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Du Bois’ Theory: Parallel To Contemporary Inequality In America

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Du Bois was the first African American to graduate with a PHD from Harvard, and among many other studious lifetime achievements, he was a monumental spokesperson for African American rights in the 19th and 20th centuries. Du Bois, a conflict theorist, has several writings that discuss inequalities imposed on the African American community which has served to be some of the most influential pieces in sociology. His theories included concepts such as “Double Consciousness” and his pieces also brought attention to the demographic obstacles imposed on low income populations. These theories have been of great significance in the field of sociology and arguably in contemporary American society. W. E. B. Du Bois’ theory can be integrated into the 21’st century’s climate of inequality when considering how much of an impact inequality in the 19th and 20th centuries still have on housing, voting, and education.

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Supporting Evidence

Du Bois’ falls under the perspective of a conflict theorist which is an understanding of sociology that explains society as divided into groups that have access to different — sometimes unequal — resources. Unequal and different access to resources are common in America’s society today, especially in the sectors mentioned above (housing, voting and education). In Du Bois’ article, published in the Atlantic times “The Color Line” he points out the limitations the legal system imposes on African Americans. The issues listed concerned inequalities such as voting rights, marriage, education, housing and criminal justice and for each topic Du Bois gives us real examples of how these impacted African American lives in the 19th and 20th centuries. These factors — although laws regarding race have since been repealed — still affect underlying boundaries and obstacles that prevent African American’s, and other low income populations, from putting themselves in a position in society to achieve mobility. Housing Far beyond the times of Jim Crow laws, populations in poor neighborhoods still remain under similar demographics. Segregation has impacted America in all aspects, but here we will focus solely on the impact it has had on housing and how it has perpetuated underlying boundaries and obstacles on the people who live within it.

Segregation has set the starting line much farther back for populations who are born poor. Du Bois (1950:121) touches on this subject in his article “The problem of the 20th Century” he states “We are housed in slums and segregated districts where crime and disease multiplied, and when we tried to move to better and healthier quarters we were met by segregation ordinance, if not by mobs. ” This quote alone shows the struggle that even when African Americans tried, they were still faced with resistance whether that was from policy implemented into the system or with people face to face. The primary purpose of segregation in housing at that time was so that the rich people (mostly white) could live the farthest away from the poor people (mostly black) because:

  1. they were racist,
  2. they preferred to be separated,
  3. they feared imaginary dangers.

Residential segregation was legally achieved by specific lending laws in the housing market. In 1934, the National Housing Act allowed the Home Owners Loan Corporation to create residential security maps. These security maps classified neighborhoods into categories, generally they were divided into four colors: Green-businessmen, Blue-still desirable, Yellow-declining and bordering black neighborhoods, and Red-black low income neighborhoods. This phenomenon was referred to as “red lining” and its function was to allow lenders to deny African Americans loans to buy houses or to restrict them by only offering loans for houses in specific areas. As a contemporary result of this the U. S. has created densely populated areas of poor people which we now call areas of concentrated poverty. These areas have substantial amounts of public and transitional housing units or houses with little property value. Sometimes these areas become food deserts, which means they have limited access to healthy foods due to being miles away from grocery stores that offer affordable produce. In some situations, people living in these areas are barely making enough to live and pay the rent not to mention have access to a vehicle nor the fruits and veggies in the convenience stores nearest to them which have inconvenient prices.

On the other end of the town we see that rich people, or people who are well off in general, tend to live farther away from poor people because they buy new homes or have more expensive living standards, which poor people simply cannot afford. It is not very often that a poor person is able to buy a new home, or even a used one, and typically when they do they are placed in areas around other people with similar incomes alike how more expensive homes are placed in areas bordering other expensive homes. One may argue that they should have the freedom to live anywhere they want and while that is true, it is only a reality for those who have enough money. The color line was as clear in the twentieth century as it is now. Poor people continue to populate the areas that have been red lined and there has been little to no effort to try and rebuild these communities. We know the facts; poor people today are born into a vicious cycle that often lacks the necessary resources to improve life chances. These people have limited access to nutritious foods – the most basic of human needs – they cannot afford health care or cannot afford to take time off to seek it out, the neighborhoods are often crime stricken because people have resulted to crime to try and make ends meet. The Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Act was not enough to fix the color line, the scars are deep and require a proactive solution. Voting In the same article Du Bois also discussed having the right to vote. Although voting rights were technically granted for African Americans around 1915 there are still obstacles presented that hinder African American’s from voting. It is not only the proxemics of the polling booth from the voter, but the forms of identification that are required at the booths that prevent people from voting. There is even a rule that you cannot use your federal housing ID as a form of identification — for whatever reason it is not allowed and as a result of this low income voters struggle to obtain the additional appropriate forms of ID. If requiring more than one form of government issued identification wasn’t trouble enough, the ability to acquire one is one challenged posed for low income communities that do not have a DMV office very close or in some cases have had their local DMV closed down. So this leaves voters not only miles away from their polling booths, but also miles away from the office where they can obtain a proper form of ID to vote. This is especially challenging for low income voters because as mentioned in the section above, people living in low income neighborhoods often lack resources such as transportation and requires them to set aside from working to take the bus which makes it trice the obstacle it seems. Having these obstacles in place prevents America from having a true democracy which is to limit our country’s full potential.

Education Academic ability has matched other levels from, it is not the academic level that matters as much as students actually having a chance to build social capital and have possibilities to network with other successful people. Another factor that is impacted by the segregation of housing by income is education of those living in these low income community. Schools — in California at least — draw around a quarter of their funding from property taxes which. These funds are used for resources for the school even for things as basic as structure repairs like leaky roofs and toilets.


W. E. B. Du Bois’ theories are still relevant in America’s society today. Many of the challenges that racism imposed on African Americans in the past are still systematically perpetuated today in different ways contemporarily on low income populations as a whole, but still disproportionately for African Americans. It is clear how much of an impact policy and legislation regarding race has set back America in terms of not allowing the same opportunities to be offered to everyone equally. This explains why the conflict theory seems to be the only perspective fit to explain contemporary American society. Some may think we have come far from the 19th and 20th centuries, but to our demise we have only renamed and revised the mechanisms in which we use to oppress people.

15 July 2020

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