Came across an interesting article the other day (okay fine, it was 6 months ago but I’m just getting around to talking about it now) in the New York Times that in depth review of a sociological study by Harvard and Stanford researchers on the effects of class and race on the future economic outcomes of various populations.
Essentially what the researchers found was that while there was little difference in incomes of black women vs white women raised in the same economic class, there was a HUGE difference in the economic outcomes of black men versus white men raised in the same economic class.
So what might some reasons for this disparity be and what are actionable steps that can be made in light of these findings?
Before we dive into this extremely complicated issue, I’d highly recommend you read the actual article which can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/19/upshot/race-class-white-and-black-men.html?smid=fb-share
Here are some important findings from the research:
- Black men consistently earn less than their white male counterparts regardless if they were born rich or poor.
- No such income gap exists between black and white women raised in similar households.
- As household income increases, the chance of a child from that household being incarcerated in the future as an adult decreases for both black and white children. However, there is a huge disparity between the two populations. The sons of black families from the top 1 percent (annual income >$421,926) had about the same chance of being incarcerated on a given day as the sons of white families earning $36,000.
- A black man raised in a household with 2 parents in the top 10% (income around $140,000 per year) had the same income as an adult as a white child raised by a single mother making only $60,000 per year.
So let’s pose some general thought questions for our readers to think about as we talk about these issues:
- Why are poor white boys able to escape poverty at a higher rate than poor black boys?
- Why are rich black boys not able to stay rich when they become adults as their rich white counterparts are?
- Why is there no such income gap between white women and black women that come from similar economic backgrounds?
- If having two parents in a household is so important, why is that black children from rich two parent households have similar incomes as white children from poor single parent households?
Here’s why this study is crucially important:
- Liberal ideology in American tends to believe in the “I don’t see color” mythology—namely that it is not race that affects economic outcomes, but class. According to this viewpoint, the reason blacks are not achieving success in America is because they come from poorer neighborhoods than whites. This study throws that theory on its face as rich black boys have significantly lower levels of income and higher rates of incarceration as their rich white counterparts. So it’s not class that prevents economic success for black boys—it really is the social prejudices and constraints that are imposed on black boys purely for being black boys in America
- Any solution going forward to fix this disparity in economic outcomes has to focus on eliminating the disadvantages faced by black boys purely for being black boys while also eliminating the privileges afforded to white children simply for being white. This would a more constructive and effective “I don’t see color” approach than the approach that has historically been taken with regards to improving the outcomes of black children.
So now let’s dive right in.
A common idea proposed in neoliberal circles is that it’s not the disadvantages associated with race that impinge upward economic mobility, but rather it’s the class obstacles that infringe on this pursuit of the American dream. As African-Americans in America have lower household incomes than their white counterparts, the theory upholds that its this class disadvantage—and not racial bias—that results in the disparate economic outcomes observed in these two populations.
This study essentially throws that theory on its face. If this theory were true, then black children and white children from the same economic upbringing would have similar income levels as adults. This study shows the exact opposite; namely that given the same economic upbringing as children, black boys make significantly less as adults than white boys who grew up with similar class advantages.
This finding points to racial bias as the true culprit here. More conservative factions of America refuse to accept this. They use tropes about flaws with in black family as the reason behind these widely differing outcomes as opposed to disparities about how blacks are treated in America versus whites. This study counters that as well.
As the study points out, blacks do tend to grow up in communities with less father figures than white counterparts of similar incomes. However, even black children who grew up in wealthy two parent households were at a significant disadvantage than their white counterparts. In fact, as the study points out, a black man raised in a household with 2 parents in the top 10% (income around $140,000 per year) had the same income as an adult as a white child raised by a single mother making only $60,000 per year.
So if white boys from poor single parent households are achieving the same economic success as black boys from wealthy two parent households clearly the problem is not any inherent issues with the traditional black family. Social conservative critics point to a lack of black fathers in black neighborhoods—and clearly black communities have a lack of black fathers present in their communities as compared to white communities.
Conservative critics often point to this issue of lack of black fathers in the community as the sole reason for the lack of equal opportunity and equal outcomes for blacks versus whites. However, this inference lacks context and confuses correlation with causation. Lack of black fathers did not cause the racial disparities we see here; rather, racial disparities in the treatment of black men versus white men in our society caused a destruction of the black family which removed black fathers from the community and forced black women to pick up the slack of raising children by themselves.
So while the study shows that black women have the same income as white women of the same background, the inference that there isn’t a wage gap here should not be automatically deduced without further research. Perhaps the reason black women are making the same income as white women of similar backgrounds here is really because black women are working longer hours and multiple jobs to support their families as the sole breadwinner for their family while white women (who have higher marriage rates) have the luxury of either being stay-at-home moms or career women with higher wages than similarly qualified black women such that on average the incomes of white women of similar economic backgrounds are equal to their overworked, underpaid black women counterparts? Again, more research and critical thinking needs to be done here by both researchers and society at large.
Unemployment levels for black men have historically been higher than white men. Is that because black men don’t want to work or because American society doesn’t want to hire them? Black families live in poorer communities with higher crime and poorer educational facilities and fewer opportunities for advancement not because they don’t want better communities and access, but because American society doesn’t want blacks living in their nice, well-to-do, protected neighborhoods. When black families try and move into such neighborhoods en masse, whites invariably move out taking their higher income levels, opportunities, and access with them.
Black men over the past 40 years have been incarcerated at unprecedented levels in relation to their white counterparts. This is not because blacks inherently are predisposed to being criminals, but because America is predisposed to locking them up.
So what are the impacts on the black family and black psyche when you refuse to let them live in your nice neighborhoods, deny them access to educational opportunities that are crucial for upward mobility, refuse to hire black men for jobs with livable wages and then overincarcerate such men and force black women to pick up the slack? Would not any issue we observe in the black community be a direct result of unequal treatment levied upon them by American society at large?
There is no problem with black culture or black attitude that is not a direct result of injustices placed upon their community. Hence, the solution to the problem has to be rooted in two core areas: removal of the barriers to equality currently present for the black community and deeper investment from American society into black communities and black families to build them back up from the devastation we have inflicted upon them.
Liberal ideology tends to focus on paternalistic band-aid benefits for black communities that does not focus on long-term solutions and empowerment of black communities. Instead liberals focus on providing healthcare and benefits to help support them, but not on providing them with the skills, resources, investments and job opportunities such that they can build up their communities in alignment with their own vision and right to self-determination such that they can acquire wealth, healthcare, and the ability to pursue the American dream like the rest of us on their own.
So when you look at businesses in poor black communities are they owned and run by black people in the community who then reinvest back into that community or are they owned by non-black individuals who don’t live in the community who open up delis, liquor stores, and bodegas make money off black people and then take that money back to the actual community they live in and reinvest it there?
When we look at schools and non-profit organizations in the black community are they run by non-black individuals from outside the community who are more focused on getting kids to act in accordance with white standards of behavior and imposing their own ideology upon them rather than on connecting with them as people and helping them work through their own life issues which they can personally relate and identify with?
Should not the police and government organizations that dictate policy with regards to how black communities are governed not be directly run and influenced by the people of that community?
Or should we continue as outsiders to enrich ourselves at the expense of the black community while denying them the right of self-governance and simultaneously mandating that the path to equality solely rests in getting black people to listen and take outside support without offering any substantive path to liberty?
These are the questions we need to ask ourselves and the discussion we need to be having.