CNN Host Victor Blackwell Touts Book Blaming Racism for Wealth Gap in USA

On Saturday’s First of All show, CNN host Victor Blackwell devoted a segment to blaming racism for income differences between whites and blacks as he interviewed a liberal journalist who wrote about book about the “white bonus” she claims to have benefited from as a white American. Tracie McMillan, author of The White Bonus, suggested that racism in the present still holds black Americans down as she recommended ending racism as the remedy to lagging black incomes. 

Blackwell tied the term to the loaded concept of “white privilege” as he introduced the segment:

Agree with the concept or not, you’ve probably heard, though, about white privilege — societal and social privileges tied to race. But have you heard about the “white bonus.” Federal data shows that for ever dollar that white Americans make, black Americans make 76 cents. In 2022, black Americans’ median household wealth was almost $45,000 — the median wealth for white households, $285,000.

Bringing aboard author Tracie McMillan as a guest, the CNN host added:

The distribution of financial assets in this country has been shaped by systemic racism, written laws, unspoken rules that for hundreds of years have worked to the detriment of minorities and to the benefit of white people. My next guest, journalists Tracie McMillan, set out to put a number on just how much of a benefit she has received. She examines the history of five families, including her own, and published her findings in her new book, The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America.

After Blackwell began by asking his guest why she decided to write the book, she began:

Sure, well, you know, I work as a journalist, but I also am a white person in this country, and I felt like I needed to be honest about what I was getting for being white, and, you know, I don’t make a ton of money, so for me the conversations around white privilege usually sort of center on quote, sort of “racial privilege” and “class privilege,” and I wanted a way to get at this idea of “What do I get? What do we all get for being white?”

McMillan then recalled that she wanted to measure the “racial advantage” she had received in her life, leading Blackwell to follow up: “So let’s talk about the number. Your estimate is that you have benefited from your whiteness to the amount of $371,934.30. Explain how you got to that number.”

McMillan recounted that her family inherited a significant amount of money from a grandfather who had been allowed to prosper as a banker in the 1920s as being among other reasons her family benefited from being white, leading Blackwell to conclude by asking what the country should do about the data she has collected, leading her to suggest that racism in the present is still to blame for wealth inequality between blacks and whites:

BLACKWELL: Well, Tracie, we only have about 45 seconds or so left, but what do we now do with this? Now that you have calculated it and we all know that, according to your estimate, what it is, what do we do with it?

McMILLAN: I mean, fight to end racism, right? I think the — something I also look at is the cost of racism to Americans, including white Americans, right? Racism has impoverished our democracy and eviscerated our safety net. Most of us need access to those things to survive. And I think you know, even if you go back through my numbers. I wouldn’t need most of that money from my family if we had affordable education and housing and health care in this country, right? And so I think for all of us, there’s  a real vested interest not in fighting racism as charity but as something that hurts everybody and is worth fighting against.

The issue of why Asian Americans, in spite of being a a racial minority, tend to have higher incomes than do white Americans — which undermines the argument that racial discrimination is what causes different groups to make less money — was not mentioned.

PS: Former New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse endorsed the book: ”The White Bonus is an unusually daring book that explores how racism has given unfair advantages to white Americans as we all pursue the American dream. Tracie McMillan profiles a range of Americans to show how their “white bonus” results in advantages that can total hundreds of thousands of dollars. This original, compelling work investigates an undeniable inequity that America has too long ignored.”

Transcript follows:

CNN’s First of All with Victor Blackwell

April 27, 2024

8:47 a.m. Eastern

VICTOR BLACKWELL: Agree with the concept or not, you’ve probably heard, though, about white privilege — societal and social privileges tied to race. But have you heard about the “white bonus.” Federal data shows that for ever dollar that white Americans make, black Americans make 76 cents. In 2022, black Americans’ median household wealth was almost $45,000 — the median wealth for white households, $285,000.

The distribution of financial assets in this country has been shaped by systemic racism, written laws, unspoken rules that for hundreds of years have worked to the detriment of minorities and to the benefit of white people. My next guest, journalists Tracie McMillan, set out to put a number on just how much of a benefit she has received. She examines the history of five families, including her own, and published her findings in her new book, The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America. Tracie, thank you for being with me. Such a fascinating approach to so many things we talk about on this show — the disparity of investment; diversity, equity and inclusion. What led you to the book?

TRACIE McMILLAN, AUTHOR OF THE WHITE BONUS: Sure, well, you know, I work as a journalist, but I also am a white person in this country, and I felt like I needed to be honest about what I was getting for being white, and, you know, I don’t make a ton of money, so for me the conversations around white privilege usually sort of center on quote, sort of “racial privilege” and “class privilege,” and I wanted a way to get at this idea of “What do I get? What do we all get for being white?” And I thought the best way to do that would be to try and figure out if I could estimate how much sort of racial advantage had shaped my life just in real terms, right? Privilege is super amorphous, sort of ghost like you can’t grab onto it. But if you have a number, then you can actually have a conversation.

BLACKWELL: So let’s talk about the number. Your estimate is that you have benefited from your whiteness to the amount of $371,934.30. Explain how you got to that number.

McMILLAN: Sure. So it’s comprised of two sums, so there’s both a family bonus and a social bonus, right? So when we’re talking about a white bonus, we’re looking at sort of the amount of money an individual white person has gotten or saved because of white supremacy in policy or practice, right? So, for me, about $146,000 of that comes from money that I got from my family — that I then, you know, when I went back through our family history, can pretty reliably say we wouldn’t have had access to that money if we weren’t white, right? In my family, you know, I didn’t know this when I went into the project, but all the sort of money that gets passed down to me comes from one grandfather who became a banker in the 1920s and ’30s. So, in 1930, there were about a quarter of a million bankers in the U.S., only 80 of which were black.

So very unlikely that he would have had that job and been able to accrue that kind of wealth if he hadn’t have been white as well as, you know, he had a racial covenant on the house that he owned and then sold and was able to go into assisted living as an elder. So that’s $146,000 there. But, then, really, right, the social bonus that I get as an adult in the world, so people offering me jobs, offering me apartments. I mean, these are things I have to qualify for and sort of work at, right, but I get given these opportunities. All of that combined with being able to build equity through property ownership in Detroit where I was only able to buy housing because racism had ruined the housing market there, right. That comes up to about $226,000.

BLACKWELL: Well, Tracie, we only have about 45 seconds or so left, but what do we now do with this? Now that you have calculated it and we all know that, according to your estimate, what it is, what do we do with it?

McMILLAN: I mean, fight to end racism, right? I think the — something I also look at is the cost of racism to Americans, including white Americans, right? Racism has impoverished our democracy and eviscerated our safety net. Most of us need access to those things to survive. And I think you know, even if you go back through my numbers. I wouldn’t need most of that money from my family if we had affordable education and housing and health care in this country, right? And so I think for all of us, there’s  a real vested interest not in fighting racism as charity but as something that hurts everybody and is worth fighting against.

BLACKWELL: Tracie McMillan, I’m going to read the title of this book again – The White Bonus: Five Families and the Cash Value of Racism in America. Thank you so much for being with us. We’ve got a good write on it on CNN.com right now.

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