The Truly Disadvantaged Critical Context - Essay

William Julius Wilson

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Wilson’s work helped stimulate a great expansion of research into minority economic problems. Wilson accepted a prestigious appointment to Harvard University, was cited by Time magazine as one of the twenty-five “most influential Americans” in 1996, and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1998. His subsequent books include When Work Disappears (1996) and There Goes the Neighborhood (with Richard P. Taub, 2006).

His writings have been criticized for unduly downplaying the continuing influence of racism on African American economic conditions. He also felt obliged to comment in later writings on the fact that many unskilled immigrants seemed to fare better than did African Americans born in U.S. ghettos. The immigrants were less prone to form single-adult child-raising households, were more likely to develop support and information networks (experiencing less “social isolation” than African Americans), and were better located.

A valuable perspective on Wilson’s work can be found in The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture, by Bakari Kitwana, the editor of The Source, a periodical focused on the overlaps of music, culture, and politics. The book affirms the persistence of the problems highlighted by Wilson but adds the recent development of expressions in music and films of defiant attitudes celebrating many of the attitudes underlying those problems.