Inequality, a growing situation for most blacks, is not only influenced by racism, but is primarily caused by structural and economic forces as a result of class. Today’s inequality, chiefly the result of structural and economic forces, has been paved through a history of racial discrimination creating badly paid and poorly educated blacks. The steady decline of racism during the de-industrialization period, led to a growing success of the black middle class and an increase of poverty in the black lower classes. The growing success of the black middle class resulted in relocation from the inner cities to the suburbs unintentionally resulting in worse living conditions for the black lower classes. In order to understand the changing patterns of racism, it is imperative to look at past black living conditions in America.
During the Pre-Industrial period, the economics directly caused a paternal type of racial exclusion. Between 1659 and 1890, most blacks worked on farms. Even after slavery, during the reconstruction period between 1870 and 1890, black people were still needed in the south for agricultural labor. According to Wilson, the white south made sure that the black worker during this time had no option but agricultural work. By creating racial exclusion, work options for blacks became limited. This Marxist view proved that capitalism promoted racism in interest of profit. Despite the large amount of segregation, the racism towards the blacks was mostly paternalistic, or non-hostile. The whites believed that blacks lacked intelligence and thus their racial exclusion seemed to be justified. In the white’s minds, hostility towards blacks was unnecessary because the blacks were non-threatening and the economy depended on them, until the Industrial Period. (Stokes)
The Industrial Period changed racism from paternalistic to antagonistic, because of the competition of jobs between two groups with different wage levels, whites and blacks. Between 1890 and 1950, great improvements in machinery resulted in a labor saving economy resulting in less blacks being needed on southern plantations. Millions of blacks were not needed and became an economic liability causing more than forty percent to shift towards the cities in the Northeast and Midwest in search of jobs. Because the white workers were involved in the World Wars, blacks were needed for industries. When the whites returned from the wars, the first competition for similar jobs between the two races occurred. Many industries often tried to get rid of white workers because the blacks would work for a lot less. As result of this competition, whites began to use power to fend off the competition. They recreated a system of segregation from competing with poor black workers and thus influenced exclusion once again at another level. (Stokes)
The paternalistic racism of the past shifted to an antagonistic form and as a result lynching became the greatest part of American culture. Between the 1920s and late 1940s violence intensified as a result of antagonistic racism. Once again, the economic interests of the whites promoted racial exclusion. Black men were considered to be dangerous in an unconscious competitive sort of way, but consciously as immoral beings. This different kind of racism paved the way for a structural trap of the lower classes of African Americans. (Stokes)
After 1950, during the Post-Industrial period, there was an extreme decline of white racism resulting in hoped improvements for black workers. The Civil Rights Movement greatly contributed to the decline of white racism. A sense of shame among whites resulted in this significant decline. As a result, affirmative action came into to play in hopes to increase job openings for blacks in fear of racism. These changes created great opportunities for blacks, especially the middle class.
The period following the Civil Rights Movement created great opportunities for success among the black middle class, but unfortunately, as a result of de-industrialization, resulted in an increase in poverty among the black lower classes. Throughout the history of blacks in America, there has always been a certain amount of black middle class, doctors, dentists, and etc., which were cut off from the white middle class because they dealt solely with blacks. The middle class and their children benefited the most from the Civil Right’s Movement. They were finally able to work with whites and gain better prosperity. To a lesser extent, black industrial workers gained a little more openings in jobs, but unfortunately, unskilled blacks were not in the position to compete with educated whites and blacks for higher wage jobs. These unskilled blacks could work in factories, but according to Wilson, because of the de-industrialization, “the ladder disappearing while the lower class blacks are still climbing,” the absence of jobs, became the biggest problem among employment with the unskilled blacks (Wilson). Affirmative action can not really benefit these workers because they are not in the position to compete with higher skilled and higher educated workers. (Stokes)
The lack of jobs and education for the black working class resulted in growing poverty, social isolation, and social problems. Between 1960 and 1990, there was a decline from 60,000 to 5,000 jobs among the black working class. The ratios of average black to average white family income, between 1947 and 1996, has gone from 51% to 58% and thus has not really changed. This is one of the many justifiable reasons for people to say that there’s been no progress. There has been a substantive movement of the black middleclass but there is still a big black and white gap. More than seventy-five percent of blacks are in middle income jobs in comparison to a ninety-one percent middle income job bracket among whites. Since 1975, black males have been elected as mayors of cities in which whites constituted 70% of the population. This proves, once again, that racism is on the decline because white attitudes towards blacks have improved dramatically. At the same time, however, the degree of poverty among blacks has increased. The single parent black families have been dragging the income ratio down over the years. Racism is obviously not getting worse but the lack of jobs is resulting in greater poverty among blacks, especially in the inner city. (Stokes)
The outflow of the black middle class from the inner cities to the suburbs also contributed to the black working class’ structural trap and growth of poverty to the highest its ever been in years. The movement of the black middle class out of cities made situations worse. The middle class were making more money than they ever have before and because of this they wanted to move to better neighborhoods and improve their lives just like their white counterparts did. This outflow of middle class concentrated all problems of poverty to the inner city. As long as the black middle classes were in black neighborhoods in the inner city, it acted as a buffer effect. The black middle class supported an institutional environment of schools, churches, restaurants, and etc., which began to disappear as well as the model of success began to disappear when the black middle class moved out of the city. William Wilson discusses the result of the increased poverty in the inner cities: “the timing of worsening conditions in inner city suggests racism is no longer the center problem; serious social problems in central cities got steadily worse in the 1970s and 1980s, when racism was on decline…” (Wilson). Since the 50’s the crime rates, violent crimes, social problems of drug addiction, school dropouts, teen-age pregnancy, and etc., has gotten worse. The increase in numbers of black middle class workers does not constitute the view that white racism is the only source of continued racial inequality; but does promote the idea that because of a division between the middle and lower class, poverty in black America has gotten worse. (Stokes)
Racism, a primer cause of inequality in the past, has had less significance for the present than what is widely believed. The exclusion of black people from white society is the main factor leading to separation of blacks from the middle class. Society has changed in that class issues have more effect on the black lower class than racism itself. Yes, racism has caused blacks to be put in the lower class initially, but because of the lack of jobs and opportunities of this lower class, their chances for mobility has decreased. If racism is all that is going on, why are black issues getting worse? The answer to that question is that racism is getting better but not enough jobs are open to the black working class. Another proving statement to the fact that racism is not getting worse is that the black middle class is growing and becoming more secure. If racism were worse, these people would not have a chance in white America. There is a growing inequality between whites and blacks, but however, there is a greater inequality difference between black classes. The working class is declining while the middle class is growing towards success. Inequality, whether you want to call it racial or class, is growing in America and can only be reduced if more significant job openings and education are available to the working classes.
Wilson, William J. “The Political Economy and Urban Racial Tensions.” Crisis in American
Institutions 11th edition. (2000): 301-314.