The American Class Structure

By Joseph A. Kahl | Go to book overview

started again." At this point the constable noticed some books in the back seat, and asked: "You a communist or agitator?""No.""Preacher?""No." "Teacher?""Yes, a college teacher." Then the constable said: "Boy, I ain't heard you say 'sir' to me yet." The Negro replied: "Well, sir, I'm just trying to get my car started so I can move on." At that point the constable hollered to two Negroes sitting on the curb in front of a gas station: "Hey, you niggers, come help this colored gentleman get his car started!"

Most middle-class white people find interaction with middle- and upper-class Negroes to be uncomfortable. They are used to Negroes as servants. When they meet one who is obviously not a servant, but who in education and occupation and general, cultural accomplishments is similar to themselves, they do not know how to behave. They do not want to deny the legitimacy of the symbols of class superiority, for that would weaken their own values about themselves. As a result, such interaction is usually marked by rather excessive formality, and is kept to a minimum.


CONCLUSIONS

Although Americans put many limitations on the behavior of white ethnic individuals in economic competition and social interaction, they expect that eventually ethnic differences will disappear as the various streams of European immigrants adapt to American culture. Indeed, Americans cut off large-scale immigration precisely because they did not like to have large groups of strange people in the country. The dominant cultural values all stress eventual assimilation. The good immigrant or son of an immigrant is the fellow who learns how to become "100 per cent American."

Americans usually make exactly the opposite assumption about Negroes. They do not want them to assimilate to the point of social equality, intermarriage, and absorption into the white majority. As Myrdal repeatedly emphasizes, this is the basic premise behind most white reactions to Negroes. Southerners, who are more afraid of assimilation, erect every possible barrier to Negro educational and occupational progress because they believe that such progress implies that the day of assimilation is brought closer, and the purity of the white race is, for them, a supreme goal in life. Northerners are less afraid of assimilation; there are fewer Negroes among them, and the Northern whites seem more ready to believe in the possibility of a biracial society in which Negroes can achieve high occupations without demanding intermarriage. Ecological segregation in the cities seems to most Northerners adequate protection.

Thus, the dynamics of the stratification variables hasten the assimila-

-247-

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The American Class Structure
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Introduction v
  • Preface ix
  • Contents xiii
  • Tables xvii
  • Figures xviii
  • I - The Dimensions of Class 1
  • References 16
  • II - Position and Prestige 19
  • Conclusions 47
  • References 49
  • III - Occupational Prestige and Social Change 53
  • Conclusions 85
  • References 87
  • IV - Income, Wealth, and Style of Life 91
  • Conclusions 119
  • References 122
  • V - The Web of Interaction 127
  • Conclusions 153
  • References 154
  • VI - Class Consciousness and Political Ideology 157
  • Conclusions 180
  • References 181
  • VII - Classes as Ideal Types: Emergent Values 184
  • Conclusions 215
  • References 218
  • VIII - Ethnic and Race Barriers 221
  • Conclusions 247
  • References 248
  • IX - Succession and Mobility: the Occupational Base 251
  • Conclusions 271
  • References 272
  • X - Succession and Mobility: Motivation and Education 276
  • Conclusions 293
  • References 294
  • Index 301
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