I wrote these words in 1997. Somehow, they seem true today. We are not going to solve our Race issues in society today until we all have a meaningful dialog on race and racism.
Race Relations in American Society: Let’s put things in perspective
I. First, Race plays an important role in defining social and class relationships in American society
Though conflict does exist, rarely does it flare into violence.
(Ferguson) is more a reflection of the reaction of the hopeless, alienated part of our society who recognize that race is still an important variable in defining who has a chance to escape poverty and who remains in this condition.
But this society, at least since the early 1930’s, has moved towards developing programs that are more inclusive of all race and ethnic groups into the “mainstream.”
Industrialization and WWII moved the society towards this very quickly.
Political clout of minority groups have demanded change.
And indeed, since the Civil Rights legislation of the 60’s and several preceding and subsequent court cases, state-regulated discrimination is probably a closed chapter in American history.
The danger is that the debate is moving towards the perspective that 30 years after the Civil Rights Movement, we have alleviated all the problems of racial inequality in America today.
Clearly, Cornell West, Feagin, Pearce, Lafer, Bonacich, Farley and others see things a bit differently.
Not only do they see things differently, they have the empirical proof that the ideology of the “blame-the-victim” is completely wrong.
In a comparative sense, we are more “civil” about race relations than other nations:
In many Western European countries, immigrants (guest workers) cannot become “citizens” of their “host” country
This is the case even if your family has been in the country for over three generations!
In many countries, religions are state sanctioned
For those individuals, citizens and non-citizens alike, being a part of a non-state religion leads to potential social alienation and conflict.
Jews in Germany (over 6 million people were killed between 1932 and 1945).
The current Bosnian situation.
In many societies, it is “ethnicity” and not “race” that are the demarcating principles. In America, this is not the case.
We probably will not experience the level of conflict and violence in this society as with others because, even with all its faults, American society gives the impression of “inclusiveness” to its ethnic and minority groups that is not part of other cultures.
Yet, we cannot compare Apples with Oranges.
We may be more “civil”, but does this mean that we stop here and let the other countries catch up with us?
We must still deal with achieving our own principles of justice, freedom, and equality.
II. Second, America IS a class-based society,
one which has used race and ethnicity to further rank society’s members
Usually for economic advantage and for defining how to interact with one another (from a class and race perspective).
Society defines the roles you and who you interact with will take on when you encounter each other.
It provides a certain order to society.
We are stratified according to relationships between economic, social and political variables.
We rank, economically according to one’s (or a family’s):
We also consider one’s status:
Their Personal Prestige
The Associations they belong to
Which then has an effect on perceptions passed on to future generations:
We can measure the political clout of certain ranked groups by their:
and “Class Consciousness”
And we can measure how permeable these class boundaries are through opportunities:
in Social mobility
Variables related to economic aspects of stratification (occupation, income, and wealth) are of fundamental significance in this society:
The Distribution of Wealth leads to income disparities:
Distribution comes about two ways:
1) Ownership of wealth:
Where one gets Returns on assets (interest and dividends) whether they work or not, and
2) Wages an salaries, which are Dependent on
Type of Job
Number of family members working (contributing to family income)
Disability, single parent, skill levels at the lower end.
The process we are most familiar with is through “wages” and gaining access to jobs.
So....Why does it happen that among those who work, some people have good jobs that pay well and others have jobs that pay poorly?
Why do “good” and “bad” jobs exist in the economy?
What selects people for the various types of jobs that do exist?
What “advantages” do individuals possess that make them more competitive in the job market?
Well, People with more education tend to get better jobs.
These tend to pay more money.
But here is where the “quirks” come into being. Race and gender do have an effect on not only job availability but level of pay compared to skills once achieved.
On top of this, consider the disturbing trend that since the 1970’s both income and wealth are becoming more concentrated.
The wealthiest .5% of households enjoyed a notable increase in net worth at the expense of the bottom 99%.
Minorities may have achieved some upward mobility in the system, but this is not hard to see since, prior to the 60’s, there was no chance for mobility at all. Any change would be a significantly positive one!
Their mobility chances, though, are still lagging behind whites.
We need to look at the issues of
Who goes to college, increasing their chances for mobility
Who gets the jobs, and
Who has political clout....
when we want to understand the class and race relationships that exist today.
III. So, what are the “Problems” in Race, Ethnic and Class relations today?
How did they develop?
What social forces exist that cause these problems to persist?
1. De Facto Institutional discrimination still takes place today:
in Housing market practices (as Pearce and Darden illustrates)
in Employment opportunities (as Lafer illustrates)
and in Perceptions in the criminal justice system (stereotyping of “fear” as Farley illustrates)
2. The perpetuation of Poverty in American Society is also a force
Why are we so inclined to see it continue?
Most people feel it is a race issue, yet it is one that cuts across all race boundaries.
According to the 1990 Census:
Over 22% of all persons in poverty are White
Compared to nearly 10% for blacks and 6% for Hispanics
The CHANCES ARE, though, that if you are black, you are three times as likely to live in poverty than whites.
A high concentration of people below 18 (13 percent) live in poverty.
Children are a much greater risk of poverty than adults.
Most poor live in suburban or rural areas
They can be dual-head (12.7) and female-headed (12.6) households.
But, if you are a black or Hispanic female head of household, you are twice as likely as a white female head of being in poverty.
3. The “racialization” of social problems
There are those in society who also want to “reshape” the reality of race relations today.
The Culture of Poverty advocates; the Rush Limbaugh hate mongers, the Newt’s.
Those that perceive that, 30 years after the Civil Rights Act, racism no longer exists.
Affirmative Action, and
receive a “backlash” in this context.
We see from this the racial rearticulation of political issues.
VI. WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF “SHIFTING THE BLAME” AGAIN:
where Culture and “cultural deviancy” become the “explanatory” devices
and where social problems are being rearticulated as “racial problems”
1) Murray and associates, in the book “the Bell Curve,” feel that by wrongly identifying social ills such as POVERTY as “structural problems” (as I argue they are)
this ABSOLVES THE POOR OF THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THEIR CONDITIONS!!!!!
THEIR CALL IS A RETURN TO THE “CULTURE OF POVERTY” ARGUMENT
SHOWN TOTALLY INVALID BY LAFER, PEARCE, AND DARDEN
Murray argues, AGAIN, A CULTURAL ARGUMENT, A CULTURAL CAUSE FOR INEQUALITY:
FOR Murray and his advocates, CULTURE plays an important role in inequality.
Given that “cultural” differences, and not discrimination, account for group differences in income, education and occupational location, there is little the STATE or LIBERAL SOCIAL POLICIES can do.
2) A range of non-racial issues have been interpreted through a framework of racial meanings, often through the use of coded language, symbols and images.
As Cornell West states: “Thus, social structural issues such as “poverty” become “black problems” rather than social problems.”
The solution to these problems, then, becomes easy: let the blacks solve the problem, rather than society tackling what should be seen as a societal problem!
Giving a “racial reading” to SOCIAL problems!
“Blacks constitute the explanation for the white workers’ vulnerability and for almost everything that has gone wrong in their lives.”
“The average American white guy gets a raw deal from the government because blacks get advantages, Hispanics get advantages, Orientals get advantages. Everybody but the white male gets advantages now.”
It’s clear to see that, through the racial rearticulation of social problems, the source of white “threats” come from the State.
THESE ARE DANGEROUS NOTIONS
It is the foundation for Biologically racial/cultural superiority types of arguments
It justifies the Differences in social class positions as a product of cultural attributes.
Do the “far right extremists” who are largely responsible for the racial rearticulation of social problems pose a valid threat to society?
YES, since historically we have seen “far-right” issues converge with the cultural and political center.
Today, both the political ideas and the culture of the far-right revolution have roiled just below the surface of the conservative riptide, and now remain disconcertingly close to mainstream politics.”
As we noted a few classes ago, has “discrimination” disappeared from society? ONLY THIRTY YEARS SINCE THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT??
We are still SCAPEGOATING RACIALLY FOR THIS SOCIETY’S ECONOMIC “DOWNSLIDE”.
Here, THE CONTINUING SIGNIFICANCE OF RACE is THROUGH THE RACIAL REARTICULATION OF SOCIAL PROBLEMS.
These arguments give a racial reading to the structural problems with this society.
Race is again being used, with success, in blaming victims for social structural problems.
But this debate has got to end. We need to shift our focus away from Race as the center of all social problems and focus on restructuring the social system. We have not done enough to reallocate power in this society, to give the working poor and the impoverished jobs that will lift them out of poverty, educate their children in an equitable fashion so that they have a chance to succeed in this society, to not make the working class the brunt of governmental tax burdens.
As Bonacich states:
“It is important to recognize that the racism embedded in our institutions are not undone by token statements of commitment to affirmative action, nor by the appointment of a few fairly high-level administrators and faculty people of color, nor by the establishment of “multicultural” programs like Black History Month, nor by official condemnation of racial incidents. The truth is that so long as inequality itself is not challenged, the core of racism remains untouched.”
The Plight of the Middle-Class is that we are caught up in a colossal contradiction.
On the one hand, we feel compelled to focus on our own survival, our own upward mobility in the system.
On the other, we recognize that in pursuing our own survival, we are participating in the very system that oppresses us. We abandon the collective, political strategies necessary to change the system and, instead, play by the very rules we know are corrupt. We are trapped in cynicism,. “Change isn’t possible. We might as well work within the system.”
We can make change happen, but it is difficult when our guiding ideology is based on INDIVIDUALISM and a complacent sense of cynicism.
WE CAN MAKE CHANGE TAKE PLACE, BUT IT IS A DIFFICULT TASK.
It is embodied in the struggle to change social and political institutions, and it takes (or will take) generations to overcome.
Individual or community acts of charity are important, but not enough unless linked to a more deeply transformative program aimed at changing the underlying economic and political institutions that cause the problems.
The important questions to ask, as we are reminded of the world in which our children will inherit, are:
IF NOT YOU, THEN WHO?
IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?
Challenge injustice when you see it. Work to see AND show the truth.
Work towards making this society live up to its ideals of JUSTICE, FREEDOM, and EQUALITY.