The Iconic Ghetto: The New American Color Line
The black ghetto has become a major icon in American society and culture, and as such, it serves as an important source of stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination. From the days of slavery through the Civil Rights period, black people have occupied a caste-like status. Today, despite the progressive changes wrought by the racial incorporation process of the 1960s and 1970s, the color line persists—albeit in a new, emergent form—in everyday life. Many blacks now work in a wider range of occupations than ever—not simply in menial jobs, but in professional positions in which they have rarely appeared before, including as doctors, lawyers, professors, corporate executives, and major elected officials. Many of them also reside in exclusive neighborhoods formerly off-limits to them, and their children attend formerly white schools. But as black people have become increasingly more visible throughout society, dilemmas and contradictions of status have also become more common. The physical black ghetto persists, and its iconography conditions many Americans to think that the black person’s “place” is usually in the ghetto, not in middle-class society. Thus, whites and others often associate black individuals with the iconic ghetto, burdening them with a deficit of credibility that on occasion manifests in acts of acute disrespect reminiscent of America’s racial past. Among themselves black people call such incidents “nigger moments,” and generally interpret them as deeply racist attempts to put them back in their place. These incidents, and the conflict they cause—based on the black ghetto as a concrete point of reference—constitute the present-day American color line.
Elijah Anderson the William K. Lanman Professor of Sociology at Yale University. One of the leading urban ethnographers in the United States, his publications include Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City (1999), winner of the Komarovsky Award from the Eastern Sociological Society; Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community (1990), winner of the American Sociological Association’s Robert E. Park Award for the best published book in the area of Urban Sociology; and the classic sociological work, A Place on the Corner (1978; 2nd ed., 2003). He is the 2013 recipient of the American Sociological Association’s Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award.
Date: March 7, 2013
Location: 6 East 16th Street, Room 1102