Is Race and Class the New “Chicken and Egg”?

Written By: Francis Borrasso

What came first: the chicken or the egg? This age-old phrase designed to make people think can be compared to race and class in today’s world. The concept behind the chicken and egg problem is that there is no correct answer; one cannot exist without the other. The same is true when analyzing wealth between different groups of people. In almost every study you find regarding wealth, class and race are an axis of some kind within the neat little bar graphs.

Is race a natural component of determining wealth? Are we predisposed to some standard of living based on our heritage? Well, that depends on who you ask and if there are other people around to hear an answer. In “The Asset Value of Whiteness,” we can see that personal choices and efforts may not have a large enough effect on wealth and success: “…individual choices are not sufficient to erase a century of accumulated wealth: structural racism trumps personal responsibility.” Felice Yeskel points out that race and class are invariably connected in “Opening Pandora’s Box: Adding Classism to the Agenda.”[1] “Race and class in particular are very intertwined in the U.S.[…]wealthy people are disproportionately white.”

Why is this important? For a long time, Americans have been sold a dream-like concept to model their life after. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can achieve the ‘American Dream’. But, who is the American Dream really built for? When people picture the ‘Dream’, do they picture a certain race? Do they picture a nuclear family? Do they picture wealth and status?

These days, it seems that Americans are beginning to realize that the American Dream is becoming more and more unattainable. It is always just out of reach. Always on the horizon, but never in our grasp. But, that doesn’t stop people from striving to achieve this dream. Yeskel quotes a New York Times poll (2005) stating “More Americans than 20 years ago believe it is possible to start out poor, work hard and become rich.”  It is interesting that the group of people who believe so fervently in the dream are the ones that are least likely to achieve it. Lower-class minorities have so many things stacked against them, it is strange to see them believe in the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and think that it applies to everyone in our country.

Do you believe that class and race run on parallel planes that never intersect?



Photo: “Class Struggles in America”

[1] Yeskel, Felice. “Opening Pandora’s Box: Adding Classism to the Agenda.” Diversity Factor 15.1 (2007) Ch. 2 p. 97-98

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