That said, whatever our race when we begin life, it never changes. If we're born to the Indian, Caucasian, African, Asian, Hispanic or any other race, that's where we stay throughout our lives.
Now let's stipulate that, unlike most nations, America is an exceptional nation whose values embrace a 'classless' land of opportunity. Thus, whether our starting point on the economic ladder is lower low, upper low, lower middle, upper middle, lower upper or upper upper class, where we finish is largely independent of where we start. America economically has long been a land of opportunity where we can begin life with a little or a lot in the way of financial resources and end at the other end of the spectrum or somewhere in between.
By 2040 we'll be a society where minorities are in the majority. Already today more people from China and India are entering our country than are people from Mexico.
Despite all this history, or perhaps because of it, things still aren't going well on the racial front or, for that matter, the class front either, at least according to the pundits and politicians. With that background in mind, let's briefly examine for ourselves what's fact and what's fiction.
To repeat, our race throughout life is determined at birth, whereas the economic classes to which we belong from time to time are not. Rather they are a function of what happens to us and what we do after birth.
However, all opportunity is not perfectly equal, of course, never has been and never will be. Inequality is inevitable, and we're all painfully aware of what's happening in our inner city neighborhoods and schools today. So let's expand the race and class discussion to income inequality and educational opportunities as well.
And regarding educational and employment opportunities, it's not just the impoverished black kids who are suffering. Many poor white, Hispanic and other kids are getting the short end of that educational and jobs stick as well.
Race, Class and Neglect provides much to think about, so let's consider what it has to say:
"Every time you’re tempted to say that America is moving forward on race — that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be — along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency....
And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.
Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality....
It has been disheartening to see some commentators still writing as if poverty were simply a matter of values, as if the poor just mysteriously make bad choices and all would be well if they adopted middle-class values. Maybe, just maybe, that was a sustainable argument four decades ago, but at this point it should be obvious that middle-class values only flourish in an economy that offers middle-class jobs.
The great sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that widely-decried social changes among blacks, like the decline of traditional families, were actually caused by the disappearance of well-paying jobs in inner cities. His argument contained an implicit prediction: if other racial groups were to face a similar loss of job opportunity, their behavior would change in similar ways.And so it has proved. Lagging wages — actually declining in real terms for half of working men — and work instability have been followed by sharp declines in marriage, rising births out of wedlock, and more.
As Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution writes: “Blacks have faced, and will continue to face, unique challenges. But when we look for the reasons why less skilled blacks are failing to marry and join the middle class, it is largely for the same reasons that marriage and a middle-class lifestyle is eluding a growing number of whites as well.
So it is, as I said, disheartening still to see commentators suggesting that the poor are causing their own poverty, and could easily escape if only they acted like members of the upper middle class....
The point is that there is no excuse for fatalism as we contemplate the evils of poverty in America. Shrugging your shoulders as you attribute it all to values is an act of malign neglect. The poor don’t need lectures on morality, they need more resources — which we can afford to provide — and better economic opportunities, which we can also afford to provide . . . ."
Educational opportunities are a big deal --- perhaps the biggest deal if we want to create an upwardly mobile, globally competitive, entrepreneurial workforce.
When it comes to economic success or failure, education coupled with stick-to-it-iveness are the critical determinative factors with respect to our economic lot(s) in life.
Since in America it's largely up to each of us what happens throughout life, the harder we work, the luckier we are likely to be.
Our shared American goal must always be that the doors of opportunity are always open and that abundant opportunities for success are there for any 'hyphenated' American willing to put in the required time and effort.
That's the American dream. As former NBA slam dunk champion and 5'7" Spud Webb put it about doing the seemingly impossible, "If you can dream it, you can do it."
And that's my completely American take as well.