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Last week I finished reading Jim Freeman’s Rich Thanks to Racism, adding another book to my list of bleak reads on the state of America. The book argues that the ultra-wealthy in the United States benefit from racism which is why they are so invested in funding policies and initiatives that maintain systemic racism. Their efforts are sometimes covert, sometimes more overt, but when taken together, they demonstrate how and why the ultra-wealthy work so hard to keep racist systems in place even as these systems decimate communities of color. It’s a bleak look at the state of things in the US — an enlightening though certainly not heartening read.

Freeman’s book traces the influence of the ultra-wealthy in a few key areas, including education, mass incarceration, and immigration. The book emerged out of his own work as a civil rights lawyer and the resistance that met his civil rights work at every turn. He recalls, “We would strike down a discriminatory policy, but then another one that may have looked a little different but had the same effects would soon follow. . .It was as if we were in a big game of Racism Whack-a-Mole. For every injustice we thought we were solving, an equally nasty one would pop up to replace it.”

As he started paying attention to this resistance, Freeman noticed a pattern — similar bills using similar language pushing similar initiatives. All the evidence he found pointed to the influence of the ultra-wealthy in supporting systemic racism and opposing attempts to combat racism and expand civil rights.

And as Freeman details in his book, it’s not just the usual right-wing suspects, though ALEC, the Koch brothers, and other right-wing benefactors do show up frequently. Bill Gates and the Bill Gates Foundation are also complicit as well as other “liberal” foundations.

Why do the ultra-wealthy do this? Freeman details many of the reasons in his chapters on mass incarceration and immigration. He notes that promoting and preserving systemic racism gives the ultra-wealthy preferential treatment and protects their privilege. It also helps them exert control, suppress democratic action, and prevent the masses from building solidarity across racial and class lines.

The bottom line, however, is really that it makes them more money, and as long as perpetuating racism makes them even richer, they’ll do what they can to ensure racism continues unchecked. Not only that, but they’ll turn a blind eye to the human suffering their support of racism causes.

How unfair and unethical for these people to have this much money and yet refuse to use it to help people. And what does democracy mean if the ultra-wealthy can undo or suppress any democratic action or decision with their immense wealth. The word evil came to mind frequently as I read the book. 

It also made me a little sick to think of all the important grassroots work being done to combat racism while the ultra-wealthy are busy spending money to slow, stall, or outright undo any progress on these fronts. It’s unfair and unjust. But as Freeman observes, “When the relentless pursuit of profits is allowed to take priority over people and the planet, the ultra-wealthy benefit.” And because they benefit, they care little about the human misery that’s left in their wake.

Allison Vander Broek

Allison Vander Broek is a historian of American religion and politics. She earned her doctorate in history from Boston College, Her research explored the origins of the right-to-life movement in the 1960s and its rise to national prominence in subsequent years. Though she swore she'd move back to the Midwest after grad school, Allison still resides in the Boston metro area and now works in academic advising at Tufts University.


  • Rodney Haveman says:

    For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
    Matthew 6:21

  • Tom Boogaart says:

    I find it ironic that books like Freeman’s, books that shed light on the injustices of the “American Way,” are quickly dismissed as unpatriotic, when they are rooted in love of country and are calling us to realize what is best in our traditions. Living in gated communities, the ultra wealthy are cut off from the rest of us. I see less and less evidence that they are committed to the “common” good and that they acknowledge the larger social forces that have made their wealth possible. Are not taxes paid a patriotic act and a commitment to the good of all?

  • Pam Adams says:

    Allison, I read with interest your using wealth as the reason so many Americans are racists. If that were true I would feel a bit better. I do hear racism from Christians who are middle class and not only from the wealthy. I do believe we were injected with hatred for Black people when we supported slavery. I think this is part of the puzzle that encompasses racism. We had to justify our evil treatment of God’s good Creation. It is sad but very true. I see it in horror all around me.

  • Kirk Vanhouten says:

    Some actual examples of policies Bill Gates or the Koch brothers advocate for the purposes of harming black people might give some credibility to this piece. Perhaps the actual book articulates this.

    • Tom says:

      Agreed on this. I have not read the book (probably won’t, given the large backlog of books I’m trying to read already). Depending on your political bent, the same policy can be seen either way. A couple of examples – supporting a higher minimum wage can be seen as supporting racial justice, but many early minimum wage laws (Davis-Bacon) were enacted as a means of stopping southern blacks from moving north and taking construction jobs from whites. School choice is another case in point – the DeVos family (for one) has long been active in supporting school choice as a way of helping poor minorities escape failing schools, yet they are vilified for not supporting public education- so I suppose they might be considered racist. The dreaded Koch brothers were the main advocates for recent criminal justice reform.

      Interesting how easily “evil” comes to mind when we’re talking about a groups of people that are not us.

  • J. C. S says:

    Why is it that rich people are accused so often as being selfish, unloving, and only promote things that will benefit themselves? I look around my city and other large cities and see the hospitals, concert halls, athletic fields, ministries that assist the underprivileged, drug & alcohol rehab centers,, all who would not function or survive without the major gifts by those you refer to as “”selfish self centered wealthy people”. I say, “Thank you God for blessing people to be a blessing to others”.
    Thank you Mr & Mrs. Wealthy, for stepping up and often anonomously providing the resources needed to fund and keep so many wonderful organizations that make our cities flourish and non profit ministries survive .

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