Racial divisions between members of the lower and middle classes continue to keep these groups from improving their overall standing in society, according to the most recent speaker in the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series.
Professor William Julius Wilson of Harvard University presented his lecture, ‘The Bridge Over the Racial Divide: Rising Inequality and Coalition Politics Reexamined,’ on May 11 at the Beckman Center Auditorium.
Wilson, who was once named one of America’s 25 Most Influential People by TIME magazine, focused his speech on uniting all races for common causes rather than emphasizing differences.
Chancellor Drake spoke briefly before Wilson’s lecture about his own family’s experiences growing up in segregated communities.
‘My brother and I were the two African-American students in our elementary school of 800,’ Drake said. ‘We had a chance to be on one of those razor edges of social change and see things from a variety of points of view and grow.’
In introducing Wilson, Drake explained, ‘Scholars like our guest speaker are very important to the American mindset and to having all of us think and learn and grow together into the country that we dream of, the country that we pretend or that we wish we lived in.’
Wilson began his lecture by presenting the problem of racial inequality and proposed a general solution.
‘We need a progressive multi-racial political coalition to combat [inequality],’ Wilson said.
According to Wilson, the union of different races and socioeconomic groups for common causes is needed.
‘As long as middle- and lower-class groups are fragmented across racial lines, they will fail to see how their combined efforts could change the political imbalance and thus promote policy that reflect their interests,’ Wilson said.
Wilson explained that the breaches between ethnic groups have grown wider in recent years. He pointed out that in 1995, the jury’s verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial emphasized and publicized the peak of racial tension.
Although it is easy to see the differences in cultures and ideologies among races, Wilson said that similarities also exist.
‘Black, white, Latino, Asian and Native Americans share many concerns, are besieged by many similar problems, and have important norms, values, aspirations and hopes in common.’
Wilson stated that a multiracial coalition would improve social, political and cultural relations between races because ‘when people believe that they need each other, they relinquish their initial prejudices and stereotypes, and are able to join in programs and foster mutual interaction and cooperation.’
Another point that Wilson made was that visionary group leaders would be essential for communicating such a vision as well as for developing and sustaining the coalition. Some issues that the coalition would tackle are health care, poverty and unemployment.
UC Irvine alumnus T.K. Nakazawa, who majored in economics and sociology, found the proposal for the coalition particularly interesting.
‘He touched upon [the coalition] so many times, but he also alluded to the fact that it was going to be awfully difficult to maintain, because you are trying to cross over ideas, ideologies, boundaries, everything,’ Nakazawa said. ‘He made a strong point but yet he also countered it in his own way by saying it would be so difficult.’
Nakazawa also said that students should be made more aware of these events because they ‘are more willing to be able to absorb all of these ideas.’
‘It was interesting how he [talked] about combining [multiracial] powers and that if the lower and middle classes united, it would really help out our society as a whole,’ said Brock Bardeen, a second-year undecided/undeclared major. ‘I think it’s good to hear about the inequality that we don’t always see.’