Black Blues: The Persistence of Racialized Economic Inequality in Black Communities

Chapter 2: Black Blues: The Persistence of Racialized Economic Inequality in Black Communities

Michael C. Dawson, University of Chicago
Megan Ming Francis, University of Washington

“To explore the role of race and class in black politics today, we first must take into account how historical decisions have shaped the landscape for blacks.”

We are at a critical moment in the state of race relations in the United States. The years 2013–2015 marked the 50th anniversaries of important milestones in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the most sweeping piece of civil rights legislation in July 1964. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which explicitly forbade voter-disenfranchisement measures and opened the pathway for a generation of black people to vote for the first time in their lives. These historic events were the culmination of decades of struggle by women and men who risked their lives for freedom and justice. However, even when a process of struggle culminates in transformative events, the reality of everyday life shows that significant social change is complicated and slow. On August 28, 1963, in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln and amid thousands of onlookers, King stood on the Washington Mall and observed that in the 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, “the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination….America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’” Now, 50 years later, it is necessary to ask two important questions: How far has the United States come? And where do we go from here?