Current Challenges in the African-American Community
The Second Challenge: The Emergence of an Underclass
Despite the rise of an educated African-American professional class, and despite many economic and social advances for African-Americans as a whole, inner-city urban areas have remained underinspired and underdeveloped for so long that they have developed a seemingly permanent sense of despair. These areas remain stubbornly prone to epidemics of social dysfunction and particularly to problems related to crime and drug abuse.
The persistence of serious social problems in inner-city areas has led to a tragic perpetuation of racial prejudice, and to talk of a permanent African-American “underclass.”
White suburban flight from urban areas (which began in the 1970s) has left cities coping with huge numbers of underfunded urban schools that simply don't work for their predominantly African-American and minority students. Political candidates from both parties have issued earnest calls for reform and solemn vows that the system must change, but the reality that many city school systems continue to betray their students remains.
The Third Challenge: Unequal Earning Capacity
President Lyndon Johnson's 1965 speech seeking “not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result” started a tumultuous decades-long debate over affirmative action.
What was the origin of affirmative action? The first policies requiring clear and unmistakable actions to “level the playing field” for African-Americans and other minorities in such areas as hiring, contracts, promotion, admission to educational institutions, and financial aid are associated with the Johnson administration in 1965. These policies were also supported by President Richard Nixon until he realized he could gain political advantage by running against them (and thus endearing himself to white voters).
The debates over the wisdom of these policies have become more and more bitter in recent years, and the issue remains an emotional one for the so-called “angry white men” who have viewed affirmative action programs as reverse discrimination. Many on the left have argued that aggressive affirmative action programs are the only intelligent approach given the enduring legacy of slavery and legalized discrimination faced by African-Americans.
A significant dissenting voice within the African-American community has been that of California educator Ward Connerly, who has helped to agitate, successfully, for the repeal of affirmative action programs in California and Washington State. Connerly has been quoted as dismissing affirmative action programs as “poisonous,” in part because of their tendency to give non-minorities the impression that anything achieved by a person of color is only achieved “because of somebody giving it to us. … As long as you have this paradigm where people seem to be using race and gender as a means of making hiring decisions, as long as they keep uttering this mindless blather about `we've got to achieve diversity,' it kind of taints the whole process.”
Regardless of one's position on the question of affirmative action, its emergence as a potent and divisive contemporary political issue is hard to deny. A 1997 Gallup poll revealed that 79 percent of whites believe that African-Americans have the same chance of getting a job that whites have; less than half of the African-Americans polled expressed such a belief.
For the record, African-American earning power remains significantly below that of whites. Recently, Ohio State University analyzed data from the Federal Reserve Board's 1998 Survey of Consumer Finances. The results: Median household income for African-American families was $15,500, an increase over 1989 figures … but far below the $71,700 in income for the “typical American household” in 1998. (Source: Chicago Tribune, August 30, 2002, “Study Finds Blacks Earning More,” Laurie Kellman.)
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to African-American History © 2003 by Melba J. Duncan. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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