According to data from the US Census Bureau, African Americans make up approximately 35% of Americans below the poverty line, with Hispanics not far behind at 33%. While the latter statistic has increased rapidly over the past decade, the former has been a social reality for quite some time (Source).
150 years after the abolition of slavery, and 5 decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African Americans remain at the bottom of the class ladder. For many, discussing the root causes of this phenomenon can be a controversial issue. This is not surprising considering the massive amount of misinformation, racism, and ignorance that permeates many “explanations”, whether it be Lombroso’s theory that poor blacks are atavistic or much more simple, yet pervasive, stereotypes of laziness.
In light of what seems to be a never ending torrent of racist and ignorant explanations for black poverty in the United States, here are a few factual elucidations of the crisis.
Without a doubt, the United States’ legal system has evolved to target and oppress African Americans and the poor. This is not a conspiracy theory, nor is it an accusation, it is merely a fact, and an obvious one at that. For starters one need only to look at US drug law. In the United States, crack cocaine, a drug used primarily by the poor, will get you 100x the jail time that powder cocaine, the drug used by the affluent. See more.
Cocaine is not the only drug that this rule applies to. The poor and black are more likely to be caught with almost every type of drug despite the fact that drug use is known to be consistent across all races, or even increased in whites.
Moreover it is a well documented fact that the poor and African Americans are more likely to be arrested, if arrested more likely to be charged, if charged more likely to be sentenced, and if sentenced more likely to suffer more intense punishment than the rich or the white.
And while many people observe this phenomenon, they mistakenly attribute it to racial deficiency and not to institutional bias. See more.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it is necessary to understand that poverty and oppression are very often synonymous with location. By this it is meant that those populations who reside in a certain area of large metropolitan areas are much more likely to be poor/arrested/oppressed than those who do not.
This was first discovered by Shaw and McKay of the Chicago School of Sociology. The fact is that in most if not all metropolitan areas, African Americans, and more recently Hispanics, are the ones who live in the transitional zone. Within this area of a city (most likely just outside the business district) society, culture, and customs are constantly in flux as the business district expands and new labor is either forced out or drawn in. It is within this state of flux that poverty, crime, and homelessness flourish. See More.
The next time you hear the ignorant question posed “If they don’t like living in the ghetto, why don’t they just move?” Point that person to Shaw and McKay, and while you’re at it, point out that when you are making the bare minimum in wages, it’s not exactly easy to pick up and move to a wealthier area.
While these three short explanations do not do the entire issue justice, we hope that they illuminate it further. Blacks make up the highest percentage of our nation’s poor not because they are black, but because of institutional and sociological design.