Beyond “Race vs. Class”: The Politics of William Julius Wilson

Beyond “Race vs. Class”: The Politics of William Julius Wilson

Some fifteen years ago, in his book The Declining Significance of Race, the sociologist William Julius Wilson argued that the destruction of Jim Crow in the American South and the changes brought about by the civil rights movement had given rise to a new pattern of American race relations. Race had declined in significance, Wilson argued, because there was now a sizable black middle class whose life chances were not determined solely by skin color. Class was now more important than race.

Some left and liberal thinkers applauded Wilson for highlighting the dynamics of class and the structure of the economy,’ but others charged him with betraying the interests of African Americans. According to the Association of Black Sociologists, Wilson was guilty of “omit[ting] significant data regarding the continuing discrimination against blacks at all class levels.” Professor Charles Willie accused Wilson of taking “the perspective of the dominant people of power” and ignoring the role that racism plays in the experience of middle-class blacks.

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