Sociology

Forty Acres and a Gap in Wealth

The Pew study that found Blacks no longer think of themselves as one "race" seems to have caught many people off guard. I don’t really understand why. In the article linked below, Henry Louis Gates calls for making property owners of the poor. He thinks that ownership of property will make the left behind feel like stakeholders in America, that owning property will change the values, habits, and practices of those who do not think of themselves as middle-class.
 
It will take much more than property ownership to change hearts and minds. The poor are mired in various types of property as it is. They are as caught up in the consumer economy as the rest of us. They buy expensive cars and equip them with some of the most useless accessories (spinners, video screens in the back seat), get their hair and nails did on the regular,  and always seem to have enough money for the daily blunts and alcohol. They have no interest in reading or learning anything that doesn’t teach how to immediately stack a dollar. The lack of interest in schooling often forces those who do work to take low-paying jobs as security guards or certified nursing assistants as they have not acquired skills or educational credentials that might help them qualify for better paying jobs with greater autonomy.
 
Trouble is, for me, that Blacks only became one "race" once they were brought across the great water. Prior to being sold into oblivion, black Africans were members of tribes and ethnic groups. They recognized themselves and others as members of distinct groups and never considered themselves to be one "race". Once in glorious America, the previously distinct groups were lumped together. Often, people were placed among others who did not speak their language, who might have been enemies in the old country. This was done to prevent coalition building that might successfully overthrow the overseers of the hell that was American slavery.
 
Blacks should be considered an ethnic group. Within the ethnic group are subgroups that engage in diverse cultural practices. Because this country has been loathe to discuss issues of class differences within ethnic groups there is this ridiculous sense of surprise at Pew’s finding that Blacks don’t think of themselves as one "race". What the hell is "race" anyway? There is no scientific basis for racial thinking. As a social concept, "race" is fast losing ground. While Blacks may have been forced together in slavery and segregation, while they may have suffered the same oppression, I don’t believe for a second that they have always considered themselves one people. After a time, the dividing process began again, under the authority of slave owners. We get the house slave and the field slave, the true African and the mulatto. Simple and sparse divisions, but mighty in their power to persist over centuries.
 
 
 
 

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