Comprehensive Exam Study Guide Race, Wealth and Equality



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Comprehensive Exam Study Guide

Race, Wealth and Equality – Melvin L. Oliver and Thomas M. Shapiro (1995)
Today, we “harvest a mixed legacy of racial progress”: Blacks are joining the middle class, desegregation has enhanced academic achievement since the 50s, Blacks are moving into more white collar jobs; yet many Blacks cannot take advantage of opportunities and have their children in sub-par schools, and are isolated in “communities of despair.”
The stratified nature of racial inequality highlights social class background as a factor in the divergence in economic fortunes of Blacks and Whites. This argument—that social class differences are now more significant than racial barriers of the pat—was made by William Julius Wilson, The Declining Significance of Race, 1978).


  • In other words, discrimination and racism have less direct effect today on Blacks’ attainment than actually having the education and skills necessary for economic success (race is only a “lingering product of an oppressive past”).




  • A focus on wealth is crucial to understand the paradox of continued inequality: Black wealth has grown, but has still fallen behind White wealth growth:




  • The significance of factors in the White/Black wealth gap:

  • Broken land promises during Reconstruction: 1862 Homestead Act excludes Blacks and prevents transition to yeoman farmers

  • The Suburbanization of America – the making of the ghetto from the 1930s through the 1960s: Govt. tax policy encouraged suburbs; FHA discriminatory policy isolated Blacks

  • Contemporary Institutional Racism – discriminatory mortgage lending kept even wealthy Blacks from certain mortgages; ballooning, pawn-shop style interest rates led to foreclosures




  • “Social Inequality” means patterned differences over people’s living standards, life chances, and command over resources

  • The lot of Blacks has improved: twice as many Blacks in middle class in 1982 as in 1960; more Blacks in professions and in politics, improved graduation rates

  • The economic downturn that really began in the 1970s disproportionately has affected Blacks: the fading middle class

  • Racially marked wealth disparities: “Income” inequality is not the same as “wealth” inequality; even if Blacks’ income has improved, they have not gained the same in “wealth” that protects many in upper social classes from the unpredictable economy


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