Another way in which racial differences may affect social class is shown in the "shabby-genteel" in both South Africa and Mexico. They are men whose "fair complexion makes them still regard as degrading any labor which is supposed to belong to colored people." 57 This is a very special problem in South Africa. Such persons, once dislocated from active employment, become disorganized and difficult to rehabilitate. Their assertion of superiority over stable African laboring elements has a hollow ring, much as that of some of the poor unemployed whites in our southern states over all blacks. (In the end, it would seem that the blacks win out because it is easier to keep up morale while employed.) This is an example of racial pride undermining social class standards among the members of the more dominant race.Next Page
Racial or ethnic groups, like national, religious, or minority groups in this connection, if sufficiently numerous in the various localities to provide themselves with necessary social contacts, tend to form their own social class pyramids, and it becomes impossible to compare the social standing of a family in one pyramid with that in another. Donald Young pioneered in making this observation. 58
A black physician with an exclusive clientele, himself of well-known background, is not to be compared, in social standing, with a white doctor or any other white person, because the ultimate test of comparable social standing is eating, playing, and living together. These are the things which take place within a homogeneous class, and the gap between the white and black races in the United States precludes such a possibility, as between families even of the same degree of respectability.
There is a general belief, and much substantiation for it, that blacks are discriminated against in many industries because of the opposition of white labor organizations, employers, and white public opinion. 59 This might lead to the interpretation that social opportunity is much more limited among blacks than among whites, and therefore the chances for a black man to rise even within his own group are not similar to those of a white man within his, all because of the inability of the black man to have anything like a fair opportunity to get what is commonly called a decent job.
However, it so happened that at the end of the Civil War there were too few middle class blacks to fill the positions usually considered to belong to that rank, such as teaching, preaching, medicine, etc. Opportunity was relatively open for the ambitious black man at that time, a situation not true for the poor whites. These latter had to face the competition, and very fierce competition it was, of middle class white families.
Even today, in cities which must perforce cater to the black vote, city jobs are sometimes offered to blacks under circumstances which require less rigorous training than is required of whites -- otherwise it is not sure that the black quota would be filled.
The third factor which makes it possible to conceive that the chances of rising on the social scale for blacks may not be less than for whites is the fact that the scale itself is simpler; less is required in order to stand above the masses, this being the criterion for the first steps in social mobility. True as it is that in the economic sphere the black man has great difficulty in competing with the white, it is not to be assumed that within the black group there is more rigidity than within the white social class structure.
Race and social class would not be adequately discussed if no attention were given to the question of racial admixture and status. There is a general belief among most Americans, scholars and laymen, that the status of the mulatto is higher than that of the purer black and that this higher status stems either from the superior eugenic qualities introduced by the white strain or from the tendency among blacks and whites to admire lightness in color. According to this theory degrees of status become objectified in degrees of darkness.
57. Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Works of, vol. IX, Mexico, 1861-1887 (San Francisco, 1888) p. 614.
58. Donald Young, American Minority Peoples (New York, 1932) pp. 580-583.
59. Carter, G. Woodson, A Century of Negro Migration (Washington, 1918) p. 82.