Discuss Whether Class Has Taken Over From

Race As The Most Significantficant Factor In African Ameri Essay, Research Paper

The main idea behind this essay will be to look at the effects of race and class on the economic position of African Americans, and to try to define whether race or class that is the most significant factor in African American poverty. It is not really a comprehensive study of black poverty and its real causes, but more a discussion of two opposing schools of thought. The first school of thought professes that the main reason for black poverty is the factor of racism, while the second school of thought professes that the class positions in America have now superseded the race barrier, and therefore the main factor in any poverty in America, whether white or non-white is the issue of class and economic status. __Maybe the real question though is whether such a study is relevant, in terms of whether it is possible to divide the issues of race and class in African American poverty. Although many scholars now profess that class is the predominant factor in black poverty, the fact that it is still treated as a separate issue must suggest that African American poverty is something _ ð73 _Šdifferent to white poverty. The only defining characteristic is the racial one. __There are some provisos that must be noted though, in any consideration of these arguments, and those are mainly concerned with terms and definitions used in the area of African American poverty. Firstly it must be acknowledged that although there is a considerable amount of evidence to suggest that black citizens of America feature very prominently in the statistical analysis of the poor, it must be recognised that there is also an opposite side to the coin, which is the increasing amount of black middle class people. It would therefore be a mistake to imagine that being black necessarily meant being poor. Just as it would be a mistake to conclude that being white necessarily meant being rich. __The second point is a little more complex and this encompasses the various ways of defining poverty itself. There are for the purposes of statistics many ways of defining actual poverty. It must be noted that poverty is always relative to the current economic situation, the most common yardstick that is used are the relevant government guidelines on the definitions of poverty. The other point that follows on from this is the difference between being defined as just poor and living on or below the recognised poverty line. __African Americans have been traditionally disadvantaged in American society. Without wishing to over emphasise the issue of slavery as the cause of all evils, it must be noted that attitudes to black citizens do stem from a traditional culture of white supremacy. throughout the centuries since slavery, African Americanshave had to fight hard for equality in all areas of life. The migration of Southern blacks to the North in search of employment and better economic opportunity, just seems to have spread the problem of racial inequality geographically without solving any of the problems. Economically African Americans gained very little despite a concerted effort to move in search of employment and equality. Blacks were forced into the worst parts of the cities, with lower standard residential facilities, because of their comparatively low social status. Therefore perhaps it can be stated that this was a class issue, but one must look at the reasons behind the low economic status , as the racial discrimination in the labour market meant in many cases either a lower paid job, or no job at all. __It is difficult to find a point in history where the African American poverty problem began to be addressed. Post the Civil Rights era racism in society and especially in the work place, could ideally have been tackled. In fact it seems that white society believed that it had, but for African Americans the problem of poverty was still a very important issue. This can be seen in the events of 1965, just six days after the Voting Rights Act had been written into law there came the Watts riot in Los Angeles. This rioting was a way of showing the anger felt by blacks in the Northern cities, who were no better off, despite the acts passed during the Civil Rights era. Racism had become institutionalised, it is impossible to legislate against a phenomenon like racism, laws cannot enforce a change in opinion, or breed a more tolerant society. __William Julius Wilson in his book _ The Declining Significance of Race._ argues that the main consideration in the issue of black poverty is now class not race. He bases this argument on a theory of ongoing development of American society in terms of history and economics. He splits this development into three distinct periods, the Pre-Industrial, the Industrial, and the Modern Industrial._1_ He cites that in the last period (modern industrial) the one that we have been in since the end of the second world war, is the turning point in terms of the change and decrease of the significance of race as a factor in black poverty. __In this study Wilson points to the growing number of middle class black professionals who live a very comfortable life. This is thanks to an expansion of the governmental and corporate structures to include them as a growing section of the population. This inclusion of African Americans in the mainstream of American life seems to be the justification for his theory that the reason for black poverty is therefore something more complicated than a racial problem. __There is though still a clear racial stratification and this can be seen in unemployment rates. The 1993 unemployment rate was 14.2% for blacks and 6.2% for whites.It has also been proved that during the seventies the average black worker could expect to earn on average $1,200 less than a white worker doing the same job._3_ And from the end of 1983 right through the nineties one out of every four black workers were unemployed._4_ There is still a large disparity in the median incomes of black _ ð73 _Šand white workers the 1986 figures for white median income was $31,000, while the median black income was $18,000._5_ __Pay anomalies have always been a contributing factor to the poverty of African Americans. The fact that black workers can expect to earn less than their white counterparts for the same job, points to a certain degree of racism. Hacker in his book _Two Nations Black White Separate, Hostile and Unequal._ suggests that because of racial discrimination the income gap between white and black median incomes could only be closed by half, even if both parents were present and working. __These kind of figures are often the basis for a defence of the argument for a racial basis for black poverty many would disagree with the idea that evidence of a growing black middle class is sufficient reason to presume that racial tensions are no longer the cause for black poverty. Although the issue of class is an increasingly salient point, simple class subordination does not explain the position of so many African Americans living below the poverty line. __One class related issue in the area of black poverty though, that has become the topic of many recent sociological studies is the issue of the black underclass. The ghetto culture that is now prevalent in many of the major American cities is the result of a combination of race and class. One explanation is that the stratification of the African American population that has led to the development of the emerging black middle class is responsible also for the creation of the opposing ” underclass ” __This class argument is though balanced out by the fact that _ ð73 _Šthe exclusion of black citizens from certain residential ares through the racist legacy of the residential segregation period, leaves blacks in the worst housing areas and subsequently the worst jobs and vice versa. The median income in the ghetto areas of Chicago in 1986 was as little as $5-7,000 in some cases. Andrew Hacker in his book ” Two Nations – Black and White, Separate, Hostile and Unequal.” stresses the problems of racial inequality, especially in terms of racial difference. In 1991 44.8% of black children were living below the poverty line as opposed to 15.9% of white children._6_ He also goes on to say that ” Urban black families are more visibly segregated: no less than 70% of such households are concentrated in low income neighbourhoods.”_7_ __The realities of ghetto life for many African Americans means crime, poverty, bad housing and high unemployment. There is a tendency on the part of whites to blame the ghetto on economic problems as opposed to racial ones. It must not be forgotten though that one of the reasons that the black ghetto exists is because of racial tension. The housing problem is a great burden on the residents of these neighbourhoods; a 1990 medical report entitled _Excess Mortality in Harlem._ claimed that: ” Life expectancy for a black male born and living in Harlem is shorter than that of a male born in Bangladesh. ” It seems to be widely suggested that the white working class are less tolerant or liberal when it comes to racial attitudes, while the white middle class are far more tolerant. I would suggest that this class division is more concerned with the fact that white working class people have to compete with the black _ ð73 _Šworking class for jobs, whereas white middle class citizens can afford a more ” liberal ” attitude as they don’t come into contact with the problems of the ghetto’s. __Whether the ghetto is a social or economic phenomena it cannot be denied that it is an undesirable part of modern American Society. Even within the ghetto’s there is a distinction made between black and whites, as can be seen in figures included in Rose’s: _The Black Ghetto: A Spatial and Behavioural Perspective._ Here Rose pints out the difference between black and white poverty even within the same poor inner city areas. In Los Angeles in 1968-69 the unemployment rate in a poor area fro blacks was 15.2% as opposed to 6.3% for whites._9_ Rose goes on to say in support of his theory of racism: ” It is obvious that even within poverty areas there is a considerable variation in the work status of the population along racial lines. “_10_ __There is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that African American poverty should be seen as a distinctly racial problem. Although sociologists like Wilson suggest that the problem is more of a class one, the racial factor which has worked and is still working against black Americans cannot be ignored. President Johnson made the distinction between black and white poverty, whilst speaking about his Economic Opportunity Act Howard University he said: ” Negro poverty is not white poverty. Many of it’s causes and many of it’s areas are the same, but there are…. deep, corrosive, obstinate differences radiating painful roots in the community.”_It could be argued that years of racial discrimination has led to a perpetual poverty problem for African Americans. There is still a disproportionate amount of black poverty compare to white poverty. Even if it could be proved that class is now a more significant factor in African American poverty, one must look at the racist rationale that has been the main contributive factor in the problem of African American poverty. __The evidence does undeniably support the fact that African American poverty is a complex issue, and the statistics show that it is a problem rooted in both class and racial prejudice. The issues seem to be inextricably linked and it is almost impossible to isolate one single dominant cause, as both race and class are equally important considerations in a discussion of the reasons for African American poverty. APPROX WORD COUNT: 2200.REFERENCES. 1. Wilson, W.J. _The Declining Significance of Race._ (University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 2-3. 2. Bennett, L. _The Shaping of Black America._ (London: Penguin, 1993), p. 282. 3. Bennett, L. (1993), p. 230. 4. Bennett, L. (1993), p. 281. 5. Hacker. A. _Two Nations: Black White, Separate, Hostile and_ _ Unequal._ ( New York: Ballantine Books, 1992), p. 98. 6. Hacker, A. (1992), p. 99. 7. Hacker, A. (1992). p. 100 8. ” Excess Mortality in Harlem. ” inNew England Journal of Medicine._, 1990. 9. Rose, H, M. _The Black Ghetto : A Spatial Behavioural_Perspective. (New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1971), p.57. 10. Rose, H, M. (1971), p. 57. 11. Lyndon. B. Johnson, speaking at Howard University, June 4, 1965. Bennett, L, _The Shaping of Black America._ London: Penguin, 1993. Donovan, J, C, _The Politics of Poverty._ New York: Bobbs- Merrill Co. Inc., 1973. Hacker, A, _Two Nations: Black White, Separate, Hostile and_ _ Unequal._ New York: Ballantine Books, 1992. Harrington, M, _The Other America._ London: Penguin, 1962. Legget, J, C, _Race, Class and Political Consciousness._ Massachusetts: Shenkman Publishing, 1972. Marable, M, _Race Reform and Rebellion._ Jackson: Mississippi University Press, 1991. Rose, H, M, _The Black Ghetto – A Spatial Behavioural Perspective._ New York: McGraw-Hill Inc, 1971. Thurow, L, C, _Poverty and Discrimination._ Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institute, 1969. Wilson, W, J, _The Declining Significance of Race._ University of Chicago Press, 1980.



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