Black Americans Split Into Rich and Poor

Black Press International, News Analysis, William Reed Posted: Jan 18, 2008

Editor's note: For those who have been watching, the Pew study doesn't really yield surprises. Rather, it refines and clarifies the edges of social processes -- race and class identification -- that are complex, evolving phenomena. That said, Bill Reed brings his hard-eyed realism to what is a useful snapshot of African-Americans in the 21st century.

When you hear a black person saying they don’t see race, watch out! “Color blind blacks” are usually also middle-class in terms of their income and outlooks. There is such a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks that we no longer can think of blacks as a single race. A Pew Research Center survey found black college graduates who say that “the values of middle-class African Americans are more closely aligned with those of middle-class whites than those of lower-income blacks.”

More and more there are two kinds of African Americans –- the ones with education and jobs and those with neither. The problem is that the more “color blind” blacks become, the more they gravitate toward whites and away from their brethren at the bottom of the economic ladder. A majority of black Americans surveyed blamed individual failings, not racial prejudice, for the lack of economic progress by lower-income African Americans. The report said in 1994 60 percent of African Americans believed racial prejudice was the main thing keeping blacks from succeeding economically; and only 33 percent blamed the individual. This year, 53 percent said individuals were responsible for their own condition. At the same time, the survey found most blacks believed racial prejudice was still a widespread problem. Sixty percent of African Americans surveyed said blacks often faced discrimination when they applied for jobs or looked for housing.

One result of shifting views on individual responsibility may be changes in blacks' attitudes toward immigrants. In 1986, 74 percent of blacks said they would have more economic opportunities if there were fewer immigrants; today, 48 percent feel that way. Most blacks and whites who participated in the poll agreed that immigrants tended to work harder at low-wage jobs than workers of their own groups.

On the topic of diverging values, the values of blacks at the top of the economic scale are different than those at the bottom. Forty-four percent of blacks polled in 1986 said they saw greater differences created by class than by race. Today, that figure has grown to 61 percent. The feeling holds for blacks with less than a high school education: 57 percent of those surveyed said middle-class blacks are more like middle-class whites than they are like poor blacks.

Overall, the survey found that there has been a convergence of values held by blacks and whites. Blacks and whites have become more culturally integrated and, therefore, less-affluent blacks feel more estranged. The survey also found that pessimism about economic prospects has grown significantly among blacks. Fewer than half of those polled, 44 percent said they expected life to get better. Twenty years ago, 57 percent had said they thought life would improve.

Blacks up and own the economic scale do not see the kind of forward momentum they’d saw in earlier times. One reason for the pessimism may be that the condition of the black middle class appears to be more fragile than that of whites. Middle-income African-American families appear to have tremendous difficulty passing on their middle-income status to their children. About 45 percent of black children who grow up in middle-class families will slip into a lower-income bracket in adulthood. About 16 percent of white children and about 45 percent of black children were unable to match their parents' success and slipped into a lower socioeconomic bracket in adulthood.

African Americans of all stripes are highly patriotic and concerned about a concentration of economic power as are whites. They share the general belief in the benefits of hard work -- and are equally admiring of those who acquire wealth through hard work. And while they are far more supportive of government help for the needy than are whites, two-thirds of blacks are concerned that too many low-income people depend on government aid. While middle-class blacks tend to be more “color blind,” the survey found blacks on all sides of the economic divide less upbeat about the state of black progress now than at any time since 1983.

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Bob Marshall on Jan 18, 2008 at 15:28:56 said:

How pathetic that polls/this culture only gives two alternatives, either personal failure or deliberate oppression. This is a country with a history and with complex patterns of behavior that shape all the alternatives and all the opportunities available to any of us. We each say, in our knowing way, "I wasn't born yesterday," and yet we act as if we all of us together were.


David Fredericks on Jan 18, 2008 at 09:27:47 said:

What should be said -- and I rarely hear it -- is that "race" is not a scientific classification.

Folks persist in using the race term as though it were synonymous with "species." I admit that it's awfully convenient, but I think it should be resisted, because it refers mostly to prejudicial opinions.

Race as used in the United States is a social and political construct derived from our nation's history. It has no basis in science. The biologic concept of race is now believed to be untenable. -- Harold P. Freeman, M.D., a researcher with Celera

The idea of race is not reflected in a person's genes, Brazilian researchers said, confirming what scientists have long said --that race has no meaning genetically. The Brazilian researchers looked at one of the most racially mixed populations in the world for their study, which found there is no way to look at someone's genes and determining race.

Pinning labels on people can be self-fulfilling -- and often in destructive ways. The term "race" should go into the dustbin of history along with alchemy and sun gods. Its use serves only to divide.

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