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Professors examine class, race divide

Lindsay Sena | Friday, March 14, 2008

The Department of Africana Studies discussed the socio-economic divide in the black community in the fifth annual Erskine A. Peters Fellowship Symposium Thursday evening in the Eck Visitors Center Auditorium.

University of Connecticut professor Shyla Nunally framed the discussion by providing statistics regarding the current population, educational and economical status of blacks. According to 2006 census estimates, blacks make up 13.4 percent of the population, constituting the third largest racial group in America behind whites and Latinos.

Education was a pressing topic amongst the panel and audience. Only 80.7 percent of blacks over the age of 25 have received their high-school diplomas, compared to 86.1 percent of whites. In 2003, the high school drop-out rate was 4.8 percent for blacks compared to 3.2 percent for whites.

While Nunally acknowledged significant progress has been made, she said that “there are still disparities” among the races.

Notre Dame professor Darren Davis said the “class divide does not translate into political and social differences,” and there are not such “huge class divisions.”

Instead, Davis argued about a pressing generational divide, with respect to political and social attitudes. The generational divide, however, is not unique to blacks, but “an American society problem.”

“Every successive generation has to contend with issues of greater value displacement,” he said. “Each successive generation tends to be less patient… tends to be more concerned about immediate gratification. [They have] a certain level of impatience, of materialism, which is very different from the values of the older generations.”

Davis also said that as blacks grow wealthier, they tend to experience greater discrimination, causing them to identify more with their race.

“As African-Americans achieve a certain amount of success, they identify more with their race … the theory behind that is that as African-Americans succeed, it is there that they experience racism and discrimination,” he said. “When they get out of the ‘ghetto,’ and start moving into corporate America… into predominantly white institutions… they are more likely to encounter aspects of white racism.”

Yale profressor Shana Redmond, on the other hand, said “identity development is contextually specific,” and experiences such as Hurricane Katrina lead people to identify more with their race.

“If you’re talking about African-Americans leaving the Superdome after Katrina, what would their racial identification have been?” Redmond said.

Nunally concluded by reminding the audience that the Black community will continue to confront various challenges and that there is a constant question of “advancing black America.”

The symposium was titled “Redefining (Black) America: Socio-Economic Variance in the Black Community.”

The discussion panel also included Professors Denise Challenger of York University, Marlene Daut of Notre Dame and Gladys Mitchell of the University of Chicago.