By Murshid Barud
Why are most African Americans live below poverty line? Why are they poorer than their white counterparts? What needs to be done to get African-Americans out of poverty? Well, these are long standing human
questions; these are all questions with historical underpinnings. There is really not a good answer to these questions. After slavery ended, freed slaves had almost nothing besides their freedom.
Some might argue that blacks were handicapped by segregation laws, which kept them out of social circles where they might have been able to improve themselves. But it is also true that since segregation was outlawed in the 1960s blacks had made a significant improvement in income. Some blame the welfare programs of the 1960s and 1970s, which discouraged work and education, although I personally think that this argument might have some merit. There are also a small minority that think blacks simply are not, on average, as smart as whites, which ultimately results in lower success rates. However this racist view has
been largely rejected by most experts. We also know that the evidence is pretty indisputable that Africa American children who are being born to poor families where the parents have little or no education, and where the neighborhood does not encourage success, dramatically lowers a child's chances of financial success later in life. Financial problems are not the only problems African Americans in this country have faced in the past, and continue to face in the future, but crime, disease, lack of education are all part of the problems that African-Americans are facing, but poverty is major crisis among them.
Neither the government nor the African American leaders have addressed the tenacious ills of blacks in this country. African American leaders in this country know that an awareness of personal and collective values, in addition to skill acquisition is essential to enhanced life
chances and strong communities. In an article that appeared " Journal Progress and Prospects" the term civil rights was misleading since it did not do that much for African Americans, and it said "The moral, legal, and rhetorical pursuit of collective rights of access was but an essential strategy in a multifront war for much larger prize" Mainstream conservative discussion of poverty emphasize the cultural factors, such as values and attitudes, are responsible for poverty.
However, empirical research confirming that the poor differ along these dimensions is conspicuously absent. The notion that a black culture exists is widely accepted. A substantial number of employed persons are still poor. However, employment is still the best way to avoid or exit poverty, and also the argument that lack of a work ethic and improper work habits are responsible for poverty is recurrent. At one extreme is the argument that poor people simply do not want work. Lewis and Schneider (1985) found that " just over one fouth of Americans (26%) believe that most poor people are lazy, while 91% indicate lack of effort by the poor themselves is an important reason for poverty" (Genera; Social Survey 1990)(1) Davidson and Krackhardt (1977) " found evidence that black ghetto factory workers possess a strong work ethic" An article that appeared ( Journal of Economics Issues, Dec 1995) said " the poor or at least a subset of them are different from the non-poor in terms of their attitudes, values, or aspirations and that these personality traits produce behaviors that mire them in long term poverty".
Recently a number of researchers have focused on the situation of inner-city communities, contending that the high concentration of poverty and joblessness couples with racial and social isolation cannot help but affect the values, attitudes, and outlooks of residents. (Devine and
Wright 1993; Wilson 1987, 1997) Many researchers refer to this population as "underclass" and this term has become a buzzword for both mainstream and academic writers. But Kats (1993) " points out that the term "underclass" is controversial since (1) there are no official criteria for determining which individuals or populations compose the "underclass" and as a result (2) the ter "underclass" has become euphemism for the undeserving poor" Further, Marks (1995:54) points that the term "underclass" itself means black and urban, reinforcing the idea that all poor people are black and all blacks are poor. Given these criticism that we mentioned, if we find that the culture of poverty only applies to poor blacks, this would not support the argument that concentrated poverty produces alternate value systems among the urban underclass. Rather, if poor blacks alone exhibit alternate attitudes, this would suggest that the racialization of the culture of poverty is not unfounded. In the meantime, if this is the case than such findings would also mean that researchers too should need to reconsider discussions of black culture.
Finally, these developments contribute largely to the racialization of poverty in popular discussions, thus it
is to sort out distinctions and relationships between attitudes and value as they pertain to poverty, in this case being black.
1) Journal of Economic issues, Dec 1995
2) Lewis and Schneider 1985
3) General Social Survey 1990
4) Sociological Prospective Fall 1999
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
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