Join the discussion.  Is the black community better off in 1998 than it was in 1968? How can its growing class gap be closed?


homeless man

I think Mr. Gates touched on a number of important issues, all which hold so much validity that black America surely has not taken into consideration. However, I am concerned with one of the core problems in black America which is the rap music. I sickens me sometimes to listen to lyrical content now as oppose to beats because the beats are now the same. What seriously troubles me is that rap music has developed into so much more. After two rappers almost predicting their own murders or deaths, nothing has changed, things and consequences have escalated.

I graduated from Hampton University with a degree in psychology to return home and be utterly disappointed in the city I live next. The rap station gives no news, current events, nothing just whole lot of jokes. Puff Daddy is giving "artists" the opportunity to put records out that say everything and anything but the right thing, and the vidoes !? say it all....we are way off track and I want to know where to go, what to do ,or study in order to begin a process of change for all communities whose youth live, breathe, and some who die by this music's "lyrical" content. It troubles me as a soon to be educator because our job, hopes, and dreams become 10 times more difficult when we have our own turning us right back around.

Stephanie McKee
Teaneck, NJ


Congratulations on the Henry Louis Gates program. Regarding the hope of an interracial coalition, Gates and his colleagues must realize that white advocates (activists)in the Civil Rights Movement met a different fate. They suffered a strong backlash from leaders of both government (usually, meaning local city governments) and corporations and were lost from inclusion in the very dialogue Gates and others now seek. For twenty-five years, most white civilrights advocates (driven largely from office and underground)have thought the mixture of racism and classism had to be faced and dealt with in careful, analytical and strategic way. The opportunities for such dialogue and action are still possible. But one way to begin would be to recognize that white activists met a different fate. There is much to talk about! And much work to do with all our brothers and sisters. Peace! .

Rev. Chuck Rawlings
South Orange, NJ


I have always believed that economic class and the lack of attention paid to the resulting problems of lack of income among poor whites and blacks were the more real and the driving forces behind racial inequality and racism.

I just wanted to point out to Dr. Gates one comment he made during his essay. He referred to Martha's Vineyard as (let me paraphrase) a multi-racial society. I must draw an exception to his view. Though I respect Dr. Gates I must call him what he is-a summer person. As a year round resident of the island for 14 years I am more acquainted with the social structure here. The island during the 8 months out of the year that it reverts to a small New England community is not a representative of the US socially. It i s overwhelmingly white. Coming from Brooklyn NY it was something I found I had to adjust to. Though many different people live here most of them come from small suburban white communities and that's what they have created here. During the summer months the population swells seven fold and becomes much more representative of America at large. However, the races for the most part do not interact. Both professionally and socially I have had much more interracial interaction in Brooklyn than here. Truth be told I come from area of Brooklyn where that was more often the case. (Passive?) Racism is alive and well on Martha's Vineyard if only because of the lack of interaction. It is something I am constantly aware of.

Christopher Mara
Vineyard Haven, MA


First, require businesses that have profited from inner city labor and left town or went out to the edge to pay back a portion of those profits to encourage urban economic growth. Plus, policy is needed to stop "redlining" in inner cities so that new businesses can flourish again, providing local employment, while adding to the local communities' over-all economic growth.

Beyond that, I am presently involved with a disinvested urban neighborhood and would value comments and insights, especially as they pertain to Memhis, TN

David Spangler
Memphis, TN


Tonight's program was very good and very enlightening. The Black struggle has truly become a "class thing" and economics has made it so. Yet, racism cannot fully be let off the hook. A covert system of racism operates in every facet of American systems. These systems are run by men and women who grew up in a time when popular thought, the norm, was that Black people were inferior. This generation of people may have learned to accept us, live amongst us, etc. but they still think their racist thoughts and therefore exhibit racist behaviors. It is what they knew, how they grew up, who they have become. It is VERY hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

I would consider myself middle class. But I cannot say that I have more in common with the white people in my class than Black people in a lower economic status. The commonness depends upon your morals, your values, your beliefs. Besides, most white people that I have worked with (Chicago, Tampa, DC) no matter what your status usually separate YOU from THEM in one way or another. My current life example: I am the Director of Marketing in a mid-sized law firm. The all white principal attorneys give more respect, courtesy and opportunities to the less business-savvy, less educated, disrespectful, uncouth and mean-spirited white women occupying in lower positions in the firm than they would ever dream of affording me. Yet, they want to use my skills and knowledge to further their business. And this occurs because of the color of my skin--black.

Are we as black people better off? We have access to many institutions and opportunities than we just did 25 and 30 years ago. I am forever grateful to the generations before me who fought hard for the things that my generation and younger generations take for granted. But the economic situation in America which has created a greater gap between the haves and the have-nots and has done a great injustice to the Black community. We (the Black community) have become separated. Our numbers were not great before and now because of the economic division we have even greater trouble finding strength to overcome racism that has become covert and poverty that is increasing. Will we ever come together? I don't think we will. WE are two very different worlds.

Thank you for the program.

Gaithersburg, MD


i believe that the black community is better off in 1998 than it was in 1968. how much better is still being analyzed, by people on your showcase as well as those in my community as well as other communities. in camden, new jersey the plight of black america in regards to economics and education is a place where the division can be seen clearly. the haves and the have nots live next door to each other, our children attend school together. i feel like the solution to the economic ills in our society rest within the individual. i had the opportunity to attend college directly from high school, i chose to make a living. through my life travels i have seen the errors of my ways and realize the importance of self advancement by any legal means necessary. i had a series of low paying salaried positions on one hand and my ideal of a standard of living on the other hand. the choice was easy. i am now attending rutgers university, in camden. i am on the dean's list currently. i am raising a son within a positive image and surrounding him with a rich history and a sense of pride in his blackness. education is essential and i make him aware of that fact every day. he is a black boy in america, living in a city that swallows kids like him whole. but i am his lifeline. i will hold on and hold on to any other child or young adult that will take my arm and pull him/herself up. it takes a demand of self to make a real change for the better. the solutions to the gap between the classes in black america is the realization that we can rid the society of the have nots but we can increase the population of haves. i want to see us strive and succeed as a people, but it is the individual efforts that will do the lifting.

thanks for the opportunity, i enjoyed the program and the idea that as a young (31 year old) political science i will one day be able to join in on discussions with those that have risen to the occasion as did those that appeared on frontline.

Stacey L. Pierce
Camden, NJ


Where we go is nowhere as fast as possible. Where we end up is far beyond our wildest dreams. Talking about class will not accomplish a thing. Moving on is what every great explorer dreams of and survives by. Talk is not the answer. ie. My wife went to a big paper warehouse the other day. As she was picking up over a thousand dollars worth of paper to be printed on for one of our customer's jobs, the individual loading the paper made fun of her because she was picking up the order with a Ford Taurus as if she was not really in business because she didnt have a truck. She was of the wrong class of business operator if one would have listened or even bothered to. She and I will make more on that paper order than that person will make in one month's pay. We all have things to do and places to go. This planet and this life is very short lived. Those who lay in the street sleeping have advantages that we who work two shifts can only dream about. When people create a conversation around class, poverty, wealth, destruction of human rights, or any conversation on any subject, that indeed is exactly that!... merely conversation. But when struggle, when we live, when we dream, when we hope, when we apply with action what we are all capable of doing... no matter what that may be, then there is a positive reaction. You noticed that homeless person the other day... I'd say they did their job pretty well. I also noticed that same person was in the library the other day catching up on little reading. Now that's some kinda action if you ask me. Expanding ones mind was never outlawed by any dictator of any race. Taking action to reflect on class distinction is an honorable venture, and what you do with your own time is your own business. Publishing and getting published is also an honorable labor among all people of this human race, if you are going to be published, I can't think of anything more important than to be remembered for enlightening your fellow humans on class definition. When I'm really down... and when I'm really feeling the pains of the world coming down on me and when I die, then I know I'm only human. With each day, I get ever more close to that place called heaven. Sho me the honey in the meantime... note I didn't say money, I said honey, and let your love shine through. I notice that those who smile got it all.. and those who don't just have that much more to look forward to. I seen storms and I seen sunshine and it's good to be alive in both. Comparisons to third world countries or unethical politicians can be an eye opener to say the least. But if you want to say the most then say it for Christ's sake. I know if there wasn't an audience on the curb then the parade would make little sense. But there would probably still be a parade 'cause folks like to parade sometimes. And they love those curbs too. Our butts feel great on those curbs! The fun of the day comes from meeting it and greeting it! The best help I can give you Su is to move it on outta here and who knows, maybe in a few million years we be back, and we'll sit and watch the parade just long enough ta stand up get in on it before it ends.

Henry Jacobs
Mission, KS


One of the more significant factors in this equation is the growth in the jail and prison population since 1968.

There are currently more than 1.5 million inmates in the U.S., a disproportionate number of them being Black and Latino.

The economic changes undergone by the U.S. economy have impacted on this growth in the prison populations throughout the country, and the underlying problems were seeded into our society in the early seventies.

Drug-money laundering by financial institutions offered profits too tempting to resist, permitting a surge in drug trafficking that is still having its impact on minority communities.

There is very little in the way of help for inmates being released back into their communities, causing a high rate of recidivism.

Extending prison terms and ending parole will only make the disparities greater, creating a burgeoning growth industry and creating wealth from a new plantation system of neo-slavery in the U.S.

Jail and prison based rehabilitation programs have been systematically cut from state and federal budgets, even in the face of strong evidence that some of those programs are effective.

In the case of drug use, there are again effective programs to help inmates bring about change in their behaviors, but what is missing, is the job development initiatives that must follow up any institution based rehab programs.

Re-entry assistance is also necessary for those changed individuals who leave jail.

These comprehensive measures would make a difference.

There are many of the program elements designed for inmates that would be very helpful in the neighborhoods as well. It could be said that the residents of many neighborhoods are themselves incarcerated in an out-patient prison.

Richard Massie
New York ,NY


There is a fundamental breakdown within the black community. There is no standard that defines the black community in positive terms. The problem is simple, in that when a people can not define themselves, in their own terms in a way that is positive and self-affirmming they are left with the definition that is given to them by those who view them from outside. There is no definitive answer for: What is black culture and civilization in America? The complex part of the equation comes as the result of a cultural default that has systematically removed the majority of black men from the family, and therefore keeps them from the contributing part of black civilization.

One of the truths of civilization is what you value is what you understand. Black America, on the whole has lost its belief in the America system, but has found nothing to replace it. Until we find a definition and a code of civilization that links us as a common people in a common community we are doomed to continued separation and class stratification.

Charles Grimmett
Detroit, MI


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