"What's Holding Blacks Back?
March 1, 2001 7:12 PM   Subscribe

"What's Holding Blacks Back? It’s black attitudes, not white racism, that’s to blame." (John McWhorter, in City Journal, via Arts & Letters Daily)
posted by m.polo (48 comments total)
Hmm.. interesting article, seems to make sense. Do the facts hold up? Who is they guy? Although I guess this is not my area, does his message make sense? Is it right?
posted by tiaka at 7:57 PM on March 1, 2001

Without reading the article, I'll say both. All whites are not racist and all blacks don't have "black attitudes", but some members of both classes are guilty of these things.
posted by tomorama at 8:00 PM on March 1, 2001

I respect McWhorter for taking initiative and risking the backlash to express his views. I can't imagine the public response, had this been written by a white male.
posted by Hankins at 8:11 PM on March 1, 2001

The author has a reputable background and has published books on linguistics, dealing (some) with pidgin and black English. I have as yet no comment to make on the validity of what he has said . I note though that he has moved beyond his field of expertise as a linguist when he deals with cultural problems such as this.
posted by Postroad at 8:18 PM on March 1, 2001

Here's McWhorter's faculty page at Berkeley. He's gotten a lot of press in the last year for his book Losing the Race, [preface + first chapter] which has been hailed mainly by conservatives, and come under criticism from the left -- much to the chagrin of the author, who doesn't see himself as an academic J.C. Watts carrying water for the GOP. You can see where he's coming from by opening with the infamous niggardly incident from D.C. municipal politics.

I believe there's a strong argument to be made here, and like Camille Paglia, I'm always appalled at the limited openness to self-criticism found among liberals. I believe that affirmative action was necessary at one time, but I'm also open to the idea that the time for it has come and gone -- and that dismantling it over time, fight by fight, is just something we're going to have to struggle through, as we did to open those doors in the first place.
posted by dhartung at 8:20 PM on March 1, 2001

Ever since I came to this country, I've always thought it rather sad that Sharpton, Farakaan and Jesse Jackson is all the leadership blacks have. (They are MLK wannabes, in my opinion.) And unfortunately, instead of focusing on the problems that are truly holding back the black community--drugs, single motherhood, and a weak family structure overall--they pin everything on racism.

posted by Witold at 8:51 PM on March 1, 2001

I read the article a couple of days ago and I think he touched on many valid points. Actually, those views are nothing new. Chris Rock said pertty much on 'Bring the Pain'.
As with most cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Most black folks I know are striving to make something better, to improve themselves and life for their children.
Attitudes just take time to shift.
Those than can-will. Those that can't will have either be have to be helped along or left behind. But that's something that goes for everybody.
America has a long history of saying one thing and doing another. If we truly want a level playing field, then everybody will have to work hard for justice and make sure the system is really fair. That means calling BS when we see it. Nobody gets a free pass or gets off the hook.
I don't think we're there yet, but like dhartung said, its just something we're gonna have to struggle through.

posted by black8 at 9:01 PM on March 1, 2001

Witold-Jesse, Al and Louis don't speak for me any more that Joe Pesci speaks for all Italians.
If the media wants to give the 'squeaky wheels' some grease-that's their perogative-I don't need a leader and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way.
posted by black8 at 9:06 PM on March 1, 2001

black8 --

I have long wondered why so few black people challenge the media (as well as other blacks) on the way they prop up these so-called "leaders." The media paints blacks as if they moved in a perfectly calibrated lock-step.

I really can't think of any other group that allows people to suggest that they "speak" for them -- I doubt Euro-Americans or Asian-Americans would put up with that kind of nonsense, why do African-Americans allow it?

I would sincerely like to get some insight into this.

posted by justkurt at 9:24 PM on March 1, 2001

In my opinion, Sharpton, Farrakhan and Jackson are mostly black "leaders" in the eyes of the media. I don't think the average Joe on the street is a follower of any of them.

I do hate the attitude among my own people of "the world owes me a living" (as I see it), and believe in pulling one's self up by the bootstraps.

But I also reject the idea that the playing field is now level, because it isn't...
posted by owillis at 9:47 PM on March 1, 2001

You can see where he's coming from by opening with the infamous niggardly incident from D.C. municipal politics.

Ah yes, the niggardly incident. Ye Olde Ratbastard composed a little Shakespearian parody of that incident which had me laughing for about four days straight some time ago.
posted by christian at 9:50 PM on March 1, 2001

The trouble is that the whole issue has become caught up in a fundamental class problem. Poor people face strikingly similar problems in our North American societies. Malnutrition among children, dangerous neighbourhoods, the increasing surveillance the poor are subjected to in society compared with others, the stigmatization of poverty... all are faced by many people of all races.

That black people have tended to be poorer is most definitely an issue related to past and lingering racism - to think otherwise is to have a very loose grip on history. And racism certainly isn't "over" as a problem. That doesn't, however, mean that the racism is the only issue to deal with, or the main way to overcome the problems.

Many broader poverty issues become identified as "black" issues, though. Trouble is, the idea that these are class problems, not strictly or simply race-related problems, blunts the ability for society to deal with them effectively - which of course is compounded by the fact that "class" is a dirty word in both Canada and the US, societies that love to think of themselves as classless.
posted by mikel at 10:00 PM on March 1, 2001

owillis -

If your assertion that the average African-American doesn't support these guys is accurate (and I believe it is), then I'd like to know this:

Why does the picture the media presents to suburban white Americans of black America always suggest otherwise?

Could this be an example, as some might suggest, of a liberal bias in the media?

If you and the only other poster that has identified themselves as black have now both said you don't think of these guys as your leaders, then why don't we ever hear hear dissent from folks like you via the networks? Could it possibly be that they are trying to shape the views of black America?

posted by justkurt at 10:07 PM on March 1, 2001

if you have ever worked in a news organization, you would understand the value of a "quick quote." jackson and sharpton are always available to the media and never minds making "statements."

and why do "white people" always seem to be "concerned" about a "black leader" ? can't the black run their lives without the white insistance of a "leader"? who is the white leader?

anyone who has claimed here to be white, asian, martian, (what have you) please take me to your respective leaders. i need to unload all your bases.
posted by tamim at 10:28 PM on March 1, 2001

justkurt: I think it's a tendency in the media to say "we need a good soundbite to represent the black POV". Who are they going to pick? Well known folks like Jesse Jackson, or Al Sharpton or nobodys like myself?

There's a black conservative talk show host here in LA, Larry Elder, that wrote a book and couldn't get booked on a talk show to save his life except a brief appearance on the tonight show. Now I disagree almost 100% with what Larry Elder says, but it makes me even more worried that the media found the concept of a "black conservative" so oddball that they wouldn't book him.

Now if I wrote a book called "The White Man Done Me Wrong And I'd Like Some Money For That", I think the media would be a lot more likely to accomodate me. Why?

It fits in with the media's image of what a black man should think.
posted by owillis at 12:26 AM on March 2, 2001

I agree, that "black America" is too often looked at as some unified entity that has representative spokespeople in folks like Jackson and Farrakan, etc....

And so white pundits too often take those soundbites as "black gospel", and use them in some way for their own rhetorical agendas.

And white "armchair pundits" get to preach endlessly to their coworkers about what "black people's problem is".

WOOO-HOOOOO! Doesn't it just sound like paradise?

I think the main thing is that people in general, in the media, in politics, etc., artificially compact reality into whatever category boxes will be handier for their career.

So, the "dialogue" is set by a swarm of self-important, know-nothing blow-hards who have little in common with the "common man".

posted by TheShovel at 12:50 AM on March 2, 2001

owillis, you may be overlooking the fact that Larry Elder is a complete buffoon. Case in point: He chose yesterday, the day after a major earthquake, to advocate the elimination of FEMA aid to earthquake victims, the logic being that they choose to live in earthquake prone areas. Now, apart from the stupidity and wrongheadedness of his argument, the timing was, to say the least, ill-advised. His inability to get on any talk shows may be just the local media version of something we do here at MeFi. We ignore trolls.
posted by Optamystic at 12:52 AM on March 2, 2001

Optamystic: Good point. I listen to his show to get an assesment of what "the enemy" is up to.

But my main concept is that the media is not willing to hear black voices outside of this clearly designed box they've set up.

You've either got -
The Civil Rights Leader: Jackson, Sharpton
The Hip Hop Menace: Snoop Doggy Dogg, Spike Lee
The "Good" Black Conservative: Colin Powell, JC Watts

The rest of us get pushed to the side.
posted by owillis at 1:49 AM on March 2, 2001

I'm back! And I agree with owillis. Part of the problem is the media.
There is also this-to be consdered a 'leader' one has to set themselves up as a moral authority. Note that Jesse, Al & Louis are all preachers...I'm just an average agnostic brother trying to make to make a living and get ahead-I don't need the hassle. And nobody asked me anything (until now).
Blacks have been under siege in this country for a long time-our enemies were and are very real. (Wasn't it Chief Justice Warren who said you can't shackle a runner and then wonder why he can keep up in a footrace?)
So there has been a need for a 'Moses' (Mosei, Moseses?) to lead us into the 'promised land'. The question is-Are we there yet? Or still wandering??
Maybe Jesse gets a pass, 'cause he put it all on the line during the Civil Rights Movement. Maybe Sharpton was smart enough to tap into the alienation and anger that many of us feel. Perhaps, Farrakhan's message of self-reliance and hatred for a power structure historically unfriendly to blacks resonates with those who would follow him.
I would hope that is you're really curious, justkurt, that you know some black folks that you could ask personally to see what they think. I'm sure you'd come away with an intelligent and thoughtful answer, even if its one you don't agree with.
And remember, I don't take Richard Butler, David Duke or Tom DeLay's every proclaimation as the oriflamme of 'white thought', even though there are some who consider them leaders. So why get all worked up over it?
We are not monolith.

posted by black8 at 2:50 AM on March 2, 2001

I've already posted this Walter Williams quote to the Plastic thread about McWhorthers' article, as well as in my blog, but I'll post it here as well anyway, because it is so spot-on:

"I, for one, have confidence that if black youngsters spent as much time and effort studying math and English as some of them spend playing basketball, they'd produce the same excellence in math and English. The fact racism kept blacks out of college and professional basketball and football years ago doesn't stop us from today's domination. And the reason isn't affirmative action, it's excellence."
posted by frednorman at 3:56 AM on March 2, 2001

This article hit on some issues that were brought to light in my move from the West Coast (particularly San Francisco) to the Washington, DC area. SF in many was a "Sesame Street" environment where everybody got along to a large degree. Working downtown and taking the bus to the Richmond District I went through the Western Addition projects. Most everybody on the bus got along and there were conversations between passengers, regardless of color and monetary level (as the bus riders income levels do vary to some degree). There was little strong disagreement over social or political issues. There was *seemingly* a mindset of one focus, which is to bring everybody up. The media's stereotypes of race did not play out on the busses or clubs (I liked the soul nights at the old Townsend club and would find myself one of a few white people in the club, other than bartenders and other staff).

Moving East changed everything. Outside the workplace there was very little interaction between races. Walking down the street and saying hello to someone not your race (particularly if I was in a suit) would get a burning glare. It seemed as if there was a need to force a difference between races. Also noticed, the Africans do not hold the same beliefs the African-Americans. The differences were stark. The Africans tend to focus on the A-As focus on entitlements and not the fruits of their own labor. This I thought was harsh and off base, but tended to resonate more than I thought it would. The appearant simularities within social/economic strata are much narrower between African-American and American whites on the East Coast, particularly in the belief that they have been wronged and are owed something. This belief does not seem to hold with other races and particularly does not hold with immigrants.

I do believe there are many injustices that are based on the color of ones skin and that has been very slow to change.

The above are just broad observations that struck me as they were extremely different from what I had grown up with on the West Coast. The observations do not reflect the whole, as there have been many contrary views, but on the whole the East Coast and West Coast perspectives (from my observations) represent the majority trends. I much prefer the West Coast views where people get along with out attention drawn to skin color. Paying attention to the color of ones skin is a barrier rather than an enabler of understanding.
posted by vanderwal at 5:58 AM on March 2, 2001

vanderwal: I'm from the East Coast, Maryland specifically, and I've found the attitude completely different from what you report. When I lived in Maryland, I found that people were much more integrated - mostly because of the affluent black middle class that was more prevalent in Maryland.

What a culture shock when I moved to Florida where everyone kept to themselves at my predominantly black high school (95%+ black). My lunch table was even featured in the newspaper because of our "strange" integration next to everyone else's. I also found that the black middle class is a lot smaller in Florida, which I think had something to do with it.

2 years ago I moved to the west coast, where things seem even worse. Unlike Florida where the races live together but don't interact, LA seems to have segregated itself. There's a black part of town, a white part of town, a hispanic part of town, etc. It's crazy.

Of the three regions, I've experienced the closest to "racial harmony" on the East coast. My own theory is because of the larger black middle class in that region. That group, possibly because they've had a taste of success seems a lot less prone to the "world owes me a living" thought.
posted by owillis at 6:57 AM on March 2, 2001

When I lived in Maryland, I found that people were much more integrated - mostly because of the affluent black middle class that was more prevalent in Maryland.

Did you live in Prince George's County by any chance, Oliver? That seems to be the textbook example of a fairly wealthy, majority black, suburban area.

I'll throw out a completely unsubstantiated thought, which is that since racial discrimination (conscious and unconscious) is less of a factor in governmental hiring than in the private sector, the DC area is probably going to be more likely to produce and sustain an African-American upper-middle class than most other parts of the country. More black folks get white-collar jobs and have kids who grow up middle class, who then get white-collar jobs. Etcetera.
posted by snarkout at 7:46 AM on March 2, 2001

Actually I lived in Montgomery County, which is 15% black according to this data...
posted by owillis at 8:33 AM on March 2, 2001

What McWhorter is doing is called blaming the victim. The idea appeals to those who would otherwise have to look at their own responsibility in the matter.

McWhorter's not wrong in suggesting that there's often more that individual Blacks can do to improve their situation -- this is true of everyone; there is always room for improvement. McWhorter is wrong to say that racism is not systemic and institutionalized. Our society is governed by a dominant culture with a set of values that uplifts one group at the expense of all others. It's disingenuous to argue as though there is an insular Black community unaffected by the prevailing norms and expectations.

I think lots of the observations McWhorter makes are accurate and indeed important, but he dramatically underestimates the prevalence and influence of white racism. Ultimately the argument McWhorter builds is not grounded in reality.
posted by sudama at 8:46 AM on March 2, 2001

I haven't read the article but I think your white guilt is becoming overpowering. (see owillis and black8 above)
I'm black and I'm a liberal (a reformed socialist, actually) but I am also aware that in certain sectors of black society there is a pervasive belief that because 'the Man is keeping us down' there is no way we can make it. This belief is very destructive.
Furthermore, it's disappointing that this country refuses to give a fair hearing to Alan Keyes and his ilk. I disagree strongly with him but I think his voice should be heard.
posted by Octaviuz at 8:58 AM on March 2, 2001

Sudama, I got the impression from reading the piece that he acknowleges the fact that there is a legacy of racism, and that it still remains to an extent. But that racism alone isn't the whole story and that many Blacks have descended into a morass whereby they expect to be disadvantaged which becomes then a self-fulfilling prophecy. Theres also the attitude that self improvement and learning are some kind of a sell-out to your race, again disadvantaging young Blacks for seemingly little reason other than peer pressure.
While I agree that most western societies are run for the benefit of one group over all others, it appears to be money and corporate power calling the shots rather than some institutionalised 'white advancement' cabal.
posted by Markb at 9:08 AM on March 2, 2001

owillis: Montgomery County. How goes it? I grew up in Silver Spring, graduated from Banneker High in D.C. and Bowie State over in P.G.

Speaking from my experience of moving to Oakland in '95, I'd say that people are probably more likely to perceive Balkanization if they move from here east or south. Coming here, I see Balkanization but it's subtler -- not as vivid as the division Rock Creek Park highlights between neighborhoods of D.C., but there just the same (not to discount vanderwal's experience or perceptions -- heck, I'd like to hear more). It's not just the housing market in the Bay Area that's a big part of why I like living in Oakland, rather than, say, Pleasanton or El Cerrito.

snarkout and sudama: I think you've both called it right.

Some interesting tidbits about McWhorter: (underline mine, of course)
His opponents might scoff, but McWhorter says the
"conservative" label he's been stuck with is more convenient than absolutely accurate. He's not a registered Republican, he voted for Ralph Nader in the last two presidential elections, is decidedly pro-choice and resents being used as a football by Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. His favorite director is Spike Lee. Because he approves of class-based affirmative action in college admissions and favors using affirmative action in the business sphere, he said he's the lefty in the group of black conservatives he's suddenly found himself amid.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 9:12 AM on March 2, 2001

tamim --

I think you're missing the point when you ask me "Why can't the black run their lives without the white insistance of a 'leader'?" -- the answer is, white folks really AREN'T insisting that blacks have a leader -- white MEDIA folks are.

The fact is that the electronic media is the only way many whites (and blacks) see the unknown "other," so the way they are represented in that forum is an important issue to discuss.

posted by justkurt at 9:20 AM on March 2, 2001

More on blaming the victim from Caleb Rosado's The Undergirding Factor is POWER:
Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism

"It is not our gender or skin color that we have to change, but systems of oppression that benefit some groups at the expense of others. This whole process is what William Ryan calls 'blaming the victim.' It is an ideological process that justifies inequality by finding defects in the victims of inequality. The logical outcome of analyzing social problems in terms of the deficiencies of the victim is a simple formula for action: Change the victim! "
posted by sudama at 9:25 AM on March 2, 2001

Sudama, that is just ridiculous. Under that construct, there is absolutely no room for individual accountability and responsibility. There is no escape, under that ideal, from systemic racism -- a theoretical and factual impossibility otherwise there could be no way for any person of colour to ever excel or exceed beyond the impoverished, uneducated, "oppressed" status of the lowest class.

McWhorter and Williams are not denying that racism exists. Their point, which could not be more true, is simply that beyond racism, there are reasons which are resident with each individual for the position in society that that individual is in. If you make choices to bow to every pressure, to not make an effort for yourself, then you will be held back and held down. That is as much your own fault as anyone else's, regardless of your socio-economic status, skin colour, religion or anything else. You can call yourself a victim all that you want; but when you're victimising yourself, who else is to blame?
posted by Dreama at 9:45 AM on March 2, 2001

Racism does more than simply exist. It isn't floating around in the air, like a bad smell. I don't think there's only individual accountability or personal responsibility at issue here. One must challenge all forms of racism, prejudice and bigotry not just on a group level, but by individual action and responsibility. When you challenge it, you do not bow to pressure -- you identify it, call it out and take it on. McWhorter's take on affirmative action, for example, doesn't appear to be simply about the self-victimization you decry, Dreama.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 10:12 AM on March 2, 2001

Dreama, that was just a brief relevant passage from a comprehensive article.

People of color who succeed in the U.S. do it in spite of racism -- not because it doesn't exist, not because it isn't a significant factor in their lives. More power to them.

What McWhorter and his defenders inexplicably overlook and implicitly deny is the direct causal relationship between white racism and Black victimhood. In a true absence of racism, Black families wouldn't be torn apart by the drug war. Black self-esteem wouldn't be assaulted by the media & prevailing cultural values. Black civilians wouldn't be shot to death for holding a wallet/keychain/watergun/spatula/bible. Black educational achievement wouldn't be undermined by racist teachers, tests, and tracking systems. Black health wouldn't suffer from stress-related diseases such as hypertension.
posted by sudama at 10:33 AM on March 2, 2001

Dreama, I was just discussing this with someone this morning. Systemic racism does not mean that no members of a disadvanteged class will succeed. It does not mean that there's "absolutely no room for individual accountability and responsibility." It does not mean that members of privileged classes are granted a free pass.

Clearly, the son of, say, Kenneth Chenault (the president of American Express, who is an African-American) has advantages over the son of a unemployed white coal miner in West Virginia. I think that in terms of economic success, class and education make more of a difference than race. But given a white kid and a black kid growing up in America in similar socio-economic starting circumstances, do you really think that the white kid doesn't have at least some advantage?

This isn't meant to slight the accomplishments of anyone who has overcome adversity. Again, I am not saying that white people magically have success granted to them. And this isn't to disagree with the fact that, as McWhorter claims, many disadvantaged people, through hard work, smarts, a dash of luck, whatever, succeed. Perhaps even the majority do. But do they succeed at the same rate, given the same drive, as beneficiaries of privilege?

There's a disconnect between the idea that some black people don't make an effort to succeed and the idea that all black claims of disempowerment are invalid. (Even a slightly tilted field is going to hurt a lot of people.) Preferring "equality of opportunity" over than "equality of results" is perfectly defensible, but I don't think we're there yet.

McWhorter's clearly treading in waters that he's not academically trained to discuss, so his academic background really isn't an issue here. If he were just a pundit, though, I'd say that some of his ideas are worth serious discussion. I'd support a primarily economic, rather than a racial, basis for affirmative action in college admission, f'rinstance.
posted by snarkout at 10:38 AM on March 2, 2001

Dreama, you have to keep in mind that the lower someone's socio-econmic status is, the less oppornuity and resources they have at their disposal in order to rise from their present situation. Go into any inner city neighboorhood and poll elementray age children asking what they want to be when they grow up, and the answers should not be much different from the answers of other children from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

Poll the same children again when their adolescents and then again in their mid teens, and their answers will starkly depressing. They lived a life many can't even fathom living, and it's beaten them already. The despair & hopelessness has already begun to set in, and they give up; continue the cycle.

In order for what you said, Dreama, to come true: you have to change the mindsets of everyone in that community from the young to the old, teachers and community leaders along with improving their communities from the ground up. Everybody has to believe in the same thing, strive for the same goal. That is what I believe is missing in some black neighborhoods.

This is not to be said, however, of the entire black race. Most blacks live by the belief of "pull yourself up by the bootstaps, make something better of yourself and provide a better life for your own family", just as most Americans.

Someone asked earlier why don't blacks speak out for their non-support of perceived black leaders? I, for one, believe it's by in large due to the seperation within our race. There are many different "types" of blacks (similar to how whites will sometimes classify themselves as "yuppies", "poor white trash", etc.) and Al, Jesse, and Louis are popular from within some of these subgroups, sometimes overlapping. These are our "leaders" to a lot: they have the power to unite, they have the power to get a lot of blacks attention, as evidenced by the Million Man March more recently bringing a lot of attention of the importance of the 2000 election.

No, they don't spew the collective conscience of Black America, and I hope no-one thinks that they do, but I believe they serve a purpose as recognized leaders within our community. Their effectiveness as leaders along with the quality of their message, and their moral standing should definitely questioned within our community, and come to their own conclusions. I may not agree with most of what they say, but I'm not going to speak out against them when they still have the ability to reach out to many blacks that other blacks may not be able to, such as black Republicans and conservatives.
posted by aeon at 11:03 AM on March 2, 2001

(this is my - vanderwal - day account)
owillis - I agree with you. The San Francisco experience is very different from Los Angeles. I went to one year of junior high in West LA. That jr high had volunteer busing (late 70s) and by some definition was integrated. There was very little intermixing between skin color (whites/Jews, Asian, Hispanic, and African-American). This seemed odd. There was a group of us that hung out together that really did not care about skin color. I played pop warner football and many of the players I played with or against were at this school (Compton, Watts, among others). It was difficult for the football players to hang out and talk, because of the skin color peer-pressure. It was easier to hang with the intellectual geeks who did not fit in as they were not skin color conscious.

I went to high school in central California, which was racially backwards (somewhat separatist) with pockets of severe intolerance for any differences.

Moving to SF after college was great. The Bay Area is very diverse in its openness to integration. Concord was (at least in the 80s) a very closed place. I left SF in 1993 and friends have said it has changed quite a bit since then.

My East Coast comments are focussed on Washington, DC itself. I now live in the Bethesda area and it is very different from DC proper.
posted by vanderwal2 at 11:33 AM on March 2, 2001

...you have to keep in mind that the lower someone's socio-econmic status is, the less oppornuity and resources they have at their disposal in order to rise from their present situation.

My ass. I heard the same nonsense when I was growing up: child of an alcholic single mother, ADC/welfare recipient - I had access to the same damn resources as anyone else: my brain and my heart and my will. I put myself through college and I am now solidly upper middle class (to my own disbelief). I wanted out and I got out. I knew there was more to life than what I grew up with. That's all anyone really needs in order to succeed. Poor kids do not expect the Fairy Godmother of Class Consciousness to make things better.

Poll the same children again when their adolescents and then again in their mid teens, and their answers will starkly depressing.

It'll have a great deal more to do with the reality of adolescence than anything else - an emotional rollercoaster the likes of which no one should have to suffer through. Adolescents are naturally self-obsessed - their own misery takes precedence. Puberty doesn't give a whit about skin color.
posted by gsh at 12:32 PM on March 2, 2001

To Dhartung: Paglia? She bad mouths liberals the same way she bad mouths just about anything and everything but what she herself has to say. She is every guy's ex wife.
posted by Postroad at 12:44 PM on March 2, 2001

...you have to keep in mind that the lower someone's socio-econmic status is, the less oppornuity and resources they have at their disposal in order to rise from their present situation.
My ass.

GSH is right -- clearly, the lower someone' socio-economic status is, the more opportunity and resources they have. Up is down! Black is white! Freedom is slavery!
posted by snarkout at 12:51 PM on March 2, 2001

Sorry, my snarkiness got the better of me there. Congratulations, gsh, you're living proof that people can come out of a crummy situation and still thrive. But do you think you had as easy a time of it as someone coming from an upper-middle-class family?
posted by snarkout at 12:54 PM on March 2, 2001

I had access to the same damn resources as anyone else: my brain and my heart and my will.

Sure, and you made good use of them. But you didn't have access to the resources that some people get in addition to their own intelligence and motivation, like, say, friends and relatives who work at fancy companies where they can get you an internship or job. Meanwhile, of course, plenty of people who have substantial material and circumstantial advantages will have somewhat, er, sub-par internal resources.

In fact, a particularly harmful possible result of growing up in a "disadvantaged" situation is to believe that there's no hope and that you're out of the game, and I agree that that's a serious danger when we emphasize disadvantage. On the other hand, looking at emergent effects of systems in our culture (and here I don't necessarily mean "the system" as some megalithic entity imposed on people, but rather "system" as a descriptive term for what happens when many independent entities interact) is important in terms of trying to revise the situation in order to produce the most level playing field possible.
posted by redfoxtail at 1:02 PM on March 2, 2001

Okay, I've gotta ask: how many of you folks espousing the "poor people gots no connections" hooey come from, shall we say, economically-challenged backgrounds yourselves? Or are you guys just taking a guess 'bout how things are for people who are overly familiar with the labyrinthine processes of the welfare system?
posted by gsh at 2:01 PM on March 2, 2001

gsh, it's wonderful that you succeeded, that you were able to escape the world that drags many down.

But think about where many lower-income people live: the inner-cities and rural areas. I'd argue that "poor people gots no connections." In the 50s-70s, businesses left the inner-cities, and middle class people (whites AND blacks) left the areas, too. I don't see how people are to "get out" if they don't have access to jobs, or don't have access to the suburbs (public transportation is pretty poor in many of this nation's cities).

Look at areas of the US's big cities, and the nation's rural areas. There's not much in the way of booming business. It's mostly deserted factories.

And if you're not a fan of welfare, then you'll love TANF and PRWORA. Initial results are positive, but no one knows for sure what will happen in 2002, when most everyone on welfare must be working.
posted by gramcracker at 2:20 PM on March 2, 2001

I really hate talking about my background in this kind of forum, but just for you, gsh: I've never been poor enough to be on welfare, though my social circle has certainly included people who have been. When I was little, we were fairly poor (we lived in the kind of neighborhood that specializes in chain-link fences around yards full of dogs, and I remember one vivid incident from my childhood when my dad dropped his jar of generic peanuts and sat down and cried because it was impossible to separate the glass from the nuts, and it was the only treat he could afford for the week). Later, my mom went to law school and went to work for the state, and my dad died. Result: living in a better neighborhood with a decent school, and a pretty solidly middle-class lifestyle.

I got to go to an excellent college (though it put me hugely in debt), and though I would have liked to be able to afford to do the unpaid internships that other people were doing to enhance their resumes and build connections in their field of interest, it wasn't an option. Similarly, none of my relatives or their friends were situated to give me a leg up in the working world. But really, it was no big deal, especially because a) just going to a fancy school gets you lots of connections, b) I don't really have any interest in the kinds of high-power jobs that I wasn't spectacularly well-positioned to pursue, and c) at least I always knew I had a safety net if anything went horribly wrong, because my mom was reasonably financially secure.

Naturally everyone's situation is different. It's perfectly possible to have very little money and still be well-connected; for example, your parents can be fuckups in some way, bringing poverty upon your home, but have wonderfully connected relatives and friends. You can also pick up connections later in life. However, I don't really see how you can dispute the assertion that some people start out with a whole lot more useful social connections than other people do. After all, it's called a socio-economic group for a reason; down-on-their luck people from "good families" aren't in the same socio-economic group as 7th-generation rural poor folk.

And ditto what gramcracker said about issues of access. Depending on where you live, the simple problem of getting yourself to work/the library/whatever place you want to go in order to help yourself get ahead can be a major stumbling block.

(Oy, sorry this came out so long.)
posted by redfoxtail at 2:55 PM on March 2, 2001

Arrgh. Um, to belabor my narrative about my background, the "and my dad died" in that above post isn't meant to imply that that event helped the financial situation; rather, it meant that while my mother was an attorney, we wound up with only one income (of the civil-servant variety rather than the corporate-lawyer variety), some law-school debt, and a bunch of medical expenses, so the result wasn't anything like great riches--just good old-fashioned middle-class stability. Now, back to your regularly scheduled discussion.
posted by redfoxtail at 3:01 PM on March 2, 2001

you didn't have access to the resources that some people get in addition to their own intelligence and motivation, like, say, friends and relatives who work at fancy companies where they can get you an internship or job.

I'm not poor, and I don't have friends and relatives who work at fancy companies where they can get me an internship or a job.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:20 PM on March 2, 2001

possibly another slant on the issue:

posted by Postroad at 6:40 AM on March 3, 2001

Postroad, control-shift-a is your friend. If you're going to post links all the time, please use it. Or at least type the A HREF yourself.
posted by dhartung at 8:31 AM on March 3, 2001

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