W.E.B. DuBois Lecture Shines Spotlight on Plight of Inner City Black Male

Posted: February 15, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Elijah Anderson
Elijah Anderson

When scholar Elijah Anderson was writing his PhD dissertation for the University of Chicago in the 1970s, the roles and opportunities for the young black inner city male were completely different than they are today. Working people were able to make a decent living by working hard, even if they didn’t have any special skills or education.

“It was a different time then,” he told a packed house gathered for the annual W.E.B. DuBois Lecture on Tuesday in the Center for the Arts. “A man could take care of his family, buy a nice car, do well for himself no matter what his education, if he was willing to work hard. Fast forward to 2006 – things have changed.”

A renowned sociologist and the Charles and William Day Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, Anderson is an ethnographer of the inner city.

The poor black male in the inner city is “in trouble,” he said. Major technological advances and a shift in economic opportunities, as well as the outsourcing of many factory and industry jobs overseas, “hits the poor black male the hardest,” Anderson argued. These changes pull jobs away from the inner city population and leave the poor with few options.

“There are three prongs that make up the inner city economy today: low-paying service industry jobs, welfare payments and a shifting underground economy that involves hustling, begging and dealing,” he said. “If you take anything from my talk today, remember something that a young man once said to me: ‘Why is it so hard for me to get a job, but so easy to sell drugs?’”

Anderson feels this plight is a case for national action. He believes the problem stems from poverty, and that the government needs to provide more economic opportunity for inner city communities. “We need jobs, jobs, jobs and opportunity. We need the community to raise kids better – they are everyone’s responsibility. It takes a village to raise a child, and we need to give our young people a sense of hope.”

Anderson is the author of “A Place on the Corner,” “Streetwise: Race, Class and Change in an Urban Community” and “Code on the Street: Decency, Violence and the Moral Life of the Inner City.” He also wrote the introduction to the 1998 reprint of W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study.”

The lecture was sponsored by African American Studies.

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