The Department of Sociology presents
The Iconic Ghetto: The New American Color Line
The black ghetto has become a major icon in
American society and culture, and as such, it serves as an important source of
stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination. From the days of slavery through the
Civil Rights period, black people have occupied a caste-like status. Today,
despite the progressive changes wrought by the racial incorporation process of
the 1960s and 1970s, the color line persists—albeit in a new, emergent form—in
everyday life. Many blacks now work in a wider range of occupations than
ever—not simply in menial jobs, but in professional positions in which they have
rarely appeared before, including as doctors, lawyers, professors, corporate
executives, and major elected officials. Many of them also reside in exclusive neighborhoods
formerly off-limits to them, and their children attend formerly white schools.
But as black people have become increasingly more visible throughout society,
dilemmas and contradictions of status have also become more common. The physical
black ghetto persists, and its iconography conditions many Americans to think
that the black person’s “place” is usually in the ghetto, not in middle-class
society. Thus, whites and others often associate black individuals with the
iconic ghetto, burdening them with a deficit of credibility that on occasion
manifests in acts of acute disrespect reminiscent of America’s racial past.
Among themselves black people call such incidents “nigger moments,” and
generally interpret them as deeply racist attempts to put them back in their place.
These incidents, and the conflict they cause—based on the black ghetto as a
concrete point of reference—constitute the present-day American color line.
Elijah Anderson is the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale
University. One of the leading urban ethnographers in the United States, he is
the author of Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the
Inner City (1999), winner of the Komarovsky Award from the Eastern Sociological
Society; Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban
winner of the American Sociological Association’s Robert E. Park Award for the
best published book in the area of Urban Sociology; and the classic sociological
work, A Place on the Corner (1978; 2nd ed., 2003). He is the 2013 recipient of
the American Sociological Association's Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award. And he
is the author, most recently, of The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in
Everyday Life (2012).