Race and theory: Culture, poverty, and adaptation to discrimination in Wilson and Ogbu

Sociological Theory 17 (2):171-200 (1999)
Abstract
This article provides the theoretical resources to resolve a number of conundrums in the work of William Julius Wilson and John Ogbu. Contrary to what Wilson's and Ogbu's work sometimes imply, inner-city blacks are not enmeshed in a "culture of poverty," but rather are generally committed to mainstream values and their normative expectations. Activities that deviate from these values derive from the cognitive expectations inner-city blacks have formed in the face of their restricted legitimate opportunity structures. These expectations, which suggest that educational and occupational success are improbable for inner-city residents, are accurate. If their opportunities were to improve, their cognitive expectations would change and most would be committed to taking advantage of these new opportunities. The differences that separate the inner-city poor from whites center on cultural symbols, which help constitute their identity, sometimes in opposition to the white majority. Most deficiencies in performance among blacks stem not from these cultural attributes, but from the way they are processed in white-dominated organizations. Given a majority commitment to equal opportunity and a majority belief that blacks actually have equal opportunity, many conclude from their performance that blacks are in some sense inferior. This "new racism" overdetermines the performance of blacks
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