Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Wilson is a highly respected African American sociologist. He writes in a dispassionate and analytical manner about sensitive issues involving the poverty component of the United States’ African American population. These issues include violent crime; childbearing among young, unmarried women; poor education and low job skills; and unemployment and nonemployment.

Wilson highlights the disturbing fact that, after significant government efforts to eradicate racial discrimination and after the initiation of the so-called War on Poverty in 1964, the various pathologies associated with African American poverty became more prevalent. Acknowledging that racism remains far from being eradicated, Wilson insists that the persisting poverty in the United States does not arise significantly from racism. He is also very critical of the “individualist” style of economic analysis, represented by Charles Murray, which finds the roots of the problem in the poor attitudes and poor choices of individual persons. In Wilson’s view, attitudes and choices are not ultimate data but arise from underlying economic and cultural changes in society. He cites abundant evidence that government welfare programs did not contribute significantly to the proliferation of female-headed households and out-of-wedlock births.

Wilson does not flinch from examining the data on the pathologies contributing to African American poverty, beginning with violent crime. Even before the impact of the “War on Drugs,” the rate of African American imprisonment in 1984 was six times that of imprisonment among whites, and half of all arrests for violent crime involved African American perpetrators—and almost always African American victims.

The proportion of U.S. households headed by females rose rapidly after 1965. Wilson notes that “46...

(The entire section is 752 words.)