A new book published by Harvard historian and sociologist William Julius Wilson, entitled “More Than Just Race,” has stirred the always-tempestuous cauldron that is our “national discussion about race.” Wilson’s politically unique prospective offers new insights into the origins of race-based job discrimination. His book examines the legacy of racism in the US from multiple perspectives and comes to a constellation of complex conclusions. Whereas liberal scholars have tended to blame societal racism for impeding the upward mobility of African Americans and other minorities; and conservatives have blamed degenerative “ghetto culture” for impeding employment opportunities for minorities; Wilson takes a broader view.
According to Wilson’s philosophy, both demographic and social cultural trends have influenced the trajectory of America’s minority communities. In other words, Wilson rejects neither the conservative nor the liberal view. Instead, he synthesizes them into a more unified theory. The result is a fascinating multi-pronged analysis that defies easy stereotyping.
Wilson opines that socioeconomic status can be much more important than race in determining destiny. He acknowledges the many successes of the Civil Rights movement but suggests that those victories may have accidentally (and ironically) made life tougher for very low income African Americans. The so-called “white flight” of upwardly mobile white Americans out of the inner city wasn’t purely “white.” The exodus included many of the African American community’s most promising leaders, businesses, and educators and left the inner city even more “ghetto-ized” than before the Civil Rights movement.
As a result of his contrarian tactics, Wilson has taken flak from intellectuals on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. His non-polemical prose may leave leaders hungry for “red meat” disappointed. But his scholarly analysis of the depth and breadth of inequality in the US cannot be undersold. Some have even compared his work to a book published in the 1960’s by the controversial politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who — at the time — received tremendous flak for voicing views counter to those held by mainstream liberal theory.
There seem at first glance to be few practical implications for job discrimination and race based employment discrimination theory in Wilson’s work. But perhaps deeper analysis will yield more real world applications. At the very least, if he can influence the field of jurisprudence to view job and race discrimination cases in a more historically-grounded light, we will all be the better for his efforts.