It’s Not About Class (It’s About Race)

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Many of us have spent the last year or two fretting about the white working class (WWC). Americans are concerned that WWC individuals have been cruelly left behind, and we empathize with their discomfort over a changing world.

Truly, it is to weep.

But while we knock ourselves out trying to justify their allegiance to President Trump, many of us wonder why WWC people can’t just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Or we ask why their anger and hostility should be met with hugs. Or we ponder why ethnic minorities — who tend to be poorer than the WWC — didn’t clamor for Trump like their white counterparts did (hey, I’m sure racism had nothing to do with that).

But then along comes a study to say, “Guess what? All your claims that white people are disenfranchised are really just so much bullshit.”

Because a recent study led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard, and the Census Bureau shows that “white boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way.” However, “black boys raised at the top are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy” when they grow up.

Think about what that means. It implies that race matters more than class when it comes to how well you do as an adult. And it further implies that white privilege is not some made-up straw man that progressives created.

The researchers found that “black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds” and that these gaps persisted “even when black and white boys grew up in families with the same income, similar family structures, similar education levels, and even similar levels of accumulated wealth.”

In other words, the only significant variable was the color of their skin. But that turned out to be one hell of a factor.

Now, the good news — if it can be called that — is that my fellow Latinos do not fare as badly as our African American brethren. The study shows that “the gap between Hispanics and whites is narrower, and their incomes will converge within a couple of generations if mobility stays the same.”

That, of course, is a very big “if” — a humungous one, in fact. Currently, Latino households have less than 2 percent of the wealth of white households. And keep in mind that other studies have shown that escaping poverty takes 20 years with nothing else going wrong.

But at least Latinos have hope, no matter how meager.

African Americans do not have grounds for anything other than pessimism. In fact, “black boys — even rich black boys — can seemingly never assume that… at some point you escape the poverty trap.”

The depressing nature of this study becomes clearer with the admission that the researchers tried to identify neighborhoods where black boys do as well as well as white boys, but called off that quest when they discovered “there are essentially no such neighborhoods in America.”

So would you like the primacy of race over social class spelled out even more for you? Well, the researchers have helpfully highlighted a number of alarming statistics to freak you out some more. Among them are the following:

  • Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America.
  • Black men raised in the top 1 percent — by millionaires — were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000.
  • A black man raised by two parents together in the 90th percentile — making around $140,000 a year — earns about the same in adulthood as a white man raised by a single mother making $60,000 alone.
  • The worst places for poor white children are almost all better than the best places for poor black children.
  • The worst places for whites produce outcomes that are about as good as the best places for blacks.

Yes, you can slice and dice the data a thousand different ways. It apparently all comes out the same way, which is to reveal that the white working class — despite its constant moans of agony — is actually in better shape than most ethnic minorities.

The study also shows that Americans — be they conservative or liberal — who insist “that the fundamental problem is class and not race” are at best misguided, and at worst self-serving liars. You see, “clearly this study explodes that idea.”

It has been, and will continue to be, about race.

 

Featured image: Kurtis Garbutt/Flickr

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