'The Rich Get Richer and . . .' The Problem of Race and Inequality in the 1990s
Law and Inequality, Vol. 11:369, 1992-1993
21 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2013
Date Written: 1993
President Hasselmo, Dean Schuh, Mrs. Wilkins, Dr. Hooks, out-of-town guests, distinguished visitors, colleagues and friends. Roy Wilkins devoted his life to the battle for human rights and social justice. His vision of racial equality guided the NAACP's successful efforts to break down many of the most blatantly discriminatory barriers in American life. The movement towards racial equality through equality of opportunity for all peoples was not only a triumph for Roy Wilkins and the NAACP but for the American ideal of democracy.
But yet, in this last decade of the twentieth century, the American ideal of democracy is being challenged by the nagging question of race. Until the recent Los Angeles riots and brief spurts of racial unrest elsewhere in the nation, the elimination of racial inequality in American life was not at the top of the political agenda. It still is not, but it has moved noticeably from the bottom of the long list of priorities that our public policymakers have set for making this a better world for all of us.
At the beginning of the 1980s, many Americans thought of racial inequality in the same terms as we now think of the threat of communism: It no longer exists. The ranks of corporate America apparently were swelling with articulate, well-trained African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans. There were more black elected officials, for example, at the beginning of the 1980s than there had ever been in America's history. Racial inequality? "What's the problem?" seemed to be the response.
The problem of race nags for reasons beyond the fact that it remains unresolved. In just the short span of the past several years the traditional mechanisms for reducing racial inequality -- preferential hiring, affirmative action, set-asides, quotas -- have been struck down repeatedly in the courts. Meanwhile, many indicators of social and economic well-being of minority group members are on the downturn. Income gaps between black and white family heads are widening; the fraction of black families headed by females and the proportion of black children growing up in poverty soar; the non-white/white gap in infant mortality rates widens; prisons are bursting at the seams with increasing numbers of young black and hispanic males, many of whom have virtually made careers of such illegal pursuits as drug selling and weapon sales. All threaten to destroy the fabric of minority communities.
Keywords: race, inequalities, inequality, rich, poor
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