Heritage manifests in a physical and symbolic tree. Roots gone into the ground giving birth to the many leaves and branches. Like the tree, the human experience that is a family generation stretches far and wide. One of the many reasons why a tree symbolizes multigenerational ties is because trees can stand the test of time.
The argument surrounding generational wealth is like a tree with many branches. What one inherits from one’s parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and so on. Inheritance takes on many forms, from things of monetary value such as antiques, cars, and rental property, to things of sentimental value such as a father’s wedding tie, a grandfather’s fedora hat, and a great grandfather’s World War I journal. Regardless of category, we assign value to things passed down to us.
Generational wealth takes on a new meaning in the Black community. Wealth takes on a new meaning in the Black community. Still, there is a disconnect in understanding and sustaining generational wealth within the Black community.
In order to unpack this cultural phenomenon, it is important to reflect on the experiences of Black people that have shaped this misunderstanding. How the status of Black people of America set the precedent for how they were going to perceive generational wealth.
Darrick Hamilton and Trevor Logan write in their 2019 Market Watch article “Here’s why black families have struggled for decades to gain wealth,” that “until the end of legal slavery in the U.S, enslaved people were considered valuable assets and a form of wealth…the U.S government has a long history of facilitating wealth for white Americans…Congress sought to transfer wealth to citizens on terms that were quite favorable…but only if you were a white man.”
How were Black people supposed to understand the value of property when they once were property? How were Black people supposed to thrive in an economic system not designed for them?
By regulating the perimeters of race and class, Black people’s experiences with wealth relied heavily on trial and error. The inner-workings and perpetual habits began to lay the foundation for wealth rhetoric such as “the haves and the have nots” and “the Black Bourgeoisie.”
When did monetary value and sentimental value begin to diverge? Somewhere in the formation of what has become to be known as Black culture, sentimental value had been embedded along with monetary value. Placing importance on what could passed down from generation to generation transformed once-limited paradigms of wealth. Black people rediscovered assets of heritage and began assigning their own value to it.
Value that not only stood the test of time but would be memorialized for generations to come.