On Friday, August 12, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, economist, author and president of Bennett College for Women, will be the keynote speaker for the Pan African Women’s Action Summit (PAWAS). (For more information on PAWAS, see “Help for women who help” in the July 28 — August 3 issue of the MSR.) The summit focuses on women of African descent and philanthropy, and Malveaux will be one of nine keynote speakers at this three-day event that runs from August 11-13.
While addressing economic issues during the Friday noon lunch plenary, Malveaux will expound upon how African American women of means can improve the outcomes of other organizations and institutions through philanthropy. The keynote theme will be “Surviving & Thriving in the 21st Century: A Pan African Woman’s Guide to Success in the Global Economy.”
“We have needs as basic as food,” Malveaux said regarding African Americans in general during a phone interview with MSR. “We have [a wide] range of needs. So we really want to talk about how people can be supportive and what they should be doing to make sure that their dollars are effective.”
Malveaux will also be discussing her recently released book, Surviving and Thriving, 365 Facts from Black Economic History, detailing the economic success of people of African descent. Research for the book was the results of her own independent study of Black economic history while both a undergraduate and graduate student before receiving her Ph.D. in economics.
“No one teaches Black economic history per se, and there are very few courses on Black economic history… It’s important for our young people — but also our not-so-young people — to really think about the kind of power that people of African descent have.”
The book opens with an essay on racial gaps and the various attempts made to address them, which Malveaux believes is very relevant to our current economic circumstances. Reviewing our economic history is particularly relevant considering a recently released Pew study reporting that the current wealth gap between Blacks and Whites is larger than it was a generation ago, she says.
The executive summary of the report, released July 26, states, “The median wealth of White households is 20 times that of Black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.”
The growing wealth gap, Malveaux says, poses other problems, including nationwide poverty. “There are aspects of poverty that also speak to a poverty of spirit — a cultural poverty — that we haven’t really looked at. And so we have a nation that is really in crisis. And it’s not just an economic crisis; it’s also a moral crisis.”
A long history of restrictions to wealth building based on race have jaded many African Americans in relation to economics. Evidence of this skepticism exists in the group of people termed “unbanked”—people who have neither a checking nor savings account at a bank or similar institution. Though 7.7 percent of the U.S. households — approximately nine million households — are generally lower income (households earning less than $30,000), a disproportionate number (the largest racial group at approximately 21.7 percent) are Black households, according to a 2009 FDIC report.
Skepticism also exists as a result of redlining, where the color of one’s skin is used to determine the ability to buy a home and restricts where one can buy. Malveaux says that people who do not purchase homes are more likely to have higher day-to-day living expenses, and they are also more likely to define their net worth by things like personal appearance rather than homeownership. This self-definition of net worth, Malveaux says, is very evident in the generations of Blacks who’ve lived under blatant redlining practices.
When looking specifically at African American women, she says, “Although with less wealth and lower [income] earners, many of us still manage to look pretty good,” explaining that the way individuals relate to wealth is strongly influences by personal experiences, especially those within a family.
“Whose mother didn’t tell them, ‘Make sure you have a little money of your own?’” she says of those who tend to save. “Our money behavior is really a worthy area of academic inquiry.”
Currently the world economy is in the process of realignment that the U.S. is finding difficulty adjusting itself to, she believes. This is demonstrated by discussions surrounding spending cuts versus increased tax revenues, raising the debt ceiling, and the possibility of a lower U.S. bond rating.
“I think that we have not used leadership around our economic issues. And I don’t want people blaming President Obama — he inherited the situation — but this is something that has been piling up for quite some time.”
What can African Americans do to prepare themselves for or better understand this economic realignment?
“People of African descent have managed to get through very difficult times — much more difficult times than these — but we’ve had to rely on community,” Malveaux says.
“In some cases, we’ve found ourselves pooling our resources [together]. In other cases, we’ve found ourselves dealing with entrepreneurship. We have to begin to think about some of those things; we have to be more creative and more communal.”
For more information on the Pan African Women’s Action Summit or to register online, go to www.pawas2011.net, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 612-424-3634.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to vnash@spokes man-recorder.com.
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