Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Great Divide

from "Study Shows Racial Wealth Gap Grows Wider" by Pam Fessler:

There's long been a big gap between the wealth of white families and the wealth of African-Americans and Hispanics. But the Great Recession has made it much worse — the divide is almost twice what it used to be.

That's according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, which says that the decline in the housing market is the main cause.

The numbers are astounding. The median wealth of a white family in 2009 was 20 times greater than that of the average black family, and 18 times greater than the average Hispanic family. In other words, the average white family had $113,149 in net worth, compared to $6,325 for Hispanics and $5,677 for blacks.

That's the largest gap since the government began collecting the data a quarter of a century ago, and twice what it was before the start of the Great Recession.

For more, see here.

Preface: There is a possibly controversial assumption being made here. Please feel free to comment in order for us all to weigh the idiosyncrasies of this issue.

Yesterday, I had to appear at the Philadelphia courthouse for jury duty. I thought it odd, actually. Out of all the places I've lived, I've spent the least amount of time in Philly (it'll be a year in five days) but apparently the demand for jurors here is substantial.

I showed up at 8:15am for my day of service, passed through the standard issue metal detectors, and made my way into the initial juror holding room with a couple hundred other potential jury candidates. After about an hour of waiting and napping, a group of us was summoned upstairs to a courtroom for interviews. After more waiting, and some light reading, we were all told the defendant for the case we would have examined decided to make a plea. We were no longer needed for that particular case. Therefore, we were all sent back downstairs to the initial holding room for the possibility of being selected for other cases. More waiting and napping occurred. Finally around 11:30am, our group was called once again. We were led out into the hallway and told we were free to go. Cue waves of relief! We were given explanations for our employers and checks for our time (Mine was for nine bucks. I don't know what anyone else got; probably nine bucks.). I made my way home and fell asleep for the rest of the day. Eight fifteen in the morning doesn't really float my boat.

To be honest, I actually look forward to the day when I'll be able to serve as a juror. It may be the last place in the system that is America where an individual's voice can truly make a difference. But now is simply not the time, primarily because I do not currently have the financial stability to sustain a jury stint longer than the three hours of yesterday's adventure. Evidently, I'm not the only one. Most of the African and Latino American communities in this country are struggling with the same economic difficulties as I am. And I'm willing to bet my last dollar most of the black and Latino folks in that holding room with me were fully prepared to claim financial hardship as the primary reason they couldn't serve. I certainly was. So are we to conclude that the only people in this country who are financial capable of serving as jurors are white and Asian people?

In a system that disproportionately tries and imprisons people of Latin and African descent, this is a really big problem. If I, a politically charged, black, male, motorcycling theatre artist from the South, were on trial for a crime and I had a sea of white-only businessmen and property owners deciding my fate, I would be hard pressed to consider that a "jury of my peers".



  1. I see your point!

    But, you make the assumption that the potential jury of "white and asian people" would not be able to look past their race and "status." There is a reason for those pre-interviews to establish any bias.

    And lord knows if I was picked (white, middle class female) for jury duty I would have to plead financial hardship immediately.

  2. hi Jess!

    Yes, it's true I make an assumption that I hope would be premature. However, my challenge is with the idea that the group of peers deciding the fate of a defendant would have no practical reference as to the social and cultural experience of the person on trial. In a legal system that equally values eyewitnness testimony (which is substantially unreliable) and imperial scientific findings, I think it's important to also value the socioeconomic make-up of the jury. I feel that anything other than a completely accurate representation of the local demographic would be extremely unfair.

    But yes, I acknowledge the assumption. Thank you for pointing that out.

    Thank you so much for responding!