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Identifying 1990s racism.

The Los Angeles riots and disturbances in other cities echoed occurrences in the 1960s. After each set of events, national discussion focused on the need for social and economic justice. It also raised the question, "Have we made any progress in 25 years?"

In fact, we have. Although overall economic indicators suggest blacks have .made few advances, a look at some groups within the population reveals significant growth. In 1990, the percentage of black families with incomes over $50,000 (in 1990 dollars) grew from 9.9% in 1970 to 14.5%. Many of those families were headed by a husband and wife Who both worked outside the home.

Individual earnings increased as a result of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The act increased access to higher education and opened up new occupations to blacks. Consequently, the number of black college-degree holders tripled between 1970 and 1990, and the percentage of blacks in managerial, professional and related occupations jumped from 24% to 44%.

Another complicating factor in developing policies to combat modern racism is the diversity of our "minority" population. In the 1960s, when the basic civil rights laws were enacted, blacks were 90% of the nonwhite population. There were few separate statistics on Hispanics. Among Asian groups (then just over 1% of the population), the dominant groups were Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and Asian Indians. Within both the Hispanic and Asian populations, there has been a shift within these groups from a majority with a long-term presence in the United States to more recent immigrants.

New complications arise from these population shifts. From a policy standpoint, the nation has not completely worked through ways of incorporating these diverse groups, with their differing cultural backgrounds and economic and social circumstances, into our group-sensitive remedies programs. For example, as a group, Asians are not under-represented in college, but some Asian subgroups are. As a group, Asiains do not exhibit characteristics suggesting the need for inclusion in preferential programs such as business set-asides. However, some Asian ethnic groups are under-represented in business and have under-capitalized and marginal firms.

How do you account for this diversity in existing programs-programs that were originally designed for blacks and expanded to include women and Hispanics? How do you compare the historical discrimination that blacks (and some Hispanics and Asians) have experienced with the experiences of new immigrant groups such as Hondurans, Iranians and Salvadorans?

The advances of some blacks and the relative success of some recent immigrants, such as West Indians and Koreans, adds to our dilemma. If these groups do well, why are some blacks left behind? It appears that the problems are not with the system. Therefore, or so the argument goes, those who did not succeed failed to do so because of a lack of initiative or "weak family values."

But people who remain in poverty are there not because they are lazy--their wages are so low that even full-time work will not lift their families above the poverty line. Since the 1960s, high-wage manufacturing jobs have been disappearing, leaving blacks with low levels of education with fewer opportunities to earn a non-poverty income.

The proportion of aggregate income going to black households at the low end of the income distribution (bottom 20%) decreased, while that for the top 20% increased. In 1990, the top 20% of black households had nearly one half of the income in the black community, while the bottom 20% had only 3.1% of the income.

This gap makes it more difficult to identify the extent to which those who continue to do poorly are the victims of racism as opposed to "bad luck." And, the distance between blacks and other minorities who are doing well and those who are not may make it harder to find the common ground necessary to continue the fight for equality in American society.
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Author:Simms, Margaret
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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