Like so many great things, it all started with a tweet. This one was from Samuel M. Gebru (who is running for Cambridge City Council, by the way).


In case you can’t read the underlined bit it says, “[In Boston} The median net wealth of white households stands at $247,500, whereas for Black households the median net wealth is just $8.”
Let’s define the key terms from this passage.

ULEM: The Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts 

Wealth: The sum total of a person’s assets like a vehicle, home, stocks, savings account, etc.

Median: The exact middle of a data set. The median amount essentially means that half of the people in this data set have above that $8 in wealth while the other half of people have less than $8 in wealth.

Households: In this 2010 study by Tufts University on The State of Black Boston, they identified a total of 47,329 black households in the city and 145,435 white households. 

Eight dollars. That’s the median wealth of black families in Boston.

The median wealth for white families in Boston is $247,500.

Just look at those numbers for a moment. I’ll wait.

This discrepancy is the result of white supremacy and structural racism. Boston has a checkered racial history. For every abolitionist fighting to free Shadrach Minkins in 1851, there were bus riots in the 1970s. Boston is a particularly gentrified and segregated city. Just look at this map (I love maps!) of black household population by neighborhood in Boston. This density and concentration wasn’t by accident. Read this piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates and this piece by Alexis C. Madrigal to better understand ‘redlining’ and how the government and both federal and local levels in cahoots with housing brokers intentionally steered people of color away from homes they could afford in “white neighborhoods.”

Same Tufts report. So. Many. Maps.

The best way to build wealth in spite of structural racism is through earning a higher education degree. Sorry, Kanye. Time and time again we are reminded of the difference in lifetime earnings and accumulated wealth between college and high school graduates. I would argue that the one thing most ed reformers have gotten consistently right is around the necessity of a college degree for all students, something that district schools haven’t always made a priority for all students.

Bar graph
The classic bar graph on lifetime earnings by The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University

To be clear, a college degree for a student of color does not create full equality and an end to structural racism. Like the gender earnings gap, there’s also a racial earnings gap. Here’s another sweet chart from the Georgetown folks depicting something awful:

White supremacy and institutional racism is some bullshit. 

At every level of educational attainment, white people earn more than all other other groups. That’s wrong and a big knot to untangle. At the same time, the data clearly show that each wrung of the educational ladder creates more income and potentially wealth for all groups. My fight and my life’s work is building schools that churn out students who are prepared to graduate from college so they can have a career of their choosing.

That was a very long introduction to how I used this information in my classroom. After seeing the tweet and doing additional research, I wrote “$8” on the whiteboard in the back of the classroom and later posted it behind my desk. It was there as a reminder to push myself to fight back against structural racism and inequality by being the best teacher I could be. I didn’t talk to my kids about it, though they asked about $8 a lot (they had lots of guesses for what it meant!). I had two reasons for keeping its meaning to myself: mean, median, mode, and range are concepts that used to be taught in 5th grade math but now (thanks Obama and Common Core! – that’s sarcasm by the way, I’m cool with both) are taught in 6th grade and I think to understand $8 at a deep level you need to fully understand how to interpret data. Also, $8 wasn’t posted in the room for students, it was there for me.

To serve as a reminder of why and who I serve.