black and Brown people’s abilities to climb the wealth ladder.

For more information on this topic, attend our Kids and Race: Power and Privilege workshop.

—Katharine Strange

Cover image credit: The Root