Race and class are increasingly important in the world today; yet, few sources focus on the similarities of these issues at a regional or global level. Ideologies of race were used to justify colonialism, conquest and annihilation of non-European peoples, slavery, indentured labor, fascism and Nazism. Yet, a common impression among men and women of color is that race and class issues are unique to their own particular community. Still, it is only through awareness of how these issues affect different communities that a common bond and understanding can be developed across racial, ethnic, cultural and class barriers.
Both governments and media present the image of an integrated, egalitarian society, which in reality contradicts racial discrimination, and class oppression that is exercised against various minority groups. In each `integrated’ and `equal’ society, racial and ethnic discrimination is directly related to economic and class issues. Since the period of merchant bankers and the British east India Company, modern capitalist forces have penetrated `developed’ and `developing’ societies by division and conquest. Capitalist countries and companies pursue profit motives by providing arms, money, patronage and privilege to leaders of some groups, on the one hand, while denying the vast majority of their land and resources, on the other.
Each year new reports are published concerning individuals and their levels of income. If one was to look at a list of people ranked solely by yearly earnings in the entertainment industry, the list would surely be topped with such names as Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Jackson, as well as such sports figures as Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. On the other hand, if one were to consult Forbes magazine s list of the 600 highest compensated CEOs and chairmen, one would find very few black Americans represented. The Forbes list goes a few steps further and not only supplies information about yearly earnings, but goes into detail regarding individuals assets and their command over monetary resources.
An examination of these two lists creates two very different perceptions of the well-being of America s black community, on the eve of the 21st century (Black Wealth, White Wealth 1). African Americans are very well represented in the first list, which generates an optimistic view of how black Americans have progressed economically in the United States. Conversely, the near absence of blacks on the Forbes list paints a much more pessimistic outlook.
Economists argue that racial differences in wealth are a consequence of disparate class and human capital credentials such as age, education, experience and skills, as well as one s propensity to save and consume. (3) Sociology of wealth seeks to properly situate the social context in which wealth generation occurs. (3) It attempts to account for the racial differences in wealth holdings by demonstrating the diverse social circumstances that blacks and whites face. Both race and class tremendously affect the different investment opportunities that are available to whites and blacks, resulting in a wealth gap.
Certain individuals have commented on the impact of race and class in the United States and the public policy implications. The individuals chosen for this analysis are Quincey Jones and Kathleen Cleaver. Quincey Jones is an award winning composer, arranger and publisher. He derives his viewpoints from first hand experience as a result of his childhood and his involvement in the music industry. Kathleen Cleaver is a visiting professor at Cardoza School of Law. She derives her knowledge from her involvement with the Black Panther Party. These two individuals discuss issues relating to race and class and its impact on society and public interest.
Jones describes his familiarity with the gangster culture from his childhood in Chicago that he described as, a breeding ground for gangsters of all colors. The gang culture itself has not changed merely the underlying elements. These underlying elements being money, fast money that is usually earned by dealing so-called designer drugs. Jones feels that drugs should be legalized because in his opinion no matter what the economic level, drug abuse still exists and the government is still enabling it. The media, (the news, movies, MTV raps, etc.) attempt to glorify the mere 2 or 3 percent of the population that are considered gangsters and they make it the norm, which only feeds racism.
Jones uses a Dickens clich to describe the sixties and today, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but goes on to say how he recalls the sixties not being that great. He describes the atrocities that he experienced as a black performer in the entertainment business in the fifties and sixties. One instance involving Charlie Parker, an addict and how he would be bribed into signing over publishing, composer and performance royalties, to get high. Jones realized himself that the only real way for him to be in the music business was to own a piece of his masters, negatives and copyrights.
Jones feels that racism is a thinly veiled disguise over economics and money. What it comes down to is the job security and threats pertaining to it at all economic levels. This has happened throughout history, the people that are making a lot of money keep the people not making a lot of money fighting with each other. The underlying problem is the crisis of leadership in our country for both the black and white communities. Everyone is hustling and stealing and scheming and at the same time setting a confused example for our youth.
Jones feels that he succeeded in life despite poverty and extreme adversity because of his music. Whenever he experienced any negative emotions he would transform them into positive musical energy. In his own words, Recycle that energy and guide it that way and put it in what ever it is, a record or movie, a tune arrangement, whatever.
Kathleen Cleaver was a member of the Black Panther Party as a result of her association with the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee. The Black Power Movement challenged all the preconceived notions of blacks not being able to determine their own destiny. The Party took a position of self- determination and articulated it in a local community. It had a program and a platform and an implementation through the statement of how blacks should exercise community control over education, housing, business, and the military. The Black Panther Party s base was focused on young, out of work poor children.
If the party had succeeded they would have been part of an international revolutionary movement that would have restricted the education system, taken the United States out of the role of world policeman and made it the American people s United States.
The corporations of America had the resources and the power to use the government s resources to advance their agendas, which was exactly what the Party was opposed to. They had plenty of money to silence the Black Panthers because they had commitment and the glorious belief that the spirit of the people was greater than man s technology. Cleaver felt that the Panthers were right, and as a result of their beliefs not being consistent with the American people they were forced to disband. She feels that one of the reasons we have the largest black middle and under class in history is because of the takeover of legal and political structures by corporate interests. Information services are supposedly for the people but are now at the service of corporate interests. The educational system is supposed to be controlled by the community, although on the surface some may say that it does just the opposite. A radical gap in income and residence has occurred through suburbanization, in other words a, donut shaped affect. In the middle is a little black hole and on the outside resides all the wealth, the tax money and the resources, where the white people live. Opportunities no longer exist for the people at the bottom, opportunities only exist for the people with graduate degrees and only certain people can get them.
Cleaver feels that capitalist democracy or as she calls it commercial democracy, needs a middle class that functions smoothly. A system such as this needs a certain number of people at the elite level, a certain number in the middle and the rest of the people scrambling to get there. We live in a society that is built upon financial incentives so when the Black Panthers differed from the norm and touted, Power for the People, people in high places got nervous.
Next, the interviewer raises the question of the black middle class and what we can expect from the 27 million black Americans. Cleaver feels that we should not worry about the black middle class. What we should be worried about is our fundamental system. If we had a system that valued human rights and resources, people would come first and property second and all oppressed would benefit. In essence black people are going to suffer or enjoy the benefits or demerits of society, they are merely more vulnerable. So if there are benefits, they get the least and if there is harm they get the biggest share.
In Cleaver s opinion, the problem with black leadership is that they do not remain within the black community, but become involved in the larger society and ignite a class conflict instead of class progress. This type of action leads to the collapse of many communities, and consequently deviant behavior. These communities must be rebuilt and invested in heavily by the government and or corporate America. The problem is lack of political power to make this happen with the help of the government and lack of interest to get any aid from corporations. Ultimately, Cleaver feels that blacks need to realize what there survival skills are and expand on them.
To conclude, race and class issues will forever be a part of our society until our fundamentals as a society shift from a monetary to a human base. This transition is not likely to happen on a larger scale, but smaller movements are conceivable. Neither of the individuals interviewed spoke much about public policy, only Cleaver briefly about the Poor People s Campaign. Here in lies the problem, revolutionaries and individuals of that sort have good intentions but never produce any results. Cleaver was a member of the Black Panther Group, an extremely controversial group of the sixties, yet they were squelched because they had no religious affiliation. Quincey Jones, on the other hand, is a survivor. He was raised in extreme poverty and encountered endless adversity in his life, yet he rose above the problem and is now very successful. Overall, your life is what you make of it, if you as an individual become consumed in why you cannot succeed because of your ethnicity or social class, you never will.