Who is the Underclass?

Who is the Underclass?

The possible arrival of a new social class evokes grand blasts of imagery. Across history’s bookish stage roll bourgeois Christian soldiers, boxcars of workers (trailing haunting specters), limos carrying commissars of the nomenklatura, electricians in white coats (breathing soul into new computers). On they parade until, at what we thought must be the end of the social-class spectacle, there appears the latest entry: a ragged urban underclass.

For the class parade to be a full success it seems there must be one class that highlights in its evil all the virtues of the others. The proletariat no longer provokes fear and reaction? Then send up a fearsome underclass. What could be more frightening to the precariously comfortable than drug-crazed, poverty-incensed hordes, led by Willie Horton and Central Park Wilders, legions of dark people with strong backs and weak intellects, who, it is said, do not want to work in “available jobs.” The underclass is also said to be breeding generations of feral children. If they reach adulthood, their underclass culture will make them unsuitable for whatever jobs will be available in these waning years of “The American Century.”

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels