William Julius Wilson: Being black & poor in the inner city

March 6, 2009 1:19:42
Kaltura Video

William Julius Wilson discusses his forthcoming book entitled, "More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City" during the keynote speech of the Interdisciplinary Group on Poverty and Inequality conference. March, 2009.


>> And now I am pleased to welcome our new Dean of the School of Social Work, Dr. Laura Lein. We are very excited that you are here to introduce our keynote speaker and thank you very much for your support of our group.
>> Dr. Lein: And I in turn want to welcome you to the presentation "More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City" by William Julius Wilson and to give a special thanks to the Interdisciplinary Group on Poverty and Inequality for putting together this program culminating in this address. I also want to introduce to your notice Professor Sandra Danziger who's been instrumental in the conference and while I get to begin this session, she will bring it to a conclusion and moderate the question and answer period. William Julius Wilson is the Louis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University, one of only 19 university professors, the highest professional distinction for a Harvard faculty member. He is a past President of the American Sociological Association and has received 41 honorary degrees including Honorary Doctorates from Princeton, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. A Macarthur Prize Fellow from 1987 to 1992, he's been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the American Philosophical Society, the Institute of Medicine and the British Academy. In June of 1996 he was selected by Time Magazine as one of America's 25 most influential people. He is a recipient of the 1998 National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor in the United States and was awarded the Talcott Parsons Prize in the social sciences by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003. He has authored a number of publications including the "Declining Significance of Race," winner of the American Sociological Association's Sydney Spivack Award, "The Truly Disadvantaged" which was selected by the editors of the New York Times Book Review as one of the 16 best books of 1987, and received the Washington Monthly Annual Book Award and the Society for the Study of Social Problems C. Wright Mills Award. In addition, and I speak from experience here, he is also a colleague of grace and wisdom. He's worked extensively with teams of researchers exploring the power that a range of interdisciplinary approaches bring to the problems he addresses. He leaves his colleagues and his students strengthened and inspired and it is my pleasure and honor to welcome him to speak to us today. Thank you.
>> W. Wilson: It's a pleasure to return to this great University and to be introduced by Laura who used to be part of a research team that analyzed data on the responses of families to welfare reform in three cities, Chicago, Boston and San Antonio, and I got to know her then, respect her as an outstanding scholar and I think that University of Michigan was very wise to hire her as Dean of Social Work. Thank you very much Laura. So as I said, it's a pleasure to return to this great University to be the keynote speaker for the Interdisciplinary Group on Poverty and Inequality, it's a conference on Emerging Issues in Poverty and Inequality. My lecture this afternoon could not be more timely because it is based on a new book that will be officially published on Monday by W. W. Norton Press and because Barack Obama is our new President and his candid views, views on race and poverty will be discussed near the end of my talk. Given the theme of this conference, Emerging Issues in Poverty and Inequality, I will present a thought-provoking and original perspective on how to think about race and urban inequality in America that includes a call for a more frank and honest discussion of these important issues. So let me begin. I am an internationally-known Harvard Professor looking considerably younger than my age, I'm 73, yet a number of unforgettable experiences remind me that as a black male in America I am often feared. For example, several times over the years I have stepped into the elevator of my condominium, dressed in casual clothes and could immediately tell from the body language of the other residents in the elevator that I made them feel uncomfortable. What were they thinking, what is, what is this, were they thinking, what is this black man doing in this expensive condominium? Are we in any danger? I once sarcastically said to a nervous elderly couple who hesitated to exit the elevator because we were, we were all getting off on the same floor "not to worry, I'm a Harvard Professor and I've lived in this building for 9 years." I talked with this couple later and they told me how embarrassed they were when I, when I said that and they realized that I lived in the building. When I am dressed casually I'm always a little relieved to step into an empty elevator but I'm not apprehensive if I'm wearing a tie, dressed like I am now. I get angry each time I have an experience like the encounter in the elevator. It would be easy to say that the residents' reaction to me is simply another manifestation of racism, however, when I lived in a middle class Chicago neighborhood that bordered a ghetto neighborhood, in fact the same neighborhood that is the current home of Barack and Michelle Obama, I too would tense up when I walked my dog at night and saw a black man or a group of black male teenagers approaching me on the street. The portrayal of black men in the media and their widely known disproportionate rates of incarceration may have influenced some of the residents in my condominium when they saw me in casual clothes. This situation's especially problematic for low skilled black males when employers assess their suitability for jobs. This is a cultural phenomenon in which people respond to perceptions about black men depicted in the electronic and print media including racist perceptions. But as a sociologist, from years of research and study I am also aware of and understand the structural reasons including the limited availability of economic and social opportunities for the extremely high crime rates of young black men from ghetto neighborhoods. Although we've made considerable progress since the days of Jim Crow segregation, it is clear that we still have a long way to go. Indeed one of the legacies of historic racial subjugation in, in this country is the extremely high crime rate among black males including the violent crime rate and as long as these disturbing rates persist, people of all racial and ethnic groups will often react to black males in public and private spaces in negative ways. These problems will not be addressed however if we are not willing to have an honest and open discussion of race in America including a discussion of why poverty and unequal opportunity so stubbornly persist in the lives of so many African Americans. We depend on the work of social scientists to help us come to grips with and understand these issues, however, as I pointed out in my book, social scientists have yet to find common ground on how to explain the social and economic destinies of African Americans. And more than just race, I hope to further our understanding of the complex and interrelated factors that continue to contribute to racial inequality in the United States. In the process I call for reexamining the way social scientists discuss two important factors associated with racial inequality, social structure and culture. Although the book highlights the experiences of inner city African Americans, it should be emphasized, however, that the complexities of understanding race and racial inequality in America are not limited to research on blacks. Formal and informal aspects of inequality have also victimized Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans. In this book, however, I use the research on inner city African Americans to elaborate my analytic framework because they have been the central focus of the structure versus culture dispute. The book will likely generate controversy in some circles because I dare to take culture seriously as one of the explanatory variables in the study of race and urban poverty, a topic that is typically considered off limits in academic discourse because of a, of a fear that such analysis can be construed as "blaming the victim." Indeed, I developed a framework that integrates structural forces ranging from those that are racial, such as segregation and discrimination, to those that are non-racial, such as changes in the economy and cultural forces, to not only show how the two are inextricably linked but to also explain why structural forces should receive far more attention than cultural factors in accounting for the social outcomes of poor African Americans and in framing public policies to address racial inequality. That said, my book examines two types of cultural forces. One, national views and beliefs on race and two, cultural traits, shared outlooks, modes of behavior, traditions, belief systems, world views, values, skills, preferences, styles of presentation, etiquette and linguistic patterns. Cultural traits that emerge from patterns intra-group interaction in settings created by discrimination and segregation and that reflect collective experiences within those setting, including the micro-level processes of meaning, meaning making and decision making. That is, the way that individuals in particular groups, communities or societies develop an understanding of how the world works and make decisions based on that understanding. The processes of meaning making and decision making are reflected in cultural frames, shared group constructions of reality. Racism has historically been one of the most prominent American cultural frames and has played a major role in determining how whites perceive and act toward blacks. In the United States today there is no question that the more categorical forms of racist ideology, in particular those that assert the bio-genetic inferiority of blacks, no question that the categorical forms of racist ideology have declined significantly, even though they still may be embedded in institutional norms and practices. The vast majority of social scientists agree that as a national cultural frame, racism in its various forms has had harmful effects on African Americans as a group. Indeed, considerable research has been devoted to the effects of racism in American society. However, there is relatively little research and far less awareness of the impact of emerging cultural frames in the inner city on the social and economic outcomes of poor blacks. Note that distinct cultural frames in the inner, in, in the inner city have not only been shaped by race and poverty but in turn often shape responses to poverty including, as we shall soon see, responses that may contribute to a perpetuation of poverty. You see, one of the effects of living in racially segregated neighborhoods is exposure to group-specific cultural traits, orientations, habits and world views as well as the, as well as styles of behavior and particular skills that emerge from patterns of racial exclusion and that may not be conducive to factors that facilitate social mobility in society. For example, the sociologist Elijah Anderson revealed in a recent book the existence of informal rules in the inner city ghetto that govern interactions and shape how people engage one another and make decisions. This decision making is influenced partly by how, how people come to view their world over time, what we call meaning making. It is important to remember that the process of meaning making and decision making involve in situations imposed by poverty and racial segregation situations that place severe constraints on social mobility. Over time these processes lead to the development of informal codes that regulate behavior. Anderson talks about the code of the street, an informal but explicit set of rules developed to govern interpersonal public behavior and regulate violence in Philadelphia's inner city ghetto neighborhoods where crime is high and police protection is low. Anderson argues that the issue of respect is at the root of the code. In a context of limited opportunities of self-actualization and success, some individuals in the community, most notably young black males, devise alternative ways to gain respect and emphasize, that emphasize manly pride, ranging from simply wearing brand name clothing to have the "right look" and talking the right way to developing a predatory attitude toward neighbors. Anderson points how, out, however, that no one residing in, in, in these troubled neighborhoods is unaffected by the code of the street, espesh [phonetic] especially young people who are drawn into this negative culture both on the streets and in the schools as they must frequently adopt street behavior as a form of self-defense. As Anderson puts it "the code of the street is actually a cultural adaptation to a profound lack of faith in the police and the judicial system and others who would champion one's personal security." A related informal but regulated pattern of behavior was described by my former student Sadir Vinkatesh [assumed spelling], a professor at Columbia University, in his study of the underground economy in a ghetto neighborhood in Chicago Southside. Vinkatesh points out that "the underground arena is not simply a place to buy goods and services, it is also a field of social relationships that enable off-the-books trading to occur in an ordered and predictable manner." This trading often results in disagreements or breaches because there are no laws on the books "but the main point is that in institutions ostensibly criminal and often threatening to personal security, there is still a structure in place that shapes how a people make decisions and engage one another." In other words, informal rules actually govern what would appear on the surface to be random, underground activity. These rules stipulate what is expected of those involved in these informal exchanges and where they should meet. So, just as Anderson describes a code of the street, Vinkatesh talks about a code of shady dealings. Like Anderson, in his effort to explain the emergence of the code of the street, Vinkatesh argues that the code of shady dealing is a response to circumstances in inner city ghetto neighborhoods where joblessness is high and opportunities for advancement are severely limited. Furthermore, both Anderson and Vinkatesh clearly argue that these cultural codes ultimately hinder integration into the broader society and are therefore dysfunctional. In other words, they contribute to the perpetuation of poverty. Anderson finds that for some young men the draw of the street is so powerful that they cannot avail themselves of legitimate employment opportunities when they become available. Likewise, Vinkatesh maintains that adherence to the code of shady dealing impedes social mobility "the underground economy enables people to survive but can lead to alienation from the wider world," he states. For example, none of the work experience accrued in the informal economy can be listed on a resume for job searches in the formal labor market and time invested in underground work reduces time devoted to accumulating skills or contacts for legitimate employment. However, many liberal scholars are reluctant to discuss or research the role that culture, culture plays in the negative outcomes found in the inner city. It is possible that they fear being criticized for reinforcing the popular view that the negative social outcomes, poverty, unemployment, drug addiction and crime of many poor people in the inner city are due to the shortcomings of the people themselves. Indeed the Harvard University sociologist Orlando Patterson maintains that there is "a deep-seated dogma, a deep-seated dogma that has prevailed in social science and policy circles since the mid-1960s, the rejection of any explanation that invokes a group's cultural attributes, its distinctive attitudes, values and tendencies and the resulting behavior of its members and a relentless preference for relying on structural factors like low income, joblessness, poor schools and bad housing." Patterson claims that social scientists have shied away from cultural explanations of race and poverty because of the wide-spread belief that such explanations are tantamount to blaming the victim. That is support the conclusion that the poor themselves and not the social environment are responsible for their own poverty and negative social outcomes. He colorfully contends that it is "utterly bogus" to argue as the many academics that cultural explanations necessarily blame the victim for poor social outcomes. Patterson argues that to hold an individual responsible for his behavior is not to rule out any consideration of the environmental factors that may have evoked a question of behavior to begin with. "Many victims of child abuse end up behaving in self-destructive ways," he states, "to point out the link between their behavior and the, the destructive acts is in no way to deny the causal role of their earlier victimization and a need to address it." Patterson also contends that a cultural explanation of human behavior not only examines the immediate relationship between attitudes and behavior but it also looks at the past to investigate the origins and changing nature of these attitudes. I strongly agree with Orlando Patterson that an adequate explanation of cultural attributes must explore the origins and changing nature of these attitudes going back decades, even centuries, but unfortunately such analyses are complex and difficult. For example, it took years of research by my former student Kathryn Neckerman of Columbia University to provide the historic backdrop to explain why so many black youngsters and their parents lose faith in the public schools. She shows in her brilliant book "Schools Betrayed" that a century ago when African American children in most northern cities attended schools alongside white children the problems commonly associated with inner city schools were not nearly as pervasive as they are today. Neckerman carefully documents how and why these schools came to serve black children so much more poorly than their white counterparts. Focusing on Chicago public schools between 1900 and 1960 she compares the circumstances of blacks and white immigrants, groups that had similarly little wealth and status yet received vastly different benefits from their education. Their divergent, divergent educational outcomes, she contends, were the result of systematic decisions made by Chicago officials to segregate schools and deny equal resources to African American students in an effort to deal with the increasing black migration to the city. These decisions reinforce inequality in the schools over time. Ultimately, she points out, these actions eroded the schools legitimacy in the lower class black community and dampened aspirations for education. "The roots of classroom alienation, antagonism and disorder can be found in school policy decisions made long before the problems of inner city schools attracted public attention," states Neckerman. "These policies struck at the foundation of authority and engagement making it much more difficult for inner city teachers to gain student cooperation and learning. The district history of segregation and inequality undermined the schools' legitimacy in the eyes of its black students as a result inner city teachers struggle to gain cooperation from children and parents who had little reason to trust the schools." We need, we need more studies like this to fully understand the current cultural dynamics in inner city neighborhoods. The use of a cultural argument however, is not without peril. Anyone who wishes to understand American society must be aware that explanations focusing on the cultural traits of inner city residents are likely to draw far more attention from policymakers and a general public than structural explanations will. It is an unavoidable fact that Americans tend to de-emphasize the structural origins and social significance of poverty and welfare. In other words, the popular view is that people are poor or on welfare because of their own personal shortcomings. A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that "fully two-thirds of all Americans believe personal factors rather than racial discrimination explain why many African Americans have difficulty getting ahead in life. Just 19% blamed discrimination. Nearly three-fourths of U.S. whites, a majority of Hispanics and even a slight majority of blacks believe that blacks who have not gotten ahead in life are mainly responsible for their own situation. If the views of blacks on this issue is surprising, consider my former student Alfred Young's study. Young is now a professor here at the University of Michigan. He found in his impressive study of how inner city black men perceive opportunity and mobility in the United States, he found that although some men associated mobility with the economic opportunity structure, including race and class based discrimination, all of these inner city men shared the view that individuals are largely accountable for their failure to advance in society. The strength of American cultural sentiment that individuals are primary, primarily responsible for poverty presents a dilemma for anyone like myself who seeks the most comprehensive explanation of outcomes for poor, black Americans. Why? Simply because culture arguments that focus on individual traits and behavior invariably draw more attention than do structural explanations in the United States. Accordingly, I feel that a social scientist has an obligation to try to make sure that the explanatory power of his or her structural argument is not lost to the reader and to provide a context for understanding cultural responses to chronic economic and racial subordination. Consider, for example, the complex causal flow between structure and culture. In an impressive study that analyses data from a national longitudinal survey with methods designed to measure inter-generational economic mobility, Patrick Sharkey [assumed spelling] of NYU, also one of my former students, found, I don't mind saying it, I'm proud of my former students so you have, you just have, you just have to put up with it, okay? Sharkey, [inaudible] Sharkey found "that, that" more than 70% of black students who are raised in the poorest quarter of American neighborhoods, the bottom 25% in terms of average neighborhood income will continue to live in the poorest quarter of neighborhoods as adults. That's incredible. He also found that since the 1970s a majority of black families have resided in the poorest quarter of neighborhoods in consecutive generations compared to only 7% of white families. Thus, he concludes that the disadvantages of living in poor black neighborhoods like the advantages of living in affluent white neighborhoods are, in large measure, inherited. We should also consider another path-breaking study that Sharkey co-authored with senior investigator Robert Samson [assumed spelling] of Harvard and another colleague, Steven Roddenbush [assumed spelling] that examined the durable effects of concentrated poverty on black children's verbal ability. They studied a representative sample of 750 African American children ages 6 to 12 who were growing up in the city of Chicago in 1995 and followed them anywhere they moved in the United States for up to 7 years. The children were given a reading examination, a vocabulary test at 3 different periods. Their study shows "that residing in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood cumulatively impedes the development of academically relevant verbal ability in children" so much so that the effects linger on even if these, even if these children leave these neighborhoods. The results revealed one, that a neighborhood is an important developmental context for trajectories of verbal cognitive ability, two, that young African American children who had earlier lived in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood had fallen behind their counterparts or peers who had not resided pre, previously in disadvantaged areas by up to 6%, by, by up to 6 IQ points, a magnitude estimated to be equivalent to missing a year or more of schooling and, three, "that the youngest effects appear several years after children live in areas of concentrated disadvantage" and this research raises important questions about ways in which neighborhoods may alter growth and verbal ability, producing effects that linger on even if a child leaves a severely disadvantaged neighborhood." The studies by Sharkey and Samson and his colleagues both suggest that neighborhood effects are not solely structural. Among the effects of living in segregative neighborhoods over extended periods is repeated exposure to cultural traits and this would include linguistic patterns, the focus of Samson et al study that emanate from or other products of racial exclusion, traits such as verbal skills that may impede successful maneuvering in the larger society. As Sharkey points out and I quote, "when we consider that the vast majority of black families living in America's poorest neighborhoods come from families that have lived in similar environments for generations, continuity of the neighborhood environment, in addition to continuity of individual economic status, may be especially relevant to the study of cultural patterns among disadvantaged populations." Unfortunately, very little research attention has been given to these cumulative, cultural experiences and it is sometimes difficult to separate cumulative cultural experiences from cumulative psychological experiences. Take, for example, repeated experiences of discrimination and disrespect that a lot of blacks share in common. If these experiences are systematic over an extended time period they can generate common psychological states that some may interpret as norms because they seem to regulate patterns of behavior. Resignation as a response to repeated experiences with discrimination and disrespect is one good example. Parents in segregated communities who've had such experiences may transmit to children through the process of socialization a set of beliefs about what to expect to life and how one should respond to life circumstances. In other words, children may be taught norms of resignation, they observe the behavior of adults and learn "the appropriate" action or response in different situations independently of their own direct experiences. In the process children may acquire an inclination to interpret the way the world works that reflects a strong sense that other members of society disrespect them because they are black. Thus in addition to structural in, influences exposure to different cultural influences in a neighborhood environment over time has to be taken into account if one is to really appreciate and explain the divergent social outcomes of human groups. But to repeat, in delivering this message, we must make sure that the powerful influence of structural factors do not recede into the background. Indeed, a fundamental question remains, what is the relative importance of these two dimensions in accounting for the formation and persistence of the inner city ghetto, the plight of black males and the breakdown of the black family, three subjects that I focus on in my book. Culture matters, I would have to say, it does not matter nearly as much as social structure. From a historical perspective, it is hard to overstate the importance of racially structural factors that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought so hard against. Aside from the enduring effects of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, public school segregation, legalized discrimination, residential segregation, the FHA's red-lining of black neighborhoods in the 1940s and 1950s, the construction of black housing in projects and poor black neighborhoods, employer discrimination and other racial acts and processes. There is the impact of political, economic and policy decisions that were at least partly influenced by race. In contrasting the combined impact of the structural factors with cultural factors it would be very hard to argue that the cultural factors in the black community are equally as important in determining life chances or creating racial group outcomes. For example, if one attempts to explain rapid changes in social and economic outcomes in the inner city, there is little evidence that cultural forces have the power of changes in the economy. We only need to consider the impact of the economic boom on the reduction of concentrated poverty in the 1990s to illustrate this point. And I shudder to think what the figures are going to reveal about the impact of the current economic crisis on the inner city. Nonetheless, my book also argues that culture is not simply a product of structure with no independent or autonomous power, although cultural forces are often generated, fostered in and empowered by structures. In some cases structures are created or reinforced by cultural forces. For example, on the local level, a weakening of the informal job information network that Sandra Smith talks about in the inner city ghetto, has been partly a function of an inclination to distrust in the inner city which is a cultural trait that inhibits cooperative relationships needed in the job-making process. Incidentally, Sandra Smith was also one of my students and they're trying to recruit her here to the University of Michigan. She's not at Berkeley. And on the national level, Bruce Western [assumed spelling] so clearly shows, as his research so clearly shows, the changes in the criminal justice system that have led to the mass imprisonment of African American males in recent decades were by-products of the cultural framing of crime punishment driven by conservative political ideology. Furthermore, as Eric Olinwright [assumed spelling] has reminded me, one person's social structure maybe another person's culture. Take for example, employers' negative attitudes toward black men as workers. A representative sample of Chicago area employers by research team in the late 1980's revealed, clearly reveals employer bias against black males. A substantial majority of employers considered inner city black males to be uneducated, uncooperative, unstable or dishonest. As the employers see it, they are expressing, not only dominant cultural views about most skilled black men that are shared by many members of the larger society but also the shared views of employers regarding their interaction with poor African American workers. As some of the young black men seeking employment see it, this culturally-shaped practice of employers is a "structure," a pattern of exclusion that is systematically enforced through repeated rejections of their job applications. However, not only do employers share common cultural beliefs or perceptions about black males but they also have a power to affect the lives of these black men when they act on those beliefs. Employers make hiring, hiring decisions which is an exercise of power and their decisions are based on their control over economic resources. Policymakers who are dedicated to combatting the problems of race and poverty and who recognize the importance of structural inequities face two challenges. First is a problem of institutional entrenchment which always reduces the chances of reform, for example, as sociologist Dierdre Bloome has said, "we cannot expect equity in public school funding much less the disproportionate allocation of resources to the most needy without changing long accepted mechanisms for allocating resources and staffing which had become "normal" and gained constituencies willing to fight to maintain their current privileges." And overcoming institutional entrenchment should be one of our primary objectives if we're committed to combating inequality. But the second challenge facing policymakers committed to reform is how to generate political support from Americans who tend to place far more emphasis on cultural factors and individual behavior than on structural impediments in explaining social and economic outcomes. After all, beliefs that attribute joblessness and poverty to individual shortcomings do not engender strong support for social programs to end inequality. Nonetheless, in addressing the problem of structural inequities, it would not be wise to leave the impression in public discussions that cultural problems do not matter, indeed, proposals to address racial inequality should reflect awareness of the inextricable, inextricable link between aspects of structure and culture. The ongoing social science debate over the role of social structure versus culture in shaping the social outcome of African Americans has apparently done little to educate Americans on the importance of, of a relationship between structural inequities and culture. Ideological inclinations often predict the position one takes whereas liberals tend to focus on structural conditions especially racially structural factors such as segregation and discrimination, conservatives tend to emphasize cultural factors such as individual attitudes and behavior. Now over the years, I have reflected on this debate. However it wasn't till I attended a panel discussion at the University of Chicago in 1995 on Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray's controversial book "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class in American Life" that I saw the most compelling reason for combining cultural arguments with structural arguments. When I left that debate, I mean that panel discussion, I was thinking that integration of the two could be used to construct a truly comprehensive explanation of the social and economic outcomes of poor people of color and provide more compelling arguments for those policymakers truly committed to eradicating racial inequality in our society where a majority of citizens believe that personal not structural factors account for differences in social and economic achievements. In their book "The Bell Curve" Herrnstein and Murray found differences in the test scores of blacks and whites even after they included environmental factors such as family education, father's occupation and household income in their analyses. I use this difference in test scores to support the argument that the social and economic outcomes of blacks and whites differ at least in part, because of genetic endowment, a position that suggests that African Americans are innately inferior. Now to my mind none of the panelists gathered that day at the University of Chicago provided a satisfactory rebuttal and I left depressed. I mean, I made some comments but I wanted the panel to, you know, to, to comment. I left the discussion thinking that Herrnstein and Murray's arguments for the importance of group differences and cognitive ability was based on an, an incredibly weak measure of the social environment. In other words simply taking into account or controlling for differences in family education, father's occupation and household income hardly captures differences in cumulative environmental experiences. Herrnstein and Murray did not provide measures of the cumulative and often durable effects of race including the effects of prolonged residence in racially segregated neighborhoods. I discussed earlier, two recent ground-breaking longitudinal studies that revealed that these cumulative effects are both structural and cultural. Unfortunately, such studies were not available at the time of the contentious debate over "The Bell Curve." Paradoxically, although liberal social scientists rejected the book's inferiority thesis, they were in effect playing into the hands of Herrnstein and Murray by not conducting research that would illuminate all the dimensions of the social environment. By ignoring the impact of culture and how it impacts, and how it interacts with structural factors, they were not able to capture all the important of the social environment. If culture is a sharing of outlooks and modes of behavior that are sustained through social interaction within a community and often transmitted from generation to generation, then patterns of behavior in racially segregated inner city neighborhoods often represent particular cultural traits that emanate from or are the products of racial exclusion. Obviously, as we have shown, some of these traits may impede successful maneuvering in the larger society. Accordingly to fully explain or understand the divergent social and economic outcomes of racial groups, cultural influences in the environment have to be taken into account. For all of these reasons it is extremely important to discuss how the issues of race and poverty are framed in public policy discussions. How we situate social issues in the larger context of society says a lot about our commitment to change. A useful example of how this works comes to me from Robert Esson [assumed spelling], a professor in the Department of Communications Arts at the University of Wisconsin. He has reminded me that the political framing of poverty, that is a way in which political formulate arguments about how we as a nation should talk about and address issues of poverty, in a New Deal Era was quite different from the political framing of poverty today. During the New Deal Era the emphasis was on structure, namely that devastating impact of the economic crisis. America's clearly recognized that hundreds of thousands of citizens were poor or unemployed mainly because of a severe and prolonged job shortage. In the public arena today, poverty tends to be discussed in reference to individual initiative. This distinction, he points out, reveals how larger shifts in society have influenced our understanding of the nature of poverty. Indeed, it's reasonable to assume that the current economic crisis would lead to a gradual shift away from explanations that highlight personal shortcomings to one that stress the adverse effects of a declining economy, especially with Barack Obama as President to serve the bully pulpit, to communicate this message. These deliberate, deliberative frames not only orient our debates on public policy but they can also be shifted through debates. So, just because cultural explanations resonate with policymakers and the public today, does not mean that structural explanations cannot resonate with them tomorrow. To shift political frames however, and hopefully provide a more balanced discussion, requires parallel efforts among politicians, engaged citizens and scholars. Now in my previous writings I called for the framing of issues designed to appeal to broad segments of the population. Key to this framing, I argued, would be an emphasis on policies that would directly benefit all groups, not just people of color. My thinking was that given American views about poverty and race, a color bling agenda would be the most realistic way to generate the broad political support that would be necessary to enact the required legislation. I no longer hold to this view. The question is not whether the policy should be race, thank you. The question is not whether the policy should be race-neutral or universal. The question is whether the policy is framed to facilitate a frank discussion of the problems that ought to be addressed and to generate broad political support to alleviate them. So now my position has changed. In framing public policy we should not shy away from an explicit discussion of the specific issues of race and poverty. On the contrary, we should highlight them in our attempt to convince the nation that these problems should be seriously confronted and that there is an urgent need to address them. The issues of race and poverty should be framed in such a way that not only a sense of fairness and justice to combat inequality is generated but also people are made aware that out country would be better off if these problems were seriously addressed and eradicated. In considering this change of frame, indeed a change of mindset on race and poverty, I am drawn to the then Senator Barack Obama's speech on race, given March 18, 2008. In taking on the tough topic of race in America, Obama spoke to the issue of structure and culture as well as their interaction. He drew America's attention to the many disparities that exist between "the African American community and the larger community today," disparities that "can be traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow." He also discussed a lack of economic opportunity among black men and how "the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family contributed to the erosion of black families." Obama called on whites to acknowledge that "the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African American community does not just exist in the minds of black people, that the legacy of discrimination and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past, are real and must be addressed not just with words but with deeds, by investing in our schools and our communities, by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in the criminal justice system, by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams, that investing in the health, welfare and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper." However, Obama did not restrict his speech to addressing structural inequities. He also focused on problematic cultural and behavioral responses to these inequities, including a cycle of violence among black men and I quote "legacy of defeat that has been passed to future generations," and he urged those in the African American community to take full responsibility for their lives by demanding more from their fathers and spending more time with their children "reading to them and teaching them that while they may speak, while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism. They must always believe that they can write their own destiny." By combining a powerful discussion of structural inequities with an emphasis on personal responsibility, Barack Obama did not isolate the latter from the former as Bill Cosby did or as so often the case in the remarks of talk show hosts, journalists and conservative politicians and commentators. Obama's speech gave an honest appraisal of structural racial inequality as he called for all Americans to support blacks in their struggle to help themselves. Struggle to help themselves, to repeat. I feel that this speech could serve as a model for the kind of careful political framing of the issues of race and poverty that we need in this country to move forward. With the election of Barack Obama I am hopeful that this will be achieved. Thank you.
[ Applause ]