Leading Scholars Hold Conference on Race and Inequality in America

Gillian White of the Atlantic responds following a talk by Richard Reeves. Duke Professor Nancy MacLean also participated. Photo by Les Todd
Gillian White of the Atlantic responds following a talk by Richard Reeves. Duke Professor Nancy MacLean also participated. Photo by Les Todd

Leading scholars gathered this past Thursday at Duke to discuss ways in which racial rules affect people’s daily lives and what we can do to change them to create a more inclusive economy and society.

The conference on race and inequality in America, hosted by the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and the Roosevelt Institute, explored the underpinnings of health and wealth disparities in the context of race, looking at issues that go beyond the current national emphasis on the trials of the white working class.  

Speakers included Richard Reeves, senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution and author of “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust;” William “Sandy” Darity Jr., Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy and founding director of the Cook Center at Duke; and Andrea Flynn, Dorian Warren and Felicia Wong, scholars at the Roosevelt Institute and authors of “The Hidden Rules of Race: Barriers to an Inclusive Economy.”

Gillian B. White, senior associate editor at The Atlantic, engaged Reeves in a discussion of “Dream Hoarders,” highlighting the importance of centering race in discussions of wealth and mobility, specifically racial discrimination in market processes. The conversation was moderated by Nancy MacLean, William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke and author of “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America.”

Reeves documented how inequality endures across generations through the intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic status. [Watch the full conference here.]

An exhibit on 150 years of Durham housing pattern was held in conjunction with the conference. Photo by Les Todd. A public history exhibition and engagement initiative of the Bull City 150 project titled “Uneven Ground: The Foundations of Housing Inequality in Durham, NC,” was also on display at the conference. The exhibit, now open in Rubenstein Hall at the Sanford School until Nov. 10, explores how the current landscape of housing inequality in Durham has been shaped by a long history of racial discrimination by individuals, private industry, and government policy.

The conference, which attracted more than 150 participants, ended with discussants exhorting participants to consider our collective ability to change the racial rules that govern our society to ensure greater prosperity for all.

“Given the centrality of the racial rules embedded in our economy and society that drive disparate life chances and opportunities,” Darity said, “bold policy solutions are needed to address wide-scale racial wealth and health inequalities. We need to ensure wide access to public health and medical services and economic security for all. This work is central to the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity’s efforts to employ the innovative use of new and existing data in order to create and support equity-driven policy and social transformation at the local, national and international levels.”

The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity is an interdisciplinary research center of scholars from across Duke and beyond. Learn more at https://socialequity.duke.edu/.