Lecture highlights racial inequality in America

Tom Nardi

Members of the Villanova community filled the auditorium in Bartley on March 22 for a lecture by Dr. Jeremiah Cotton, “The Black/White Economic Gap: a 21st Century Analysis.” The lecture was part of a series sponsored by the Africana Studies Program. Cotton, an economics professor who has been at the University of Massachusetts Boston since 1985, teaches a class titled “The Political Economics of Black America.” That course inspired one of his former students, Villanova professor Frank Pryor, to offer a similarly titled course here. Cotton’s lecture focused on the subject matter of this course.According to Cotton, the purpose of his lecture, and the field of racial economics, was to de-mythologize information surrounding the persistent gaps in racial economic conditions in America. “[Political Economics of Black America] is one of the most important courses in the curriculum,” he said.During the lecture, Cotton discussed several statistics which shocked the audience. He said that blacks are four times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be poor. They are also twice as likely to be unemployed. Additionally, black Americans have only accumulated 10 cents of wealth, net worth and financial assets aside from income, of every dollar of white wealth. These gaps have all been persistent since World War II, with the most significant gains during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.To explain these gaps, which some argue the free market should naturally remedy, Cotton said that society has invented explanative myths. “Then the gaps are legitimized,” he said. Cotton discussed how the myths generally take one of three forms, which have all been debunked in assorted ways. The first myth claims that blacks are genetically inferior to whites, Cotton said. This was popular around the turn of the 19th century, before it was scientifically disproved by Steven Gould. The second myth is more popular now, saying that there is a cultural gap between blacks and whites. For example, the myth says black culture deemphasizes education and glorifies violence and drug use. The most common example given is the disproportionate number of incarcerated blacks. Whites are 4.3 percent more likely to use illicit drugs during their lifetimes. Yet, whites only represent 32 percent of all felony drug charges in the United States. Sixty-one percent of those charges are brought against blacks. An even smaller percentage of whites, 27 percent, ever sees the inside of a prison for drug offenses compared to 43 percent of black defendants. In a similar manner, Cotton discussed the third myth which claims that an educational gap explains the economic divide. This does not take into account experiments which conclude that educational gaps exist in general “between stigmatized minorities and the dominant majority,” he said. With these statistics, Cotton said he hoped to show that race is simply a social construct. “There’s a small group of anthropologists and social scientists that know this, but they are fighting an uphill battle against a beneficial myth,” Cotton said.To combat this, Cotton called for government intervention. “[Fixing these gaps] is government’s task,” Cotton said. “What we need is government that works in the interest of society … Asking the sick to heal themselves, to me, seems somewhat churlish.” Given this knowledge, Cotton said students should do something with it now. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a student group went to one of these inner city schools [to recruit people to apply to Villanova] and said, ‘We understand your problems, and we want you to come’?” Cotton said.