POS334-L: THE RACE AND ETHNICITY BOOK REVIEW DISCUSSION LIST
Gary Orfield and Carole Ashkinaze. THE CLOSING DOOR: CONSERVATIVE POLICY AND BLACK OPPORTUNITY (University of Chicago Press, 1991)
Subject: Review: Orfield (Lyle)
Date: Mon, 9 May 1994 18:05:45 -0500 From: "Lyle, Chester G."
Subject: Review: Orfield (Lyle)Review of Gary Orfield and Carole Ashkinaze THE CLOSING DOOR: CONSERVATIVE POLICY AND BLACK OPPORTUNITY (University of Chicago Press, 1991) Reviewed by: Chet Lyle Illinois State University 5/6/94In THE POLITICS OF RICH AND POOR, Kevin Phillips writes about how conservative economic policies of the 1980's led to a greater disparity between rich and poor. Gary Orfield and Carole Ashkinaze follow up on this thesis with THE CLOSING DOOR, but with a slightly different twist. Orfield and Ashkinaze examine the status of blacks in the city of Atlanta during the 1980's. Metropolitan Atlanta is a major center of black empowerment, they say. It has everything that is necessary for black progress. For more than a decade, two nationally prominent black mayors were in office, and Atlanta is the home to many successful black business leaders. It is also the home to four black colleges as well as many black leaders still active in civil rights campaigns. If the conservative economic policies were to work anywhere, they say, they should have had met with greater success in Atlanta than they would have anywhere else. According to Orfield and Ashkinaze, however, they did not work. The Eighties led to increased inequality between rich and poor, and especially between the incomes of blacks and whites. Even among those few blacks who were economically successful in Atlanta during the Eighties, most eventually left the city for the suburbs. These inequalities were perpetuated by shrinking opportunities for blacks in the areas of housing, high school education, and access to higher education. What is interesting about Orfield and Ashkinaze is that, unlike Phillips, they fail to cite specific governmental policies that may have led to these disparities. They are quick to blame the federal government for virtually every challenge faced by Atlanta during the Eighties, but refuse to even consider local governmental officials for their share of the blame. In the foreword, Andrew Young, Mayor of Atlanta from 1981 to 1989, says: "It is important to understand how little a mayor or a school superintendent can do about expanding opportunities to the truly needy in the face of federal cutbacks, taxpayer resistance, and hostile rulings from the Supreme Court" (p. viii). Ironically, in the few cases where Orfield and Ashkinaze cite Supreme Court rulings, they are usually from the Fifties or Sixties, such as BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION, which, if anything, helped to pave the way for increased black opportunity. Mayor Young also makes some interesting remarks about affirmative action: "...we've got to give affirmative action a chance to work. We've learned that in a free market economy, the more people we put into the economy, the bigger the economy gets. Unfortunately, the conservatives...don't understand that. They believe that if we have affirmative action and allow minorities to have a piece of the pie, we will be depriving some of the majority and it is not so" (p. x). What is ironic is the fact that this vision of the job market as a zero-sum game which Mayor Young accuses conservatives of having is precisely the logic on which affirmative action is based. Perhaps it is true that when more people are allowed access to the economy, it will grow to accommodate them, but if this were true, why is affirmative action necessary in the first place? Affirmative action adherents hold the same views that Mayor Young criticizes conservatives for having: The job market is a zero-sum game, and if we do not take steps to ensure that minorities get THEIR fair share of the pie, then they will not get any pie at all. Conservative welfare policy is also the target of a great deal of criticism. One of the most astounding criticisms that Orfield and Askinaze make is that conservatives made welfare "less desirable by cutting the real level of benefits and imposing work and training requirements" (pp. 206-207). My question for them would be: Shouldn't welfare be as undesirable as possible? Certainly those families and individuals going through tough times should be helped, but that help should be accompanied with some kind of program to help welfare recipients get by on thier own, including work and training requirements. In the long run, such requirements for welfare may even lead to positive results in other areas of black opportunity, such as housing and education access. To their credit, Orfield and Ashkinaze, unlike Phillips, do offer some possible solutions to the problem of growing inequality, although they are typically what one would expect them to be. They include stricter federal enforcement of civil rights laws, especially the Fair Housing Act, as well as affirmative action and more federal financial aid for college-bound high school students. They also suggest federally funded job training programs (I guess they just don't want those people on welfare to take part in them), with an emphasis on reasonable entry-level wages and opportunity for advancement. What effect these recommendations might have on black opportunity in the United States is open for debate, but there are other questions that need to be considered. If the inner-city trends towards inequality are self-perpetuating, as Orfield and Ashkinaze claim, "even if all discrimination were eliminated" (p. 266), then we must weigh the costs of such programs against their possible benefits. ============================================================= Chet Lyle |"Bye-bye" 1803 Hoover Dr. | --John McLaughlin Normal, IL | THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP (309) 452-0824 | Illinois State University | =============================================================