The Urban Poor
So worked up was I by the situation in New Orleans that I found myself up all night — I just couldn’t sleep. As such, I used the time to reflect on my views re the current situation. I wondered if my assessment of the situation and the current political storm brewing was accurate — I am after all in London and no longer living in the United States. Over here in Europe I detect a bit of gloating about the American response to the situation but overall people seem to be supportive and extremely sympathetic to the people affected.
So as I watched more CNN last night against my better judgment, I stood my ground as it relates to my assessment of how things played out in New Orleans. Especially as it relates to whether or not racism was a major factor in the delayed response. I still think not. In fact, I am more adamant that a more important factor here is class. This has been a growing problem for black America yet our so called leaders are still obsessed with race.
Oh don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that race and racism are not still a problem in America. Indeed they are. As such, what I am saying is that since the civil rights movement, the issues related to class have become a bigger problem for the black urban poor than racism. Former University of Chicago now Harvard Professor William Julius Wilson made that argument in his 1978 forward thinking book: The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions. As I reflect of his then controversial argument, I think his theory is even more valid today. As he points out in his follow up book: The Truly Disadvantaged the Inner City, the Underclass and Public Policy:
the problems related to inner-city decay and the black people who live there, cannot be explained by racism along but instead to a complex web of factors involved in the urban economy, the most important of which is the changing class structure of ghetto neighborhoods. The movement of middle-class black professionals from the inner city, followed by the exodus of increasing numbers of working-class black, has left behind a concentration of the most disadvantaged segments of the black urban population. At the same time, urban minorities have been particularly vulnerable to broader changes in the economy that have produced extraordinary rates of joblessness, which in turn has exacerbated other social problems.
Since reading Professor Wilson’s books during my college years at the University of Michigan, I have become increasingly disillusioned with politicians like Reverend Jesse Jackson. Having met the Reverend at my inner city high school in Boston, I once worshipped him — but I have come to realize that his race rhetoric over the years has not always been helpful to the black community. We cannot discount race completely but we need to openly acknowledge that there are other social issues at play instead of crying racism all the time. If we continue to do so and not address these new economic challenges, then the black urban poor who are worse off than middle class black people who by the way benefit disproportionatley from affirmative action and other race based programs will never get the help and assistance they truly deserve.