A refreshing, multilayered study of racial inequality in America.
Wilson (Sociology/Harvard; There Goes the Neighborhood: Racial, Ethnic and Class Tensions in Four Chicago Neighborhoods and Their Meaning for America, 2006, etc.) adopts a controversial method, outlining not only the institutional factors that perpetuate inequity and poverty, but also the cultural factors, which have often been overlooked by academics “because of a fear that such analysis can be construed as ‘blaming the victim.’ ” Using this framework, Wilson dismantles the current ideology surrounding the understanding of three fractious topics: concentrated poverty, the economic plight of inner-city black males and the breakdown of the black family. “The Forces Shaping Concentrated Poverty,” perhaps the most damning chapter, outlines the initiatives that served to institutionalize inequality in America, with particular emphasis on housing and transportation. Readers who prefer their percentages and policy critique cloaked in flowery language and anecdotal case studies would be well advised to look elsewhere; Wilson’s strict syntax of statistics and acronyms readily evokes the bleakness of the landscape he describes. Cultural factors are most prominent in “The Fragmentation of the Poor Black Family.” One of its most fascinating passages resurrects the “prophetic” Moynihan report, a landmark 1976 survey on race and family structure that was originally lambasted for its inclusion of cultural evidence. Situating the report both contextually and academically, the author extracts relevant aspects of Moynihan’s research as he simultaneously traces the course of sociological methodology. Wilson’s strength lies in his ability to see beyond the culture-versus-structure argument at the center of the discussion of race and poverty in America. This allows him, for example, to illustrate the enduring effects of such seemingly unconnected factors as globalization and “cool-pose culture” on employment among young black males.
Reshapes the frame through which race and poverty are viewed.