Poverty, Ethnicity, and Policy in Contemporary America: Ta Nehisi Coates and J.D. Vance Comparison and Analysis

May 24, 2022 by Essay Writer

The two authors Ta-Nehesi Coates and J.D. Vance have very similar viewpoints within their own racial perspectives. Coates speaks for the poor black Americans and essentially the overwhelming sentiments of most African Americans. Vance on the other hand speaks for the Trump supporters, particularly the constantly ignored working class whites of America. Although the two speakers are on two radically different spectrums, their viewpoints and goals for helping their communities are quite similar and could possibly be simultaneously addressed in public policy.

Ta-Nehesi Coates’ view in his book-length account Between the World and Me is clear: low-income African Americans are suffering from their current conditions because of systemic racism. Coates goes into great depth about the institutions that hold black people back, such as “the police departments [that] have been endowed with the authority to destroy [their] body,” (9). As a result of the constant violence towards black bodies, Africans Americans, particularly those in harsher environments, are in a constant state of fear. They are then taught by older generations to defend themselves, but the thin line between “being too violent” and “not being violent enough” could still cost them the same: their body (28). Low-income blacks are not the only ones who struggle from systemic racism. Even financially well-off African Americans continue to suffer from the micro-aggressions of ignorant white Americans and must continue to work harder than their white peers regardless of their economic status (90). Later in the novel Coates describes a frightening experience with his son, the novel for whom the book was written for. Even though he was no longer in the ‘battleground’ known as West Baltimore he was still a witness to a threat to “invoke [the] right over the body of [his] son,” (94). Overall, Coates is not only a speaker for poor blacks struggling from harsh economic troubles but also the entire black community as they all face the same issues stemming from cultural and systemic racism.

J.D. Vance presents similar but varying arguments compared to Coates in his interview article, ‘Trump: Tribune of Poor White People.’ With the rise of “factories shipping jobs overseas,” many jobs that working class Americans had previously filled were no longer available in the American job market. It was this basis that Trump capitalized on to recruit white working class votes as “his apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground.” Similarly, to some of the issues faced in the black community, most children in the poor white community “will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a ‘stepdad’ only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally…watch family and friends get arrested, and on and on.” What separates these experiences from the extreme similarities faced by African Americans is the way whites cope with their struggles. When white Americans lack so much economic resources, the main and only thing they’ve been able to cling on to is their “heritage and culture.” As Vance notes that Trump’s supporters great southern American pride, he explains that “A big chunk of the white working class has deep roots in Appalachia, and the Scots-Irish honor culture is alive and well.” Furthermore, he claims that “southern, rural whites enlist in the military at a disproportionate rate,” that they are extremely proud of their service, and are continually humiliated by the failures of American foreign policy.

While their sentiments appear similar in theory, these groups face very different realities. The white working class’ perspective accurately falls in line with Bonilla-Silva’s frames of color-blind racism while the experiences of poor and general African Americans challenges their accuracy. Poor white Americans utilize cultural racism to explain the misfortunes of America’s disproportionate distribution of wealth. Their xenophobic feelings towards immigrants ‘stealing American jobs’ can easily be derailed by capitalism’s big businesses choosing cheap and abundant labor over the wellbeing of the American economy and its citizens. The experiences of African Americans on the other hand, challenges the notions of naturalization and cultural racism. The cycle of poverty has statistically been proven to be almost impossible to escape, therefore blacks living in poor ‘ghettos’ are essentially stuck. Furthermore, white flight occurred long before many of the issues of modern day Baltimore came to surface, so there is a reason why African Americans are segregated from other races, and not just because they ‘like living together,’ (Badger). Coates’ point of being violent in order to protect the black body and survive in a society built against them also disproves the cultural racism frame.

Since poor African Americans and poor white Americans have different experiences, it is difficult to pinpoint a policy that can help both disadvantaged groups without ignoring the values and beliefs of one group. Redistributive and material policies that can reallocate resources from the wealthy to the poor and create better living circumstances in low-income areas may seem to be the best solution for both groups. However, the conservative leaning white working class may oppose to these government handout-like policies. In the ‘Peter’s Choice,’ reading, the white minimum wage workers at Walmart sympathized with the company’s struggle against labor unions because “they realize that businesses [are about] making money,” despite the fact that they are the ones getting mistreated by their big company employer. In other words, getting poor whites to see the benefits of these policies to improve their own state would be a difficult task, and until they can realize their importance, finding a public policy solution that can make both groups happy about their conditions might just be impossible.

Works Cited

Badger, Emily. “‘White flight’ began a lot earlier than we think.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 17 Mar. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/03/17/white-flight-began-a-lot-earlier-than-we-think/?utm_term=.c2c6cbadc7a1. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi, and Klaus Amann. Between the world and me. Ditzingen, Reclam, Philipp, 2017.

Hargreaves, Steve. “New reports shows 70% of those born poor stay poor.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 13 Nov. 2013, economy.money.cnn.com/2013/11/13/making-it-into-the-middle-class. Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

Perlstein, Rick. “I asked my student why he voted for Trump. The answer was thoughtful, smart, and terrifying.” Mother Jones, 23 June 2017, www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/donald-trump-2016-election-oklahoma-working-class/#testa. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

Rod Dreher • July 22, 2016, 10:58 AM. “Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People.” The American Conservative, 22 July 2016, www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/trump-us-politics-poor-whites. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

Read more