“Read this book. It explains so much about the moment…Beautiful, heartbreaking work.”
“A deep accounting of how America got to a point where a median white family has 13 times more wealth than the median black family.”
“Extraordinary…Baradaran focuses on a part of the American story that’s often ignored: the way African Americans were locked out of the financial engines that create wealth in America.”
When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the black community owned less than 1 percent of the total wealth in America. More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged. The Color of Money seeks to explain the stubborn persistence of this racial wealth gap by focusing on the generators of wealth in the black community: black banks.
With the civil rights movement in full swing, President Nixon promoted “black capitalism,” a plan to support black banks and minority-owned businesses. But the catch-22 of black banking is that the very institutions needed to help communities escape the deep poverty caused by discrimination and segregation inevitably became victims of that same poverty. In this timely and eye-opening account, Baradaran challenges the long-standing belief that black communities could ever really hope to accumulate wealth in a segregated economy.
“Black capitalism has not improved the economic lives of black people, and Baradaran deftly explains the reasons why.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“A must read for anyone interested in closing America’s racial wealth gap.”
Lays out how, over centuries, policymakers wrote Black Americans out of the economic system…Baradaran’s work resonates now as millions protest around the U.S.—speaking out not only against police brutality against Black Americans, but the systemic racism that pervades America’s institutions.
Baradaran…provides a deep accounting of how America got to a point where a median white family has 13 times more wealth than the median black family.
Black capitalism has not improved the economic lives of black people, and Baradaran deftly explains the reasons why…Banking today already offers low interest loans and free services to the wealthy, while reserving payday lending and check cashing for those with the least resources. Baradaran’s lesson is that a separate system of black capitalism would intensify, rather than ameliorate, this dynamic along the lines of race.
Baradaran’s point is to show how white and Black Americans effectively live in two separate economies… As a work of history, the book contains a disturbingly coherent narrative of racist plunder spanning from the Freedman’s Bureau bank to today’s payday lenders… Baradaran’s book is a must read for anyone interested in closing America’s racial wealth gap.
Extraordinary… Baradaran focuses on a part of the American story that’s often ignored: the way African Americans were locked out of the financial engines that create wealth in America, and the way the rhetoric of equal treatment under the law was weaponized, as soon as slavery ended, against efforts to achieve economic equality.
Baradaran has produced an important, sobering assessment of historic and contemporary African American banks… [She] provides an overview of American and African American economic history from the era of slavery to the present.
Anyone who manages money, invests in others’ livelihoods or lives in America should read The Color of Money…The book digs into financial institutions and policies that are responsible for creating and maintaining racial inequalities in the United States…The book breaks down the stereotypes of self-help dogma that tout ‘save more, don’t spend so much or pull yourself up’ and rejects the idea that those who are not wealthy just need more financial literacy or mentorship.
Combining a rich historical sweep with in-depth analysis of the mechanics of banking, Baradaran unpacks the brutal dilemma facing black banks—how to create black wealth in the context of a segregated and unequal ‘Jim Crow’ economy. Baradaran’s brilliant and devastating analysis leads to an irrefutable conclusion: the racial wealth gap is the product of state law and public policy, and will only be reversed when the same governmental tools that created segregation and discrimination are deployed to end it.
Observers as different in time and ideology as Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Ronald Reagan have argued that black banks represent perhaps the best hope for securing a just society. As Baradaran powerfully maintains, however, any effort to restrict responsibility to banks alone or black people alone will always be doomed to failure. A swift, beautiful, and chastening book, The Color of Money reminds us, yet again, that black poverty is not really an economic problem, but rather a political problem requiring political solutions.
Baradaran provides a pivotal understanding of how our racialized history structured the disparity between the black and white share of the nation’s wealth and how it continues to inhibit the development of black capital and black banks. Her book puts to rest, once and for all, the trope that self-help, buying black, and black banking are the panacea to black prosperity.
In this important book, law professor Mehrsa Baradaran uses the history of black banking from emancipation to the present as a vehicle for exploring the origins and persistence of the racial wealth gap in America. This is more than a history of financial institutions, though. It is a probing, revelatory study of racism and capitalism in the making of modern America, one that reveals how segregation, racial prejudice, and black economic disadvantage became mutually reinforcing.
A stimulating walk-through of the history of the expansion of the wealth gap between black and white Americans that has grown even larger since the Emancipation Proclamation freed blacks from slavery.
- 2019, Winner of the Best Book in Urban Affairs Award
- Belknap Press
From this author
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