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Feature

Rose Brewer.

U professor Rose Brewer examines race and wealth and how the government has influenced a racial wealth divide in the United States.

Closing the wealth divide

By Kelly O'Brien

From M, fall 2006

Growing up in Tulsa, Okla., in the 1960s, Rose Brewer rarely heard her elders speak of the 1921 attacks that destroyed the businesses and homes of prosperous African-Americans, forcing them to leave the city. Property and other assets that took decades to build were gone with a single toss of a Klansman's torch, leaving these families, mostly descendants of freed slaves, with nothing left to their names.

African-American families like Brewer's understood the risks of entrepreneurship, ownership and "being somebody," but they also embraced the possibilities.

Now a Morse Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota, Brewer explores race, class, gender and equality, and what it takes for families of color to accumulate wealth. Brewer defines wealth not in terms of income, but by subtracting a person's debts from his or her assets. She has found that for every one dollar owned by whites, the average person of color owns less than 10 cents.

Brewer to discuss book

Rose Brewer will read from and discuss her book on Oct. 4 at 2 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Bookstore in Coffman Union on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis.

In her new book, The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide, Brewer and her coauthors examine race and wealth and how the government has played a role in influencing a racial wealth divide.

Rich with exhaustive research and statistics, this book is also a compelling history of the United States. The Color of Wealth makes the case that since the founding of the colonies, the U.S. government has systematically enacted policies that favored white wealth acquisition--like Jim Crow laws, the denial of citizenship (and thus property rights) to Chinese immigrants and land theft from Mexican-Americans and Native Americans throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Even the venerated G.I. Bill, which is credited with creating the middle class after World War II, did little to help African-American veterans who were denied admission to predominantly white colleges and redlined out of many neighborhoods. The result today is that white families are more likely to acquire wealth through inheritance, own stocks and other investments and possess homes with a higher average value than families of color.

Brewer believes The Color of Wealth will raise awareness of wealth issues and lead to solutions of disparity issues. "I would like people in this society to get a better understanding of who gets wealth and the role that color plays in this process," she says.