Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Class Now Trumps Race in America: Have Conservatives Gotten the Memo Yet?

Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, issued a strong warning to anti-poverty advocates at a forum on social connectedness at the Aspen Ideas Festival Saturday, urging the audience to get beyond talking about poverty and race and start thinking about social mobility and class instead.

"Those two conceptual moves, framing it as poverty and thinking about it as a matter of race, have a very deep history... and I think both politically and analytically that's an almost fatally flawed framework," said Putnam, the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, in response to remarks from co-panelists Anne Mosle, vice president of policy at the Aspen Institute, and Mario Small, chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago.
For most of American history race has overdetermined life chances. Social capital, life spans, health, wealth, and rates of inter-generational class mobility were all impacted by the color line: here, white Americans received a de facto leg up by virtue of their skin color; black and brown folks were penalized by their status as racially marked individuals whose citizenship was contingent and not full.

Robert Putnam, elder god, and author of the foundational book Bowling Alone, is now complicating this narrative. Along with one of his heirs apparent, the University of Chicago's Mario Small, they are suggesting that class now appears to be trumping race in determining one's life trajectory. If black folks have long been maligned as the poster children of the ghetto underclass, Putnam suggests that macrolevel changes in American society are now beginning to impact white people in similar ways.
"You say poverty to most ordinary Americans, most ordinary voters, they think black ghettos," he continued, whereas over the last couple of generations "class, not race is the dominant -- and becoming more dominant -- dimension of difficulty here."

"Relatively speaking, racial differences controlling for class are decreasing while class differences controlling for race are increasing in America," he said. "Non-white folks with a college education are looking more and more like white folks with a college education and white folks who haven't gotten beyond high school are looking more and more like nonwhite folks who haven't finished high school." 
This is a complex story--and one that will be the subject of much discussion in the near future--as it unsettles many of the long standing assumptions held by social scientists, and experts in public policy, about the nature of poverty in America.

It is clear that America's economy has contracted, and thus put its most vulnerable workers at risk. Consequently, the de facto subsidies used by the submerged state to keep white semi and unskilled labor solidly among the ranks of the middle class have long been disappearing.

Black and brown folks were made victims of neoliberalism, and its gangster capitalism ethos, many decades ago. Urged on by the Republican Party through its skillful deployment of the politics of racial resentment and the Culture War narrative, the white working and middle classes sneered and mocked "the welfare queens" and "ghetto underclass" for their "shiftlessness," poor decision making, and "decision" to not abide by "traditional family values." Thus, the ghettto underclass were "surplus" citizens who "earned" their status as second class citizens.

As Charles Murray demonstrates in Coming Apart, the language and political logic of "surplus," "pathological," and "non-productive" citizens is now being applied to the white poor and working classes. One can never forget that globalization, the Great Recession, and Ayn Rand capitalism takes no prisoners. It is simply a matter of who these elites come for first in the interest of profit maximization. In the United States black and brown folks have historically been the most vulnerable groups. Therefore, their position made them the most precarious and expendable.

Here, the miner's canary got ethered; instead of feeling empathy for the bird, the white guy (perhaps an ethnic who just earned his racial bonafides) holding the cage smiled, happy that it wasn't (yet) him...fate is indeed a trickster as he/she is now laying dead in the bowels of the cave.

America is increasingly a bifurcated society of the haves and have nots, where the rich have seen record corporate profits and growth in income during the worst economy since the Great Depression. Simultaneously, the poor, middle, and working classes have been financially eviscerated as the Great Recession cut away all of the metaphorical fat and left only the toughest muscle and bone. Inevitably, this would impact the body politic across the color line where economic Darwinism would leave some black and brown folks, and many whites, in a strong position, while casting off the others onto a human waste pile.

While respecting Putnam's and Small's prescient insights, I am concerned about how a downshifting of race as an overarching variable for framing the relationships between social capital and upward mobility could imperil our ability to explain broader changes in American political economy. Race and class have historically operated (and continue to do so) as interlocking variables in American social life. To abandon such a foundational understanding is too bold a move and one that comes with great risks.

America is organized as a racial state. While it has evolved, this fact has not changed. In a capitalist society, one where whiteness has been protected as property by law and social convention, those norms run deep. They are not easily discarded. Moreover, as an empirical matter, there is a substantial body of data which details how being born black in America negatively impacts your standard of living, chances at getting a job, return on investment in higher education, makes you more likely to be harassed by the police, die at an earlier age, subject to disparate treatment by the criminal justice system, and face unfair burdens in both housing and lending practices.

As a complement this reality, the following two examples are damning and devastating arguments in favor of a nexus of class inequality through the machinations of race and white supremacy in practice.

First, as the book Black Wealth/White Wealth compelling demonstrates, a poor white person has a better chance of moving to the highest income bracket in a lifetime than a black person born at the top of the income scale has of remaining there. In fact, a rich black person born to the upper class is more likely to fall to the bottom rungs of America's income pyramid than they are of remaining there--as compared to a white person born into the same cohort.

Second, while the Great Recession has hurt the middle class in America, white folks have maintained (if not increased) the amount of wealth they have relative to black and brown Americans.

It is a given that most Americans have been hurt by this economic catastrophe. And of course, capitalism is "creative destruction." But, if class is increasingly less important for determining life chances, it seems odd that on an aggregate level that white folks now have at least two dollars for every ten cents which African-Americans hold in wealth--a differential that has increased during the time of the Great Recession.

Robert Putnam's and Mario Small's argument(s) that race is now trumped by class is sweet music for those of us who have long yearned for interracial, cross class alliances, that break the color line in the pursuit of shared social justice and political struggle. The real world often interferes however. The wages of whiteness are real, sweet, and tempting. They are made even more so when imperiled.

For example, white working class men still support Mitt Romney even though they admit that Obama will do more for people in their class position. Although they are doing much better than black and brown folks in the Great Recession, the white working class is more upset, angry, threatened, and negative about the future.

If they possess any construct validity at all, Whiteness and White Racism are ultimately about maintaining a sense of group superiority over people of color. American history has repeatedly demonstrated that Whiteness is the "complexion for the protection." As such, Whiteness is remarkably aspirational and long sighted. To point, White people--good noble race traitors aside--have consistently chosen racial affinity over class alliances across the color line.

Why? Because White elites have compensated the White masses, not always well, for doing so.

This pattern continues into the Age of Obama. The Tea Party GOP is a White Nationalism political party that mines anti-black and brown affect, as well as white racial resentment, to encourage many white Americans to sell out their substantive economic interests in exchange for a superior position in the country's racial order.

Consequently, the members of the White Right are paid the psychic wages of Whiteness as they suck at the tit of  "real America," "Christian," "god and country," sloganeering.

Professors Small and Putnam have demonstrated that the milk of this source of material nourishment is drying up. The sad irony then becomes that many White conservatives (and others who are overly White identified) that are wedded to their position in the racial order will keep sucking away, ever more desperate for its life force, and made more paranoid (as opposed to less) that a black or brown person will want a taste of that shriveled political breast from which the psychic and material wages of Whiteness flow.

Mario Small and Robert Putnam are likely correct that class is soon to eclipse race as both a determinant of life chances and predictor of social mobility in American society. The unfortunate reality remains that broad swaths of the American public have not yet gotten the memo.


CNu said...

Talent(natural endowments) and competence(acquired endowments) eclipsed race as a determinant of position in American society from 1970 forward.

Some would argue that that was the case long prior to the Civil Rights and Fair Housing acts. In fact, some would argue that "that which does not kill you, makes you stronger" has been in effect as a mechanism for Darwinian selection amongst black folk in America for centuries.

I had the privilege of spending a day with a senior law enforcement official yesterday, a slight and compact, bald-headed brother, who speaks very, very softly - in fact has a mild speech impediment.

He told me how he rose through the command ranks in the early 70's. First beginning with a masters degree in criminal justice, a big gold tooth and wholly unthreatening manner - he was a threat that no one saw or even imagined coming.

When law enforcement moved to independent 3rd party assessment for promotional eligibility - instead of interviews and the good ole boy system - this brother skyrocketed through sergeant and captain ranks.

Assessment systems in which one's knowledge, skills, ability and aptitudes are objectively measured and ranked, take all the guess work out of promotions in meritocratic hierarchies.

This is as it should be.

There will be much and protracted weeping, excuse-making, and gnashing of teeth from those sectors of society that cannot pass objective muster. Meanwhile, there will continue to be quiet brothers who make up the ranks of "iron majors" or as Cobb calls it, "the Slice".

Folk whose knowledge, skill, ability, and aptitudes make the roads roll.

The road has ended, however, rather abruptly and harshly for the many who have always merely been along for the ride...,

CNu said...

Fine Cobbian synchronicity going back to those fundamental kwestins concerning the law;

This makes for a moral component to cultural identity which is precisely the goop on the bottom of every multiculturalist shoe. It requires a very tight parsing between race, identity, culture, morality and citizenship - a mix that two decades of American Studies *still* hasn't worked out. In the end their fundamental contradiction is with the Constitutional implication and legal explicits of Civil Rights Law. To wit, we are supposed to be equal *without regard* to all the identity parameters. Multiculturalists must say we are equal *with special regard* to all the identity parameters. And so they are stuck with the obvious flaws, like it's ok to say that you hate women if you are a gay man.

bruto alto said...

Yet the problem is still in resources. Black kids are still getting less from education (yet more from sports) I understand your feelings that it starts at home, but if not at home then when?

"eclipsed race as a determinant of position in American society from 1970 forward."

Tell me the stats for black women in the 70-90's then compare that to white women. Then for laughs compare that to white men. Black women still make less for the same education and skills. By your account they are not good enough for the same pay? Did that just get voted down again lately?

Your example of a black man in middle management is the a perfect example of the public sector. Ask him if his boss is white and if he would replace him in a few years. The answer is no.

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. Exceptional people always find a way. That doesn't mean that the bigger story does not hold true--see bruto's comment.

@Bruto. I have to agree. The funny thing is that narratives of exceptional people are compelling and fascinating. However, the real meat of the story is with the average to below average person. Does a mediocre white man have a better shot at success in America than a mediocre person of color, or a woman, or a black woman, etc. etc.

The answer is clearly no. Whiteness is subsidized white mediocrity. For that reason I cringe whenever conservative mouth breathers starting talking about affirmative action and "qualified" minorities. Most of the complainers could not live up to their own standards.

CNu said...

Yet the problem is still in resources. Black kids are still getting less from education (yet more from sports) I understand your feelings that it starts at home, but if not at home then when?


That.problem.will.never.be.remedied. - and I really didn't have a clear view into why - until after my conversation with the Hon.Bro.Commander yesterday.

The kids are getting SO MUCH LESS AT HOME that their situation is absolutely hopeless. Mama busy watching "The Real Housewives" - instead of handling Dravontae and Taequisha's business like their lives depended on it.

If parents are not engaged with their own kids, how much less are they engaged with their children's schools?

By this I don't mean interested parent simple PTA involvement, I mean something much more substantial than that that differentiates suburban public schools from urban public schools.

There's no way the school/school district can keep current with best practices in industry. Sad but true, so-called educators are the least effective business, technology, facilities, and operations people in the world.

Suburban schools thrive and prosper because the parents bring world-class best practices to bear on the operations of the school, providing both knowledge capital and actual capital to ensure that their children receive the very best.

In the words of the immortal agent Smith Bruto Alto, "lieutenant, your men are already dead".

What's most pitiful about this situation overall, is that neither you or CDV or any other commenter at this blog has anything even remotely approaching a sensible, practical, achievable solution to offer - better than the one I gave at DD's spot a month and a half ago. And the only thing that anyone should ever bother to do is play the game full-on, without complaint, and hope and pray that like-minded, better players will take them under their wing so that they can progress some levels and do likewise for up-and-coming players

Anonymous said...

Putnam and Small are academic types who like many in the sphere always have a blindspot for reality and other narratives..

These intellectuals bring some merit and value to the table but they lack the calibration of reality and non-fiction. Academics weave wonderful narratives until they leave the ivy towers..

CD was correct of course by inserting the truth about the nature of RACE and how this sole factor makes any and all academic tomes and narratives suspect and flawed.

Of course in the real world rich and upper class negroes and colored folks encounter 'altitude racism' it still stings even with affluent, credentials and toney addresses..RACE continues to trump everything my white Jewish peers remind me of that often when they refer to me as 'swarta' out of ear shot..

Understanding this truth I do welcome this narrative despite it's orgins..

Just sayin..

Anonymous said...

Nonsense as usual runs from twisted mindset of CNU..

I have and my mentor Mr. Thrasher and others have proposed templates and paradigms for the elevation and development of Black folks..

Truth is simple white folks are not the masters of the universe quite often they are failures, incompetent and lack in many areas of development.

White private schools and suburban schools have always been inflated from excessive gpa's to impotent subject matter offerings..

Looking to that bandwidth as a model is truly a waste of time and a false trail to travel..

BTW The PEW findings earlier this year documented the strutural wealth gap between white families and black families that report was more significant than Putnam and Small's insights..

Just saying..

Anonymous said...

Last week during our workshop our mentor presented a brief snapshot of his interactive blueprint on how to survive and develop in a post urban marketplace..

"Post Industrial Treatise on The Resurgence of Urban Dwellers"

was the title of his tome I will report on more of his thoughts as WARN seems to be warming up again to it's roots of "must read site"..

Just saying

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Consequently, the members of the White Right are paid the psychic wages of Whiteness as they suck at the tit of "real America," "Christian," "god and country," sloganeering."

Yep. I am constantly amazed that members of my family continue to vote for and even actively campaign for the very people who are rogering them with the red hot poker of unfettered capitalism.

fred c said...

Maybe it's one of the narrow differences between Neoliberalsim and Neoconservatism. Maybe Neoliberalism is slightly less harsh on matters of race, while being just as harsh on matters of class. President Obama, in my opinion, is a Neoliberal phenomenon.

This stuff is over my head, I'm not applying for a license to have a real, advised opinion.

It does seem to me, however, that all four things mentioned in the first two paragraphs are still problems, race, poverty, social mobility and class. All still problems, but maybe race as a problem is trending downward, while social mobility, poverty and class are trending upwards.

Synonymous said...

Er...It's not either or and has never been. That obfuscation has been the biggest deception about race. Race is a subset of class; a grossly magnified one, but a subset nevertheless. Class can be understood independently of race, but the reverse is not the case. Race is class.

Did I ever tell you guys about the Elightenment? Of course not. I just got here. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Fred your views are now discounted with me after your affirmation of CNu 's desire to have a black death squad and your claim it is because he loves black folk do much...

I am still pissed at you for sucking up to his bigotry just to feel wanted in WARN

fred c said...

Ain't nobody talking about death squads for reals, you better hurry up and knew that. It's rhetoric, ask Greg about it. And tell him I said hi. (Not my rhetoric, way too bold for a White Devil, but I recognize it as such.)

CNu said...

lol@Thrasher begging me to give him something to suck on....,

Anonymous said...

Sorry, fred, I have to agree with myself on that. The death squad comment was deplorable. How do you know kimosabe is not serious? He's as serious about that as he is about all the other ugly things he says.

Synonymous said...

The Elightenment? Well, since you axed...

I wanted to call it the Elitenment, but that name was already taken. And the Elightenment does have to do with lightening after all.

Well, y'see children, a long long time ago in a slavocracy far far away there were these 2 classes of Negroes: the Field Negro and the House Negro...

CNu said...


Don't forget the contemporary variant, the one and only, blacker-than-thou, JIGGABOO..., {jiggaboo}

Synonymous said...

Well, a case could be made for third class of Negroes, no doubt. But in no case would that class be. The jiggaboo is only a caricature that you have bought into and try to sell to us.

Now as I was saying. There was these two classes of Negroes, the Ins the Outs, the Us the Them, the Sold and the Sellers (sometimes known as the sellouts)

Bruto alto said...

@ Synonymous

"There was these two classes of Negroes, the Ins the Outs, the Us the Them, the Sold and the Sellers (sometimes known as the sellouts)"

Sad days when a black person could say they are "the other kinda black guy" That means they (other black people) are lesser people than yourself? Sad days indeed. Divided we stand, unable to hold any power with numbers. You are the weakest link!


I went into education from criminal justice. I teach to give an example of a black male who didn't have to play sports or rap to find his happiness. I show that being smart isn't frowned upon. I choose to get in the game a lead by example. Next after school programs or sports.

Synonymous said...

'Sad days when a black person could say they are "the other kinda black guy"'

What's even sadder is that those sad days have been here from the very begin. It was black on black crime (tribal warfare) that caused some blacks to sell others in the first place. Yeah, the white man is the devil, but we cannot deny the role of their co-conspirators. And, pssst, they still with us, performing the same function. I now call it the Elightenment.

CNu said...

lol, "jiggaboo" is synonymous with anybody try'na pitch political solidarity strictly on the basis of pigmentation in 2012.

every single black person in America - without exception - enjoys the same rights under the law as every single white person in America.

you got a case to make to the contrary, take it to the courts. you want to enlist my political support and my social capital, do it as an elected official for whom I can vote and who I can hold accountable for following through on his political commitments.

everything else is useless, fatuous conversation...,

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a matter of class will eclipsing race.. I think that the powers that be have grown tired of propping one race up against the other. The superiority complex has already been so thorughly ingrained, whites can safely be economically dropped like hot potatoes. The same will spend decades blaming the black or brown man before they wake up to the realization that they really are the proletariat. Unfortunately, by that time this country will resemble Dickensian England.

Anonymous said...

"lol, "jiggaboo" is synonymous with anybody try'na pitch political solidarity strictly on the basis of pigmentation in 2012."

Wow! I had no idea that's what you meant. How dare you call the CBC our president and CDV "jiggaboos"! You hear that, respectable Negroes? Y'all ALL is jiggaboos!

Anonymous said...

'Sad days when a black person could say they are "the other kinda black guy" '

And what do you think Obama has been saying since the day he became president?

CNu said...

Leveraging a little on what Sabrinabee wrote, and more specifically on what Ed at Dream and Hustle wrote;

Over at Subrealism, they showed a video from the Brookings institute that talked about the metropolitan areas. The Brookings institute as well as every other institution has the same conclusion that we share here at Dream and Hustle about reviving the American economy. The American economy can only be driven by the metropolitan areas and the majority of these American metropolitan areas have a good portion of control by African-American politicians.

I asked about Latin America and CNu over there explained the class system down there that still exist and really, the majority of middle class growth in places like Latin is coming from American and other multi-national corporations hiring educated workers and creating the middle class. But I don’t believe these multi-nationals are creating jobs, I believe they are transferring jobs that used to be done in America, by African-American middle class workers to these emerging nations.

It's all down to talent and competence as these are the hallmarks of prospective profitability. Shrill cries for pigmentational partisanship in the context of the ongoing Dickensian hollowing out of the American political economy - are backward and stupid.

Anonymous said...

Repeat after him:
Thereisnoinstitutionalracism. Thereisnoinstitutionalracism.

CNu said...

Repeat after me:

Do the shit you sposed to do
Do the shit you sposed to do
Do the shit you sposed to do

and if you still havin problems - take em to court.

everything else is fatuous conversation....,

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Ya, house negroes like to play that paternalistic role.