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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Race in America--Part Five

A convergence of numerous, mostly negative, factors—economic, historic, and social—have merged in our nation’s history to produce a significant underclass populated by a disproportionate number of African Americans. To understand race in America, one must come to grips with this often harsh and crushing reality.

“With the declining presence of middle-class blacks, inner city black neighborhoods during the 1980s and 1990s grew increasingly impoverished and dysfunctional. Role models, civic leaders and vital job contacts (most jobs are filled through personal connections) diminished. A black underclass emerged. Crack cocaine, crime and the code of the street became invasive. Young black urban males had little incentive to graduate from inferior public schools into a job market with falling real wages and little career opportunity. Selling crack for $3.50 to $7.50 an hour, with a slim chance at bigger money and a 25% chance of being killed, was still more attractive than the labor market. Young black women, meanwhile, saw little logic in marrying young men with no future. Yet having a baby was the singular means to establish a sense of self-worth and meaning for impoverished young black women. So the black out-of-wedlock birth rate soared. These are logical decisions given the structural circumstance.

“Such are the intertwined consequences in the second half of the 20th century of the legacy of human capital and wealth deprivation experienced by America’s blacks emerging from the post slavery South. This is a social injustice, exacerbated still by lingering discrimination across markets. Structural conditions endured by many blacks as a result of these deficits and continued discrimination lead to rational choices that better-endowed whites view as suboptimal. Nearly three-fourths of white evangelicals believe that the black-white socioeconomic gap is the result of black culture and lack of motivation and initiative, or both. ‘Blacks need to get off their butts’ it is claimed. Being born on third base, many whites think they have hit a triple.

“This is not to deny the exercise of free will by blacks. We must recognize, however, that in the past for blacks, ‘common human responsibilities—getting an education, owning a home, raising a family—where often touched by futility, defeat and pathos’ (quote from Shelby Steele). Poor ethics, defects in character, or lack of morality may impair some blacks in America today and these may be facilitated by guilt-ridden whites who see any assignment of personal responsibility as ‘blaming the victim’ and as racism. However, lack of access to quality education and centuries of being shortchanged of the fair market return to their labor, together with persisting discrimination, are real and significant current constraints to black possibilities. This is social injustice and it begs for appropriate remediation” (243-245)

[The material above drawn from the research of John E. Stapleford, “A Torturous Journey: The Condition of Black America,” (Christian Scholar’s Review, XXXVII, No. 2, Winter 2008, pages 240ff). You can read my previous posts on his work by backtracking a bit (April 15, 18, 24, 28, 2008).]

Next: Race in America--Part Six: Appropriate and Effective Responses

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is so hard for those of us not caught in this cycle to think of such choices as "rational," but in a very real way they sadly are. And these two factors alone (unwed pregnancy and incarceration for drug offenses) account for an enormous percentage of the biggest problems in Black communities. The mindset described, which leads to these choices, has already become so deeply ingrained, how do you change it?