On his episode of The Ezra Klein Show, Ta-Nehisi Coates said that in order to convince him that white supremacy was over in America, we’d have to fix the 20-to-1 racial wealth gap. That disparity in wealth between black and white Americans is the subject of the third episode of Vox’s new Netflix show, Explained. One of the experts interviewed for that episode, Mehrsa Baradaran, also appeared on The Ezra Klein Show to talk about the historical causes and current implications of the racial wealth gap.
Baradaran has written two books on how American financial institutions benefit those with power, How the Other Half Banks and The Color of Money. This conversation starts with an overview of the history of the racial wealth gap in America and covers the “Jim Crow credit market,” why we should bring back postal banking, and the differences in how America treats the opioid epidemic versus how we treated the crack epidemic. Baradaran points out, “When there’s a depression in the white community, you call it a depression; when there’s a depression in the black community, you call it a social problem.”
Baradaran clearly came prepared when it came time to recommend books at the end of the episode. She loves recommending books to people, so this is “a dangerous question” to ask her, presumably because she’ll recommend more books than you bargained for. Baradaran was able to limit herself to three picks, however — three nonfiction books unrelated to the racial wealth gap.
The first book she recommends is The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will. She says the book, written by Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller, “undercuts some of these wild speculations of evolutionary psychology.” Miller argues that the purely biological changes of evolution are only part of what it means to be human.
Baradaran’s next recommendation is for “anything by Robert Caro,” but she specifically calls out Master of the Senate, the third book in his series on President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Pulitzer Prize winner covers Johnson’s years as a US senator, where he charmed members of both parties and rose to the position of Senate majority leader before being elected vice president alongside John F. Kennedy. “Everyone should read [Caro’s writing] to understand politics but also how a good historian and writer dissects history,” says Baradaran.
The novelist and essayist Zadie Smith is Baradaran’s favorite author. Her latest book of essays, Feel Free, covers topics as wide ranging as Brexit, social media, Jay-Z, and Justin Bieber. “There’s an essay early on about public libraries that’s just brilliant,” Baradaran says, “as is everything she writes.”