Race and Social Class

In American society, issues of race and social class are entwined together like a chain of DNA. One cannot have an honest discussion about race without looking at the equally important issue of class since the two are closely linked. Although discussions of race and class are often avoided because these type of issues make people uncomfortable, Hurricane Katrina and the various television newscasts that followed stripped away the curtain to America’s dirty little secret: there are many people in American society who have been unable to escape the double jeopardy of being born African American and poor.

The four readings by Sklar, et. al., Oliver & Shapiro, Mantsios, and Bartlett & Steele in the text (Ore, pgs. 69-99) illustrate how race and class was socially constructed for the advancement of Whites and the making up of a social class of poverty-stricken African-Americans who could be blamed for everything wrong in society. Furthermore, all four articles reflect how these two systems of oppression are interlocked in a never-ending structure of domination (matrix of domination), as stated in the text.

In the article entitled “Race, Wealth, and Equality, Oliver and Shapiro discusses how three historical events in American society – the Reconstruction, the suburbanization of America, and contemporary institutional racism has lead to a vast amount of income inequality between Blacks and Whites. Although American society had several opportunities to make amends to African-Americans by giving them same economic advantages Whites took for granted, it never happened because Blacks would be on the same economic playing field as Whites. That is why there is such a large gap in wealth between Blacks and Whites in American society.

The Mantsios’article takes this discussion about the large wealth gap between Blacks and Whites further by examining how the media, owned by the ruling class, has played a major role in distorting views about economics by pretending the ruling class do not exist and poor Blacks are the dregs of society. The media with its ‘magic’ can make the sins and harshness towards African-Americans disappear by pretending it is their fault that they are poor.

By doing this, upper and middle-classed Americans learn to fear and loathe poor Blacks and refuse to make the connection between systematic racism and high poverty levels amongst African-Americans.

In a similar vein, “The Growing Wealth Gap” describes how crooked but legal dealings between corporations and politicians has led to work wages stagnating for decades and millionaires turning into billionaires. This article also made reference to the Oliver and Shapiro article, illustrating how African-Americans have little, if no net worth and even if differences in income, occupation, and education were removed, White income would still be higher than Blacks due to the racial barriers that have kept them stagnated for centuries. Bartlett and Steele discuss that although the American government slashed welfare benefits for the needy, it subsidizes large corporations at the expense of the taxpayers on a regular basis. It is okay for corporate America to be on welfare but welfare for corporations is called “incentives.” Corporate America can do this because they have good Public Relations, meaning the media to help sell economic dreams to the unsuspecting American public, going back to Mantsios article. All four of these articles are connected because they reflect that although the economic system in America was built build on the backs of African-Americans, they cannot share in its riches.

After reading this material, one cannot help but think about the mostly African-American and poverty stricken victims of Hurricane Katrina and how much American society is to blame for their economic situation. They were not only the victims of a horrible natural disaster but victims of a system that has historically kept them on the last rung of the economic ladder. The victims of this tragedy for the first time had my face and economic background. I am an African-American single mother who was receiving welfare benefits at the time Hurricane Katrina occurred who could not and still can drive and my family would have been one of the many labeled “refugees” if I lived in New Orleans. Although I was an active participant in the creation of my past situation, being told that I could not attend a four year college because it would take too long by a TANF case worker tells me how much the system is against people like me even when you are trying to do the right thing.

Observing a White supervisor stir up competition between African-Americans and Hispanics on the workplace showed me how much corporate America is against the advancement of minorities. Living in a neighborhood that is forty minutes from downtown Chicago but is surrounded by vacant lots filled with trash tells me that America has forgotten about a certain segment of people based on their skin color and economic background. Unless there is a fundamental change in the redistributation of the wealth and racist attitudes in American society, the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites will only get larger.