Race and Class in America: Black Reconstruction

The postwar period saw significant opposition to African Americans’ second-class citizenship in several country sections. Nonviolent opposition and civil disobedience against racial segregation and discrimination garnered national exposure as the media recorded the effort to abolish the vices. Many authors have detailed the steps that hindered or led to the liberation of the African American race. The article discusses Lassiter’s ‘The Silent Majority,’ Katz Katznelson’s ‘When Affirmative Action Was White,’ and Du Bois’ “Black Reconstruction.”

Ira Katznelson’s book When Affirmative Action Was White examines the tale of the way progressive policies of the 1930s and 1940s cemented and enlarged the American middle class. These initiatives were meant to benefit White individuals while sidelining Black citizens wherever feasible primarily (Katznelson 27). Combined with other historical economic abuses, this inequitable sharing of resources and opportunity led to the wealth disparity that still exists today. However, since the underlying political antics are frequently unmentioned, individuals in the present have been able to resist more current affirmative action policies meant to correct the issue.

Matthew’s release of ‘Reconstruction’ presented a revolutionary new evaluation of Reconstruction and its role in the development of US democracy. Matthew argued that Washington’s support of racial segregation emboldened whites to deny all African Americans the opportunity to vote, undermining black dignity and development (Lassiter 23). In the era of the Civil War, he stressed the need for Black people and formerly enslaved people to unite, as he held out the vision of a worker-ruled democratic system to replace a slave-based plantation economy. The most challenging task of the post-Reconstruction South was keeping a consistent obedient workforce, which gave rise to the sharecropping structure.

All through the book, Lassiter returns to his conviction that Black and White workers ought to have banded together to oppose the progressive policies of the 1930s and 1940s recounted in When Affirmative Action Was White, which cemented and increased the American middle-class segregation. Poor Whites chose not to unite with African workers as they felt their whiteness was much more precious than their class. Moreover, the White elite instilled in them that being white rendered them superior to Blacks (Lassiter 81). During the Populist campaign of the 1880s and 1890s, a few poor Whites aligned with the Blacks, but Lassiter was convinced that the effort was late.

Lassiter does an excellent job of demonstrating Lincoln’s complexity. Specifically, he was not just the Great Emancipator but also fought for colonialism and segregation instead of full equality. According to Katznelson, the government implement various measures and strategies to revive the economy (Katznelson 52). There were housing assistance programs available, including government-insured mortgages. Social security was established to offer the disabled and the elderly financial aid.

The initiatives were unfairly administered due to the period’s evident systemic racism and political framework. Negotiations between politicians wishing to keep the tradition of White supremacy mainly in the South and inactive politicians in the North enabled the creation of these schemes while almost guaranteeing the exclusion of Black people. According to Ira, when people discuss affirmative action nowadays, they frequently think of college entrance and employment (Katznelson 55). Affirmative action, on the other hand, has been around for decades. The contrast is that there has been more significant discussion about these issues and Black people that started with the Civil Rights Movement. However, in the past era, affirmative action and progressive policies primarily benefited White people.

Southern leaders may have laid the groundwork for such unfair laws to be easily implemented. However, Western and Northern leaders watched by and permitted these unfair constraints to be imposed. The South has received much criticism for its past racial persecution of Black people. However, similar oppressive institutions affecting Black people and other oppressed groups were constructed or permitted to persist in other sections of the country. Generally, the efforts to maintain them were more discreet but no less resolute.

The Transubstantiation of the Poor White is among the book’s most intriguing chapters. It is in this chapter that Matthew demonstrates how Andrew Johnson’s opinions evolved from a poor White who despised the Southern farmer aristocracy prior to the Civil War to becoming its staunchest supporter once he assumed the Presidency (Katznelson 66). It was because the erstwhile planters charmed him, and Johnson was steadfastly opposed to Black suffrage during his presidency. Because of the uneven execution of previous programs, the current initiatives he helped design exacerbated segregation. Katznelson deconstructs the political manoeuvrings that resulted in the initial uneven structure.

The South, and hence Southern politicians, intended to guarantee that Black people remained second-class Americans. These policies were designed to broaden, if not create, the American middle class. As a result, they could not get the programs administered in such a way that Black people may have employment opportunities, be able to acquire homes more readily, and so on. It was welcome for more White individuals to join the middle class, whereas there was little desire for an expanding Black middle class.

Another significant accomplishment of Black Reconstruction leadership was establishing the Southern public educational system that was not present before the Civil War (Lassiter 33). Several states built integrated schools throughout this period, whereas others maintained separate schools. It was fascinating to hear that segregated schools were more expensive than integrated ones. Segregated schools harmed White and Black students, albeit Black children endured suffering. Therefore, segregation made it simple to establish regulations that mysteriously excluded certain companies from new labour-related initiatives (Katznelson 87). Black labour might then be pursued without the legislation requiring that they be excluded.

The initial storyline was that Southern and Northern’s White males were the perpetrators, with Blacks serving as tools. However, the fraud was blamed primarily on the Black leaders when the planters and impoverished Whites acquired control following Reconstruction. White leaders employed the new narrative to justify removing political authority from Black people residing in the South (Lassiter 123). It should not be overlooked that developing an economy with underpaid and then low-paid workers played a crucial role in America’s growth into a prosperous nation. Without compensating enslaved Black people and subsequently constructing a system that trapped Black people in low-paying and dangerous professions, the work required to develop and maintain America could be completed at a significant cost reduction.

As stated, all Affirmative Action was an all-white affair as these initiatives paid no attention to race on paper but undoubtedly did in practice. There is now criticism when programs and regulations say unequivocally that underprivileged and underserved groups should get aid through these initiatives (Katznelson 76). It is considered racist against White people, although this is due to a lack of historical perspective. Some are genuinely clueless, whereas others are purposely ignorant of the previous actions that produced the circumstances that the current initiatives attempt to correct. However, it was necessary back then and is still essential now. The last perks and allowances that were especially granted to White people have accumulated through launching new initiatives to remedy historical disparities and ensure equality for Black people is appropriate.

Remarkably, the writing by Du Bois addresses similar concerns, even though the author introduces a different set of themes and perspectives. Namely, encouraging the active integration of African American people into the U.S. community, Du Bois established in his writing that the problem of race was linked to the issue of class and, therefore, could be eventually overcome. Similarly to Katznelson, Du Bois points to the importance of socioeconomic change and the integration of African American people into the target setting: “Social Security, from which the majority of blacks were excluded until well into the 1950s, quickly became the country’s most important social legislation” (Katznelson). Like Katznelson, who openly criticizes the racist approach to the development of consumerism within the American social context, Du Bois discloses the underpinnings of the socioeconomic change that occurred with the process of integration (Du Bois 313). However, unlike Lasseter, Du Bois integrates other perspectives into his analysis. For instance, he outlines the presence of class disparities along with racial ones. Namely, he mentions the necessity to “guard the rights of the poor and downtrodden” (Du Bois 314). Consequently, Du Bois’ analysis represents a more complex and all-embracive narrative, whereas the one by Katznelson offers a more incisive and detailed evaluation of the issue at hand, particularly, the integration process.

Similarly, there is a noticeable difference between the opinion offered by Du Bois and that one of Lassiter. Specifically, Lassiter seeks to examine the implicit biases within the current policies caused by the deeply entrenched concepts of racism and racial profiling observed in American society on an institutional level. In contrast to Lassiter, who actively seeks to examine the divide within the American community, Du Bois seeks to actively mend it and introduce opportunities for collaboration. However, even though the two authors represent the issue in different light, both communicate the importance of the social divide within American society as one of the contributing forces leading to the deterioration of the sociocultural context of the U.S. at the time. Specifically, while Du Bois outlined that the phenomenon of inequality also affected the seemingly dominant part of the U.S. population, causing White Americans to experience poverty as swell Lassiter illustrates the problem of compliance and the failure to encourage change as the core factors behind the enforcement of inequality within society. Specifically, by labelling those refusing to act as the silent majority, Lasseter introduces the concept of social inaction and the absence of social change as prerequisites to inequality and injustice. The specified plight for positive change and the need to connect social permutations s within the community to economic ones can also be seen in Du Bois’ writing, where he promotes the concept of integration as the process affecting every aspect of people’s lives, including education, employment, social life, and other spheres.

Ultimately, Matthew contends that it might have produced far greater equality if the White Supremacists did not suddenly stop Reconstruction. Matthew seemed to wonder where America might be in 1935 if everything had gone perfectly. Some individuals now regard any discussion of inequality and associated programs as historical or contemporary. Earlier iterations of affirmative action schemes gave White people more chances and benefits. Programs to assist residents in progressing and establishing a stable base for themselves and their close families were beneficial. The difficulty was that they frequently ignored Black people and collaborated with organizations that stifled Black growth. Some argue that it is history and that White persons today should not be forced to pay for the mistakes of their forefathers. On the surface, that seems reasonable, but it is not.

Works Cited

Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt. Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880. Harcourt, 1935.

Lassiter, Mathew. The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South. Princeton University Press, 2006.

Katznelson, Ira. When Affirmative Action was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America. W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.

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