African Americans have come a long way since the days of slavery, however they are still socially disadvantaged in 'the land of the free'. The core of the problem as to why most African Americans are socially disadvantaged comes down to wealth inequality. If they had a relatively equal share of the wealth that white America has, African Americans would not face the social problems they do today. The fact is they don't and this essay will investigate why African Americans don't share more of Americas vast wealth, which they ironically helped build.
There still exists a racial undertow in American society that dates back to the slave trade. This often transparent force has transcended many of America's institutions and has contributed to most African Americans being socially disadvantaged. The Emancipation Proclamation was the catalyst in abolishing slavery from the American way of life, but most African Americans are still slaves of the American system. The policies involving property, credit markets and education that have been adopted by the white power system in America have made it hard for civil rights to be equal between blacks and whites.
This has resulted in most African Americans being systematically woven into the lower class fabric of America, making it almost impossible to escape. These reasons along with the well documented fact that the gap between the middle and lower class America dramatically increased during the technological boom era of the 1950's and 1960's, and continues to increase, contributes to African Americans being socially disadvantaged. As a result of these reasons African Americans exist within America, but they are not part of America.
The main reason why African Americans are socially disadvantaged is because of the inequality of wealth ownership. "Wealth ownership is the socioeconomic measure that displays the single greatest racial disparity in America today" (Conley, D, 1999/2000, p 595). Whites own twelve times more property than that of blacks, and the gap in property value is ever widening (Conley, D, 1999/2000). This wealth ownership problem stems from a few main reasons including, the wealth generation gap, ghetto life and the flawed welfare system. The wealth generation gap that socially disadvantages African Americans spans back to America's colonization.
Land and consequently resources were given away to the early settlers, and this was the foundation of asset accumulation in America (Bailyn, Dallek, Davis, Donald, Thomas & Wood, 1985). When African Americans were brought to the country as slaves they didn't have any rights to the land and were given no opportunity to claim any for themselves (Conley, D, 1999/2000). By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, where the African Americans started being released, all of the free land in America had been taken by the European settlers.
A theology behind a capitalist, free market economy is that the more money you start off with the more money you can potentially make. In the case of the African Americans, they started off with little or no money at all, which disadvantaged them from the start. As African Americans share less of the countries wealth than the whites, the amount of inheritance passed down to the next generation is significantly less, which makes their plight to lessen their social disadvantage harder.
The racial wealth gap that exists, which derives from generations of wealth inequality between blacks and whites isn't easily fixed (Conley, D, 1999/2000). The small elements of entrepreneurial affluence which exist in predominantly African American areas contribute to why they are socially disadvantaged. Particularly in ghettos where the numbers of blacks who own businesses are small and they generally only employ a few staff, it is difficult for these types of businesses to help raise the whole community economically (Conley, D, 1999/2000.
Ghetto type areas need medium and large scale businesses to help raise their African American economic prospects. However, these types of businesses can't succeed in the ghettos and the numbers of other business types that don't exist in the ghettos create a situation which doesn't breed economic prosperity. The implementation of ghettos in America has created a situation where their communities get caught in a cycle of limited economic prosperity through minimal employment opportunities and higher prices for services and goods.
The lack of businesses in ghettos results in higher prices for consumer goods and services due to the law of supply and demand (Conley, D, 1999/2000). African Americans who live in the Ghettos really aren't free at all. They are trapped into a life that revolves around the ghetto and the chances of escape are slim. Part of the answer as to why African Americans are socially disadvantaged stems back to the slave trade. Slavery didn't just mould the lives of the slaves but also the lives and thoughts of masters, dependents of slave owning families and those non-slaveholders who lived alongside slavery (Brock, W, 1973).
The slave trade sowed the seeds or racism in America and even though slavery has been abolished, racial discrimination still exists. The Proclamation Declaration of 1862-1863 was the first step to freeing the slaves (Livingstone, D, 1999, p203). It outraged many white Americans and forced white racial terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to form. Even though the KKK was outlawed, it continued to operate as an underground network. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation, it took until the 1970's before total national law reform was enforced in compliance with the 1860's amendments (Livingstone, D, 1999).
Even then, much resentment and racial hatred still existed in America and still does today (Banks & Grambs, 1972). This shows that the mindset of many white Americans was affected by the lifestyle of their ancestors. This racist mindset has been woven into the fabric of American society at all levels and has constantly made it difficult for African Americans to reach social equality. This racist mindset that was born out of the slave trade has made its way into many of America's institutions and American government spheres.
This has contributed to African Americans being socially disadvantaged through the implementation of certain public policies. For example, the welfare system which many African Americans are on is heavily flawed because it is asset based and if you have too many assets you are not entitled to relief. The strict asset tests that the current welfare policy enforces, doesn't encourage Recipients to save (Conley, D, 1999/2000). This creates a situation where those on welfare don't save money and then they can't leave the welfare umbrella.
With asset accumulation diminished the amount of inheritance passed down to the next generation is small and the ability to increase economic prosperity is minimized. While the legal status of African Americans was being revolutionised by the Supreme Court and the congress, the government and people of America were making a new set of decisions about the future of the American economy and society, which would again segregate a large majority of African Americans from participating in American life (Lacy, D, 1972).
After the years of war which America was involved they had accumulated vast technological advances through weaponry, which were quickly transferred into civilian life. These technological advances first found their way into the agricultural sector of the economy and the labor force which used to support this area was sharply reduced. "About two thirds of the agricultural work force, or more than 5,000,000 workers, were made useless in a single generation" (Lacy, D, 1972, p210).
The majority of these jobs were held by blacks, so they were now in more of a precarious situation than when they were enslaved. The economy was expanding at a frantic rate and as it was fueled by technological upgrades the majority of new jobs required education and skills. This meant that blacks were in the minority of filling these new positions because they generally didn't have the education that white America had (Davis & Donaldson, 1975). A government policy focused on the housing sector emerged around this time to help people build and purchase houses.
This was not focused in the areas that needed it most, namely the poorer black community, but the middle-class and this socially disadvantaged most African Americans. "The federal government guaranteed mortgages, made capital available to savings and loan associations, provided subsidies for veterans, and allowed the deduction of mortgage interest and real-estate taxes from taxable income" (Lacy, D, 1972, p212). This explosion of new housing opened up new residential areas and these were usually all made up of whites.
The new affluence led to many automobiles being incorporated into the lives of the middle class, which complimented these new housing zones because people could now live further from work (Davis & Donaldson, 1975). This further exacerbated the social disadvantage of most African Americans because they could not afford cars, which limited their employment opportunities further. There was a time after the Second World War where the Federal Housing Agency would even discourage providing mortgages on homes in racially integrated areas (Lacy, D, 1972).
This era brought about the mass housing developments called Ghettos in the inner cities, which increased the African American problem of being social disadvantaged. The phasing out of jobs in the labor market drove people from farms and mines into the cities to find work and housing, many of them being black (Lacy, D, 1972). While this mass influx of people into the ghetto like areas was occurring, the middle class who were mainly white were moving into the suburbs.
This created a social segregation between most blacks and whites. "This sorting of the population was no accident" (Lacy, D, 1972, p217). While the blacks were being pulled into the cities the employment opportunities were being pulled out. After the Second World War another major occurrence happened, which further socially disadvantaged most African Americans. It occurred in educational development and widened the gap between the middle and lower class (Lacy, D, 1972).
Once again the government had introduced another policy like social security, minimum wage, deposit insurance and housing subsidies that only benefited the well employed or rich (Lacy, D, 1972). The people who needed the most help were once again left in the cold and this usually meant the lower class, who were predominantly African American. In 1996 a serious change occurred in American policy, which further exacerbated the problem of African Americans being socially disadvantaged.
The challenge, called the 'Californian Civil Rights Initiative' (CCRI) was made at state level and banned the use of racial preferences in state employment, contracting and education (Conley, D, 1999/2000). The initiative had repercussions felt almost straight away. At the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, which is the main public law school in the state; the number of African American admissions dropped by eighty percent. Other campuses reported a drop in black enrollment which had decreased across the whole of the states university system.
No details are known about what impact the initiative has had on the hiring of African Americas yet, but the impact is probably negative. The initiative usually supports the people who need it least, namely the upper and middle-class of minority groups. The initiative obviously needs reform because even its supporters feel that an amendment needs to be made (Conley, D, 1999/2000). Most African Americans are socially disadvantaged. They have been ever since they were first brought to America as slaves and they are still today.
They may be considered 'freer' than their ancestors but most are still not 'free' from the poverty and class segregation that binds them today. The transition from slavery to freedom had a pervasive influence felt by every citizen in America, and this resulted in problems for the freedmen and the nation as a whole (Brock, W, 1973). As the African Americans were being freed through the Emancipation Proclamation they were being systematically excluded from equal participation in American society because of the institutionalization of social policies.
This was most prevalent during the technological boom of the 1950's and 1960's, were the mass transformation of the American economy and way of life was being molded by the white power structure. Policies which socially disadvantaged the African Americans were in property, welfare, credit markets and education. However, the most significant factor to why they are socially disadvantaged is because of the inequality of wealth ownership. All of these factors contribute to African Americans being socially disadvantaged and that is why they exist within America, but they are not part of America.