Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America

Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America

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What is more important--race or class--in determining the socioeconomic success of the blacks and whites born since the civil rights triumphs of the 1960s? When compared to whites, African Americans complete less formal schooling, work fewer hours at a lower rate of pay and are more likely to give birth to a child out of wedlock and to rely on welfare. Are these differences attributable to race per se, or are they the result of differences in socioeconomic background between the two groups?Being Black, Living in the Red demonstrates that many differences between blacks and whites stem not from race but from economic inequalities that have accumulated over the course of American history. Property ownership--as measured by net worth--reflects this legacy of economic oppression. The racial discrepancy in wealth holdings leads to advantages for whites in the form of better schools, more desirable residences, higher wages, and more opportunities to save, invest, and thereby further their economic advantages.Dalton Conley shows how factoring parental wealth into a reconceptualization of class can lead to a different future for race policy in the United States. As it currently stands, affirmative action programs primarily address racial diversity in schooling and work--areas that Conley contends generate paradoxical results with respect to racial equity. Instead he suggests an affirmative action policy that fosters minority property accumulation, thereby encouraging long-term wealth equity, or one that--while continuing to address schooling and work--is based on social class as defined by family wealth levels rather than on race.

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