Poverty can be explained with cold hard statistics. Racism, on the other hand, cannot be explained scientifically, but it is explained as an individual social construct. (Omi 2001: 243). Racism is derived from generalities that individuals use to separate the different from him/herself. (Hume 2007: 99-102). Unfortunately, little has changed in centuries. We are all attracted to the similar and we are repelled by the different. While so-called minorities have achieved civil rights, we have not yet changed the individual mindset that insists on defining him/herself “racially”.
Defining racism becomes problematic when one group will pretend it does not exist and redefine it as something that is associated with race-consciousness and another group will define it as the oppression of a non-dominant group by a dominant group, as a system of control, of power. (Omi 2001: 257) There is obviously a need to openly discuss race and racism that most people who are in the majority feel no need to discuss. (Wilson 2010: 3) It becomes complicated when the heterogeneity of West Indian, Asian, and Hispanic immigration is included in the ways we define ourselves individually that is opposed to the way that the US federal government insists on generally categorizing all of us into one or another box. The hybridity of mixed race individuals becomes another interesting complication. (Omi 2001: 246-247)
Wilson specifically links social racism with economic racism, detailing social acts as well as social process that contribute to the disenfranchisement of black Americans who generally make up low-skilled, low-wage jobs that are lost with technological advancements and the promotion of new technologies that replace those low-skilled jobs with a machine, leaving those unskilled labourers unemployed. (Wilson 2010: 7). With the advent of globalization and the ability of corporations to move overseas to countries where the unskilled population is generally paid less than those in the United States. Additionally he defines the effects of cultural racism as defined by the practices of school tracking of students with alleged similar capabilities of instruction even though such students have an infinite capacity to learn.
The concentrated poverty that Wilson describes in detail that had unofficially existed until the 1960s is de facto apartheid. In fact, with large areas exclusively filled with urban poverty, it still exists, herding people into large segmented boxes. (Newman 1974: Rednecks) The redlining of desirable and undesirable areas for home purchases helped create it and helped perpetuate it. The creation of the federal highway system was constructed on racially segregated lines to avoid construction through predominantly white neighborhoods, even though such practices were declared illegal when the creation of the Federal Highway system was created in 1956. There were even several early planned (gated in practice) communities to keep out “undesirables”. De facto apartheid.
In the end poverty is not inevitable and it is not exactly a result of not taking initiative. It is more complicated than that. There is a history of segregation in this country that we have attempted to overcome by law and sometimes by practice. However in successive administrations of the Federal Government the previous attempts were erased by lawmakers who obviously used the pretense that there was and is no racial problem in this country. How do you erase racism, segregation, and apartheid overnight when those in power close their eyes and look the other way?
Omi, M. A. (2001). The Changing Meaning Of Race. In N. J. Smelser, W. J. Wilson & F. Mitchell (Eds.), America Becoming: Racial Trends and their Consequences (Vol. 1, pp. 243-263). Washington, D.C.: National Academics Press.
Hume, D. (2007). A Treatise Of Human Nature. D. F. Norton & M. J. Norton (Eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wilson, W. J. (2010). More Than Just Race. New York: W.W. Norton.
Newman, R. (1974). Rednecks [Randy Newman]. On Good Ol’ Boys [CD]. Location: Rhino. (2002)