By the end of the 1980s the conditions of African Americans in the rural South no longer measured the extremes of inequality and repression in America. Although we found new evidence of hunger and excesses of illness and death among them, 1 they lost their place as measures because other conditions had grown so much worse. The underclass and the homeless, to mention just two other groups, offered new extremes of human need for Americans. But the conditions of poverty and repression of African Americans in the rural South offer parallels, as well as origins, to these more current and publicized problems. The underclass of our inner cities have a direct connection to the subordinate class of agricultural workers in the rural South who migrated to urban areas. Once there, some of the "old" problem of racial inequality became part of the "new" problem of the underclass. 2 The homeless on our streets testify to the capacity of Americans to tolerate the spectacle of severe deprivation and insults on human dignity not unlike our tolerance of lynching for half a century.
Extreme forms of human need like these do not seem to penetrate the American conscience sufficiently to challenge our belief in the adequacies of public services and economic opportunities. If anything, our values and beliefs in low amounts of social capital and private, not public, forms of it are now stronger than before, despite new human evidence of their inadequacy. It is precisely this reaffirmation of private forms of reduced social capital that creates the new social problems that crowd off old ones from the public agenda and awareness. These problems, and others, are the current "American dilemma." We tolerate, accept, and even defend severe human needs. We integrate them with our ideals of equality and human dignity that these needs contradict.
We have these "dilemmas" for the same reasons that Myrdal enumerated earlier. We justify low amounts and limited forms of social capital because of what we "know" about the people who bear their human costs. We place
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Publication information: Book title: Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round:The Pursuit of Racial Justice in the Rural South. Contributors: Richard A. Couto - Author. Publisher: Temple University Press. Place of publication: Philadelphia. Publication year: 1991. Page number: 344.
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