It is an old saying that Britain and America are two countries separated by a common language.
But they are united by racial wealth gaps that formed at a similar time for related reasons. Black Britons of the “Windrush Generation”, who arrived in Britain from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1973, and Black Americans of the Great Migration of the 1940s-1970s experienced similar disadvantages that have been reflected in the last 50 years.
Today, when examining household assets, Black Britons from Caribbean backgrounds have 20 pence on the £ 1 compared to white Britons. Black Britons of African descent – who arrived in Britain more recently – have only 10 pence on the £ 1 compared to white Britons.
In the US, Black Americans have assets of about 15 to 20 cents on the $ 1 compared to whites.
This is largely due to policymakers in both countries who set up roadblocks for Black progress when they introduced policies to grow the middle class.
In my view as a historian of slavery, capitalism and African-American inequality, it is not just the long shadow of slavery that Britain abolished in its western colonies in 1833 and the US ended in 1865 with the adoption of the 13th amendment not.
When Black members of the British Commonwealth moved to Britain from 1948 and African Americans moved from the South to the North and West, they encountered new obstacles.
The long struggle for equal employment has had a lasting effect on the ability to acquire wealth and pass it on to future generations.
The British illusion of opportunity
The moment Black opened up opportunity in Britain was June 22, 1948, when the British ship Empire Windrush moored on the River Thames, unloading 802 passengers from Caribbean backgrounds in England.
They led the first sustained Black migration, the Windrush generation, mostly Black and Asian, who arrived in Britain between 1948 and 1973.
British employers wanted their labor amid a shortage after World War II.
About a third of Windrush passengers were veterans of the British forces who served in World War II and were recruited by employers for skilled work.
Caribbean women, for example, have become essential to the new UK national health service as nurses, cooks and cleaners, many caring for patients and families at night.
But, as British journalist Afua Hirsch argues, they have faced persistent discrimination in housing and employment. Employers wanted them as laborers, not neighbors, and they encountered hostility from those determined to “keep England white.”
When a Bristol bus company refused to hire Black conductors and drivers, Black workers counter-organized and staged a successful Bristol bus boycott against service discrimination.
Such actions led to the 1964 Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, which helped to catalyze the 1965 British Race Relations Act which prohibited public discrimination and made the promotion of hatred based on “color, race or ethnic or national origin” a crime. has.
Meanwhile, civil rights leaders like Olive Morris have fought for economic inclusion by organizations like the Black Workers Movement. These efforts helped to include Black workers in trade union industry and led to wage gains.
The American allure of opportunity
As the Windrush generation took shape, African Americans also moved north and west in search of opportunity. Journalist Isabel Wilkerson argues that “the Great Migration had more in common with the great movements of refugees from famine, war and genocide in other parts of the world.”
In the three decades following the Great Depression, the American wage structure became more equal than any time before or since, a process that economic historians call “The Great Compression.” Between 1940 and 1960, the gap between earners in the top 10% and bottom 90% narrowed by a third.
But policies that boosted white Americans’ learning tended to hinder African Americans.
Social Security initially excluded most Black workers. Union wages rose, but African Americans were under-represented in union positions.
Home loan guarantees went to white families and specifically excluded black-occupied properties in many U.S. cities.
Redlining was the practice of refusing loan guarantees to properties inhabited by black and other minority residents. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of disinvestment and declining values.
Meanwhile, post-World War II programs to improve social mobility, such as the 1944 Servicemen’s Reintegration Act, or GI Bill, largely benefited white veterans by expanding the middle class with work, college, and home loan assistance.
Historian Matthew F. Delmont argues that “by withdrawing resources from white veterans and denying loans to black veterans, the GI bill strengthened the racial wealth gap and shared the field of opportunity in America for decades after the war.”
In the 1960s, legal barriers made way for what African-American Studies scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor called “predatory inclusion” in home ownership, finance, and education.
By the time Black Americans began to narrow a persistent wealth gap, the economy was paying declining returns to workers.
The wealth-to-earnings ratio rose after 1973 in the US and the UK, and Black Americans who had recently climbed one or two sports ladder began to decline in relation to whites.
Britain’s failed promise
By the 1970s, multicultural Britain was taking shape. As British sociologist Paul Gilroy argues, Black Britain, including people of African and South Asian descent, has become a complex of class and cultures as diverse as England’s imperial geography that once colonized Asia, Africa and the Americas. included.
But diversity did not mean inclusion. Just as black working-class Britons made profits in the union industry, that step of the ladder cracked.
From the late 1970s, factories closed or moved from abroad, and the roads to the middle class narrowed as the UK and US pursued a strategy of more privatization and less government spending on social services.
Trade union strength declined across sectors, and workers’ wages stagnated. Many Black Britons were trapped in segregated neighborhoods and did not benefit from rising home values. Today, 2 out of 3 white British families own homes compared to 2 out of 5 Black British families of Caribbean background and 1 out of 5 Black British families of African background.
By the 2000s, those who lacked capital or technological skills in Britain had a hard time climbing the economic ladder. Income inequality skyrocketed between 1979 and the early 2000s, reaching levels not seen since before World War II.
America’s Invention of Inequality
Meanwhile, legal barriers fell in the United States as the economy changed in ways that harmed Black workers in new ways. In 1979, the average Black worker earned 82 cents on the dollar compared to white counterparts. By 2000, the earnings gap had widened to 77 cents on the dollar.
The Great Recession of 2008 destroyed half of Black wealth, and in 2015, an estimated 1.5 million Black American men were missing from the economy after dying early, being locked up, or locked out of the labor market – 8.2 % of African American men of working age compared to 1.6% of white men in the same age group.
Despite wealth growth since 2016, black wealth was more vulnerable and more difficult to amass.
The earnings gap remains large today.
Black women workers in the US earn 79 cents on the dollar compared to white women, and Black men earn 87% of white men’s wages.
Discrimination across the Atlantic
In the UK, just before the pandemic, Black Britons of African and Caribbean backgrounds earned 85% and 87% of white British wages, respectively.
According to a study by two leading British inequality thinkers, British women of color endure “crossing structural barriers and discrimination faced at every point of the career pipeline, from school to university to work.”
British wealth is largely white, stemming from the “history of economic relations between Britain and the rest of the world, especially Africa, the Caribbean and Asia,” according to the Runnymede Trust, an inequality think tank.
Over the past 80 years, the bottom line of Britain and America is that both countries have rediscovered racial economic disadvantages.
Instead of fundamentally justifying their economies, racial exclusions gave way to inclusion that was accompanied by occasional co-payments, while failing to correct previous mistakes.