Henry Louis Gates of Harvard and others have premised that there are now 2 nations in black America. The growing middle class that benefited from the civil rights movement and those left behind who lack the skills and education need to advance in society. Does this mean that social and economic class is more important than race today?
It is, of course, impossible to say this with any kind of objectivity. There is no way to objectively measure the respective importances of race and class. However, we can certainly argue that class is much more important than race.
Today, there are many African Americans who are just as well off as many white Americans. President Obama is simply one very high-profile example of this group. Therefore, to this group, race is not the defining factor in terms of life chances. This is one reason why many social commentators have argued that affirmative action programs should start to focus on people’s incomes, not on their race, when determining who needs help.
It is also the case that many poor whites are truly disadvantaged. These people are not helped by current affirmative action programs but are just as needy as African Americans who are poor. Given this, it does certainly appear that race is less important than class in American society today.
So, while we cannot know for sure which is more important, it clearly appears that race is less important than class in modern American society.