Week 10

“Neighborhood Poverty and the Social Isolation of Inner-City African American Families.”

In “Neighborhood Poverty and the Social Isolation of Inner-City African American Families”, the idea of isolationism in impoverished African-American communities is explored. Unlike the links between ethnic enclaves in immigrant neighborhoods and economic mobility both inside these communities and in the larger society as a whole [See discussion below on Olzak and Nagel’s work on Ethnic Enclaves], African-American communities in the inner-city are not as successful in terms of assimilation and mobility. In fact, an element of isolation, and at its core the negative repercussions of this isolation, is evident in these particular communities. Why would the African-American inner-city community not resemble all other immigrant enclaves in assimilation and mobility? One theory expressed, and ultimately addressed, in the article is that there is a culture within the African-American community which fosters isolation from the larger community as whole: “The purpose of this research is to reassess the role of neighborhood poverty in the social isolation of inner-city residents—in particular, the relative importance of individual and family characteristics and neighborhood poverty in the type of social networks and organizations that individuals are exposed to (Rankin & Quane, 140).” While this article does address the closed contact of inner-city African-American communities from society as whole, it explains this limited contact, or isolation, in reactive terms. Meaning, Rankin and Quane reject the “culture of poverty” (141) thesis and argue “that ghetto culture is first and foremost an adaptation to economic, political, and informational exclusion (141).”
While the classic argument is made that “…the structural consequences of concentrated poverty and the social isolation it engenders foster adaptive strategies that are often at odds with the norms of the broader society (141).” This thinking leads to the further acceptance of the idea that “the urban poor are doubly disadvantaged—by the individual experience of poverty and by the concentrated poverty of the neighborhoods in which they reside (141).” Leaving, therefore, the culture of isolation and poverty within African-American communities in the inner city to stand on its own in terms of economic mobility and assimilation. No assimilation and mobility happens in these communities due to the cultural isolation and poverty felt so strongly in these communities.
Why is this isolation and poverty experienced so intensely in the inner-city African American communities as compared to other immigrant enclaves? The prevailing theory is that the surrounding economies that normally bolster struggling ethnic communities are not available to inner-city African-American communities: “The vitality of a community’s institutional structure depends to a large extent on the economic support and involvement of working people, especially the more affluent middle class (141).” Further, it is inferred that structural causes are at fault here—such as the making of public policies that undermine the economic and structural stability of these particular neighborhoods– “…weakly organized neighborhoods often suffer from a deficit of effective community norms, such that residents are exposed to cultural socialization and role modeling that reinforces nonnormative attitudes and behavior (142).”
Ultimately it was found that inner-city African-American communities do suffer from an inordinately extreme form of cultural isolationism and poverty from society as a whole. What is interesting is that Rankin and Quane found that even in the midst of these debilitating deficits African-Americans in these communities still did function as other immigrant enclaves have functioned in terms of familiar support and networks: “…we found evidence of an unexpected nonlinear relationship, in which families are more likely to participate when they reside in the poorest neighborhoods (157).” More specifically, Rankin and Quane found “[H]igher levels of family participation in the poorest neighborhoods” and that those levels of participation “may reflect the fact that these families and neighborhoods take proactive measures to defend themselves against the forces of disorder and deterioration (157).” Culture, in this instance, does play a supportive role in the African-American community, even if it does in some way reinforce elements of isolationism to the wider community.

“The Immigrant Enclave: Theory and Empirical Examples”

In “The Immigrant Enclave: Theory and Empirical Examples”, Olzak and Nagel examine “..existing theories about the process of immigrant adaptation…and the emerging perspective” on immigrant adaptation itself (203). They acknowledge that previous study of immigrant adaptation and neighborhood development and structure was formerly divided into two primary areas of study: “segmented labor markets” and “assimilation theory” (204). Where segmented labor markets refer to the economic and labor experience of most immigrants who have recently arrived in the United States—the idea of immigrant workers and their rights and working conditions, as compared to all other working citizens of the United States; and immigrant adaptation is in reference to the process of going from an immigrant, to an integrated citizen of the United States.
Olzak and Nagel not only examine and compare previous perspectives but also introduce evolving perspectives which include non-adaptive strategies of immigrants that are in themselves ethnocentric. Several things are happening in this analysis—Olzak and Nagel are presenting the classic views of ethnic or immigrant assimilation and labor, and they are also exploring how these views and practices have changed over time. Several things are happening in this analysis—Olzak and Nagel are presenting the classic views of ethnic or immigrant assimilation and labor, and they are also exploring how these views and practices have changed over time. In fact, Olzak and Nagel focus on specific immigrant communities—referred to as ethnic enclaves—and compares them on several levels: by minority group, time period, and economic functioning and mobility.
In comparing the ‘Jews in Manhattan’ to the ‘Japanese of the West Coast’ Olzak and Nagel happen upon two important points: assimilation and its effect on economic mobility, and the ethnocentric economies and non-adaptation in the immigrant enclave. The focus on the Jewish community in Manhattan was the classic example of assimilation and eventual economic mobility of a minority group circa World War II, where in comparison the Japanese community of the West Coast in the exact same period has similar results of assimilation but drastically different results in terms of economic mobility—though mobility was attained eventually as well—as a direct result of government consfiscation of property of this specific group. More contemporary (208) examples include Korean communities in Los Angeles and Cuban communities in Miami which are dated approximately 30 years later with varying results of assimilation and mobility. For the Korean communities Olzak and Nagel recognize that economic mobility happens internally and through cultural networks, and for the Cuban communities is described as a type of assimilation and ethnocentric networks that contribute to both economic mobility and strengthening ethnic ties and networks.

Lin, Jan and Mele, Christopher (Eds.) (2013). The Urban Sociology Reader (2nd ed).

Rankin, Bruce & Quane, James (2000). “Neighborhood Poverty and the Social Isolation of Inner-City African American Families.” Social Forces, 79(1). Pp. 139-164.

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