“More Than Just Race” Response

William Julius Wilson gives to his readers a multilayered and nuanced analysis if black oppression in America. His arguments rest upon studying the structural, socioeconomic, and cultural forces that cause black poverty earlier in the book. In the later chapters he focuses specifically on the poverty of inner city black men and the fragmenting of the black family. His analysis is typical among sociologists and rests on a backbone of research and activism over a hundred years old. The fact does not discredit his work at all. His volume is slim, but thorough and powerful.

In the summary in the back of the book, a writer claims the book “challenges both conservative and liberal dogma”. He or she is completely correct. Both mainstream conservatives and liberals are similar in some fundamental ways. They both tend to eschew critical theory, or at least understanding systemic oppression, and instead have a “lassaiz faire” belief system. Both parties fundamentally say we live in a post racial and post feminist society. We live in a meritocracy and humanity is composed of atomized individuals, so individual’s successes and failures are based largely on their free will. Yes, racism and sexism does exist, but they come from a minority of people who are just bad apples and do not reflect society as a whole. Of course, these conservative and liberal dogmas are just that: dogmas. It is unsurprising and saddening that a book as lukewarm as “More Than Just Race” is still outside of mainstream politics.

A tenant among conservatives and liberals is that racism cannot exist unless it is explicit. Wilson counters by saying that not only that implicit racism does exist; it is a huge force of American culture. He brings up the changes of global economy, like how manufacturing jobs are going out while ever more service, white-collar jobs are coming in. He also brings up black people not being mobile, unable to move away from the inner city to pursue jobs. It’s a very important argument to make because frankly I have rarely heard it. Call me a hard-lined Marxist, but understanding economics should always be in the forefront because a society’s class and economic structure profoundly shapes its culture. This is especially true for the dominant or mainstream culture, or ideology.

Wilson counters conservative and liberal dogmas best when speaking of the poverty of inner city black males, especially in his cultural analysis. Conservatives, both white and black, often bring up the “degradation of black culture” to blame black men for poverty and crime. Wilson makes a “thoughtful cultural explanation” as he puts it for black poverty. Black men have difficulty getting employment because of discrimination and industrial jobs being outsourced to the third world. Black men become increasingly hopeless and self-defeating after taking so many blows. Posse culture rises both because of a self-defeating attitude and as a statement to resist white culture.

While you can claim with some amount of honesty that black men cause their own poverty in some degree, the socioeconomic and cultural factors that cause black men to be in such a defeating position should never be forgotten. Americans do not live in a post racial society, and Wilson amplifies this fact throughout his book. Class oppression and racial oppression go hand in hand for many black people in America, and have done so for the last three hundred plus years. American history has cast such a long shadow of racism it is dishonest not to acknowledge it.


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