This article is part of our weekly series—The Promise of Targeted Universalism: Community Leaders Respond—that NPQ is publishing in partnership with the national racial and economic justice nonprofit Prosperity Now. In this series, writers examine how targeted universalism—a narrative framework that advocates the use of targeted approaches to achieve universal goals—can inform efforts to close the racial wealth gap, community by community.
The persistent and stubborn racial wealth gap in the United States is well documented. This gap is rooted in the enslavement of Black Americans and structurally reinforced through policy and practices that persist today in the nation’s banking, taxation, housing, transportation, and education systems, to name but a few.
While there is widespread agreement on this condition, there is less agreement on what should be done—and if something is done, there is debate about which group(s) should be the focus. I will not engage these issues directly; some of them will be addressed in other articles in this series. Instead, I propose an alternative way to understand this problem and a way to address it and talk about it.
There is an understandable call for equity when facing the racial wealth gap. And in making this call, the implicit or explicit focus is often to address the gap between white wealth and Black wealth. This makes intuitive sense—but there are some serious limitations in such a singular focus. And these limitations also are present when focusing on eliminating or narrowing racial disparities in other important social markers. A targeted universalism (TU) approach, I believe, addresses many of these limitations. Here I discuss the advantages of TU in the context of the racial wealth gap. Before doing so, it is important to be explicit about the limitation of equity.
The concept and practice of equity has gained momentum in recent decades. Before the turn to engaging with equity in the 1990s, the discussion of racial justice and fairness was primarily envisioned as a call for equality. Equality means that people are treated equally, which is not as simple as it
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