Last Updated 31 Jan 2023

Segregation and Inequality of Opportunities Among African Americans in Poverty

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The 2016 census reported around 9.2 million African Americans to be below the United States poverty line, which at the time was nearly a quarter of all the people living in poverty at that time (“Basic Statistics,” 2018). This is a defined group of people who live as a part of the lower class in the American class system. While there are many similarities that African Americans in poverty share with other Americans in poverty but they also have their own unique characteristics. African Americans that have fallen below the poverty line have become segregated in our class system and this has led to unequal opportunities for a successful and healthy life.

As I went through and studied this impoverished group I came to the understanding that there are many  characteristics they have in common with the rest of the world in which they coexist and a lot of others that are special to themselves. In reference to sociologists Douglas Massey and William Wilson’s perspective, they provide that “major sociological accounts of poverty concentration and its growth in U.S. cities since the 1970s”, so since this time the culture of poverty driven African Americans started to develop and grow to where it is today (Quillian, 2012).

Massey and Wilson’s perspective explains that African Americans in poverty primarily live in or around larger cities, in urban areas where they can find ways to live some sort of lifestyle. We see this group living within these areas where there are many different types of people around them. This impoverished group becomes associated with the upper, middle and lower classes all in one area. These areas include blue collar workers, business owners or CEOs, people part of the “one-percent”, and even members of other cultures in poverty.

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African American in poverty primarily speak English but often depending on where you are in the U.S. you may hear different clang words. Just like any other culture this group has developed their own language with slang words, certain values, religions, and ways they express themselves. There are many different aspects to this culture and unfortunately they get a lot of negative, stereotypical assumptions about their lifestyle. People like to look at crime, drugs, and the homeless and associate them with this group and culture.

Although there is no doubt that some of those characteristics are true, they are not what this culture is built on. The culture has been developed over a period of time through their struggles in society and fighting for a life to provide for themselves and their families. This impoverished group often express their feelings and culture through music such as rap or hip-hop, things that they own like their cars, or what they associate themselves with such as sports teams from the areas they live in. Again, these are not proven facts but are common stereotypes of people from this culture.

Now, back to Massey and Wilson. The history of African Americans in poverty began around the 1970s. Due to changes in industrialization and laws forbidding legalizes segregations certain groups and cultures were in result having to change themselves. According to Wilson, by the time the 1980s came around the urban group African Americans were a part of began to separate from the “occupational system” and they were becoming unemployed (Wilson, 2011, p. 7).

A major reason was that the factories where many African Americans in cities were working began to look for highly train and skilled employees. During this time period racism was very common and thus this group had no opportunities for schooling or ways to get trained to work these factory jobs anymore. This is an example of the conflict approach to sociology. African Americans were being forced to fight for their position in society, while they are also fighting for resources to obtain those jobs. Resources, being schooling or many to afford the schooling and training they need but can’t get.

Starting back in the 1970s when the work force in the inner-cities was being force to change, certain areas became poverty driven and they have not been able to recover. We see patterns develop in these communities that explain why African Americans are in the general urban areas and why they stay there. As certain groups of African Americans were filtered out of the working system, some of them could not recover. These groups settled together into what are now poverty driven areas. Kevin Thomas a sociologist from Penn State College of Liberal Arts conducted a study where he looked at the family influences towards poverty in children. The study was directed mostly towards immigrant children but also shared some shocking details about the lives of U.S. born African Americans.

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