Two Societies: The Kerner Commission’s Portent

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The 1968 assertion of the Kerner Commission which portends the eventual bifurcation of the American populace into two unequal societies (white and black), can be supported with socio-economic data.

To begin, let it be noted that economic inequalities for all racial groups are readily observed. For example, according to the updated 2005 study by G. William Domhoff, titled “Wealth, Income, and Power”, the richest 1% of the U.S. population owned 29.1% of the nation’s wealth in 1972, and this figure increased to 34.6% in 2007. This same study exhibited that only 15% of the nation’s wealth is (as of 2007) distributed to the bottom 80% of the population. These figures connote the existence of a dual society consisting of the exceedingly wealthy and the destitute. What might the ethnic and racial composition of this 1% reflect? Who might the bottom 80% represent? I found these questions interesting, but as of yet, the data answering them are not forthcoming.

But more pertinent to the question of socioeconomic disparities between white non-Hispanic and black and/or Hispanic populations is a 2010 piece issued by the Population Reference Bureau titled “Large Wealth Gap Among U.S. Racial and Ethnic Groups” which evinces the net wealth of white American families to be valued at $113,822, whereas the net wealth of black and Hispanic families are $8650 and $13375 respectively. These values reflect a huge inequality of private wealth between white and non-white populations. Also, racial minorities receive significantly less inheritance, insurance coverage, and high-paying job opportunities than whites.[1]

As impoverishment is positively correlated with criminal and/or deviant conduct, the logic leads one to believe that Hispanic and Black populations are on average more subject to being immersed in a social environment not conducive to the generation of wealth and prosperity than that of their white peers. The above notions have contributed to the development of the “underclass” concept which in itself, implies a “supra-class” tentatively consisting of rich, white people.

That these data of socioeconomic inequalities exists cannot be refuted, however debates perpetuate around the causal mechanism accounting for them. Is it racism? Is it poor civil administration? It is my opinion that no single criminological theory can explain the observed data. Rather, I think an eclectic approach to answering the question is needed in that a complex problem requires the expertise of many diverse fields of inquiry.

A surface argument in support of the Kerner Commission’s prediction goes like this:

Socioeconomic standing not only determines prosperity probability, but also one’s measure of political influence on policy decisions which may benefit or detriment a given population (minority or not). This idea is substantiated by a study published in the Journal of Perspectives on Politics (2014) titled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens”, this study was conducted with the objective of understanding the distribution of power in politics between average citizens (commoners), interest groups, economic elites, and mass citizen groups while simultaneously testing which political theory held true in American politics out of the following:

  1. Majoritarian Electoral Democracy
  2. Economic-elite Domination
  3. Majoritarian Pluralism
  4. Biased Pluralism

The study team’s methods for achieving the stated aims consisted of a statistical analysis of 1,779 surveys of the years 1981-2002 which solicited a for/against response of the citizen to a proposed U.S. policy. The data obtained were then broken down into an income distribution model that reflected the relative wealth of the respondents in all 1,779 surveys, ranging from the very poor to the highly affluent. So what were the results?

Though the affluent top 10% of the income distribution model made only $146,000 a year, it was uncovered that a significant correlation exists between U.S. policy decisions and the top 10% income earners. Therefore the authors of the study suggest that the imprecision of their affluent category representing true economic elites likely underestimates the impact of elite preferences on U.S. policy.

In conclusion of the study, the authors state that statistically the average citizen has negligible to no impact on U.S. policy decisions in comparison to the preferences of economic elites and/or corporate interest groups who enjoy a major influence on U.S. policy:

“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination…”[2]

So now that it may be argued that economic-elites influence (and even manufacture) policies more than their poorer counterparts (including racial minorities), we can induce the supposition that racial minorities have even less political recourse to correcting their social institutions and therefore are impeded from creating a community more conducive to wealth equality and non-criminal conduct.

Overall, it appears to me that real prevention of the Kerner Commission’s predicted society can only be effected by addressing the political representation problem exhibited in the Princeton study. Our legal system is corrupted by money and the allure of power, and I contend this fact to be at least one of the root causes of the socioeconomic disparity existing between racial groups.



[1] Walker, S. et al. (2012). The Color of Justice. p104-107

[2] Gilens, M.; Page, B. (2014). Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Journal of Perspectives on Politics. p.564-569


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