September/October 2015 Issue • Volume 43 • Issue 6

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William Julius Wilson Says His Arguments on Race and Class Still Apply

On May 21, William Julius Wilson concluded his four-month residency at The John W. Kluge Center with a public lecture at the Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building on the ways race and class influence Americans’ opportunities for success. During his residency as The Kluge Chair in American Law and Governance, Wilson revisited the arguments he made in his 1978 book, The Declining Significance of Race, to see if they still apply today. He shared that economic class continues to be more important than race in determining life outcomes for blacks. Wilson added that this basic argument now seems to apply to all racial and ethnic groups not just blacks.

William Julius Wilson, 2015 Kluge Chair in American Law and Governance, speaks on a panel about freedom of expression during the conclusion of #Scholarfest, June 11, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

“One would be naive to say that race is no longer a factor in American life. This talk about a post racial society is silly,” said Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University, in an interview with Carol Castiel of Voice of America. “Race and racism continue to be important factors in American life, but we should not reduce every problem facing people of color to race and racism. That’s just part of the overall problem.”

Wilson’s research explored the impacts of economic changes like globalization, mechanization and the decline of medium-wage jobs on low-skilled workers. He argues that income segregation has increased for all people, but at an even more accelerated rate for blacks. In his lecture at the Library of Congress he said, “Today, I argue, racial tensions and conflicts have more to do with competition for and access to residential areas, public schools, and municipal political systems than with competition for jobs.”

The Kluge Chair of Law and Governance is appointed by the Librarian of Congress and holds a distinguished senior research position at the Library of Congress. Founded in 2000, the John W. Kluge Center brings together senior scholars and researchers from around the world. Academics conduct resident research for a period of 6 to 12 months, during which time they have access to the world’s largest library and the opportunity to interact with policymakers in Washington, DC. Lectures, along with conferences, discussions. and similar programming help connect residential scholars like Wilson’s with the public. For more information about the Kluge Fellowships, see,

His residency at the Kluge Center reflects Wilson’s numerous scholastic achievements. He has authored numerous influential works including More than Just Race (2009), The Bridge over the Racial Divide (1999), and When Work Disappears (1996). Many college courses feature his 1987 book, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, The Underclass and Public Policy. He received the National Medal of Science in 1998, was one of Time magazine’s “America’s 25 Most Influential People”, and was a MacArthur Fellow from 1987-1992. Wilson’s academic contributions have significantly improved our understanding of urban poverty, race and class.

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