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More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City
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More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  334 Ratings  ·  36 Reviews
In this provocative contribution to the American discourse on race, the newest book of the Issues of Our Time series edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., William Julius Wilson applies an exciting new analytic framework to three politically fraught social problems: the persistence of the inner-city ghetto, the plight of low-skilled black males, and the fragmentation of the Afri ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published March 9th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published February 7th 2009)
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Feb 11, 2013 Lauren rated it did not like it
This book read like one long, conceited scholarly essay. Allow me to quote Wilson's opening line for you:

"I am an internationally- known Harvard professor, yet a number of unforgettable experiences remind me that, as a black male in America looking considerably younger than my age, I am also feared"

I can confidently say that I have never before read a book in which the author begins by telling his or her readers not only how smart and qualified, but also how good- looking he or she is. And the t
Jul 08, 2012 Walter rated it it was amazing
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a big fan of WJW, even though I think that his work has been alternately insightful and not over the years. This book is more the former, as it attempts to synthesize the themes in his other books, starting with the breakthough volume The Declining Significance of Race almost 30 years ago. I agree completely with his thesis that addressing the problems of urban poverty, especially in communities of color, necessitates both structural and social/cultural str ...more
May 15, 2012 Allison rated it really liked it
This is a good review of the relevant literature on structural factors that result in the reproduction of inequality in urban poor neighborhoods. I found the chapters on concentrated poverty and joblessness particularly useful, and this would be a quick read if you're interested in learning more about the political history behind segregated neighborhoods. However, the analysis of "cultural factors" that contribute to inequality was weak throughout the text (Wilson says this himself). Additionall ...more
James Murphy
Jul 15, 2009 James Murphy rated it liked it
In recent months I've read 2 works on race in America by Shelby Steele:
White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era and The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America. Wilson's book sees the problem differently. His concern is the continuing existence of inner-city ghettoes, the oppressive marginalization of black males, and the general breakup of black families. Where Steele attributed racially charged social problems to black cultural
Apr 17, 2009 Joan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in sociology of the inner-city ghetto
More than Just Race is William Julius Wilson's attempt to sift through the numbers of studies of the inner-city black poor and assess which studies can aid in the framework in which we think about the issue. His primary thesis states that while structural forces are the primary cause of inner-city black poverty, it is necessary to also examine cultural forces that have arisen, over generations, due to the structural forces.

It was fascinating to me to read his analysis of the famous/infamous Moyn
Ed Ingman
Lots of good research presented but it is at times so densely academic and prescribed as to make its conclusions hard to broadly apply across many scenarios. If I were conducting a research study in sociology, I would have found this book invaluable.
Kirk Miller
Sep 11, 2014 Kirk Miller rated it really liked it
Good. Provocative. Challenging.

Thesis - "The experience of poor, inner-city blacks represent the influences of more than just race." Their responses and situation "stem from the linkage between new structural realities, changing norms, and evolving cultural patterns." (pg. 131)

Wilson's critique - The politically liberal tend to focus on structural realities to the neglect of cultural realities. Arguments based on culture tend to be taboo for them. The politically conservative tend to focus on in
Oct 11, 2013 Sam rated it it was ok
Recommended to Sam by: Thabiti Anyabwile
I really wanted to like this book. I loved the way he started by emphasizing that we need to look at structural and cultural causes of poverty together, not in isolation as liberals (structural) and conservatives (cultural) tend to do. I am even willing to consider his point that structural causes are more foundational than cultural causes, although as a conservative I would definitely take more convincing. But ultimately, he just took too many things for granted for me to be truly convinced. He ...more
May 31, 2013 Aida rated it really liked it
Note: taken from a book report I did for my Sociology class, so it is a bit comprehensive.

More Than Just Race

William Julius Wilson has one main argument in More Than Just Race: “...more weight should be given to structural causes of inequality, despite the dynamic interrelationships of structure and culture, because they continue to play a far greater role in the subjugation of black Americans and other people of color.” (Wilson 135). In order to support this, Wilson separates his key points fo
Apr 12, 2013 Erica rated it really liked it
I first read William Julius Wilson as a freshman in college in 1999. I was persuaded by his argument on the over-riding importance of structure in explaining turban black America. In this book, Wilson talks, again, about the importance of structure, but also includes a discussion of the importance of culture. He explains that since the Moynihan report on black families, liberal researchers have shied away from examining culture as a factor in the outcomes of urban black Americans for fear of "bl ...more
Oct 27, 2012 AJ rated it liked it
This book was about the interaction of structural and cultural aspects of race and poverty in the US, and examined why poor (mostly black) Americans are at such a disadvantage. The author claims, and I agree, that the structure of society (physically, psychologically, and socially) puts blacks at a disadvantage much more than any cultural aspects, and indeed that many of the cultural aspects are probably outgrowths of ways to deal with structural disadvantage. The wuthor focuses on two main item ...more
I think this was a good primer on the issues for someone who basically has no clue (e.g., me). It's interesting that he is taking a third and more nuanced position in arguing that it is a combination of structural and cultural factors that contribute to the issues of race and poverty, though in my reading, he does emphasize that structural factors are still more significant even if some of them appear to be nonracial. I felt his arguments were laid out clearly and backed up by actual reports and ...more
Jay Leslie
Jan 23, 2013 Jay Leslie rated it liked it
A well thought-out entry into the cultural vs. structure debate that acknowledges its chicken-and-egg nature while offering insights that avoid both standard partisan rhetoric and noncommittal centrism. Though acknowledging the role of culture in limiting the horizons of the black poor, Wilson makes a compelling case for looking to structural solutions to the ills of the "inner city." I place "inner city" in quotes for its sometimes disingenuous and mostly imprecise use as a proxy for "places wh ...more
May 08, 2016 Mehrsa rated it liked it
Lots of useful data, but this book is more like a long academic article. It's good, but I would start with his other books.
May 10, 2009 Natali rated it liked it
I have way more comments about this book than I could possibly fit into a GoodReads review. I almost wish I had a graduate seminar to discuss it.

This is a major paradigm shift from William Julius Wilson's earlier works but I am afraid it is a new take on current issues, through the lens of very old assumptions. I made several notes in the margins (with my Kindle) but I will spare my GoodReads friends the empirical evidence. In all, a worthy read and an interesting turn in race theory. However,
Aug 08, 2015 Kate rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Really interesting, shifts people's ideas around
Selmoore Codfish
Jul 10, 2014 Selmoore Codfish rated it it was amazing
The author thoroughly discussed forces that shape concentrated poverty and its effects on people. The author’s focus is to evaluate the interactions between structural forces (economy, racism, etc) on the culture of people in poverty. This is a brave undertaking because writers can be criticized when they talk of the culture of poverty. However, Wilson handles it with delicate consideration. The author’s conclusion is that education of the general public about poverty is the answer.
Feb 19, 2011 Lainie rated it it was ok
I am reading this for a book group, and although the subject is one that interests me, and the author is well qualified and respected as an authority in this area of research and teaching, it is deadly boring to me. The writing is dense. There are some early parts that flow more easily, but (maybe due to the stated fact that he is bringing in pieces from his earlier published work), the consistency among chapters and sections is not steady.

I am skimming the rest of it, just in case there are any
Oct 19, 2015 Noelle rated it it was ok
Meh. It's not that I don't agree with his argument. I didn't feel that he brought anything new to the table. Structure matters. Culture matters. Their interaction matters. Well, yes, of course. What else is new?
Salvatore Leone
Jul 11, 2010 Salvatore Leone rated it liked it
Thorny subject, about racism in America, how blacks have not risen in society as quickly as other minorites, their responsibilities for it and the responsibility of society in general, all of that is discussed. There were areas, however, that lacked any real depth, like the role of religion or God in families, or lack of, and how that's affected black families. An interesting book but I think some key ideas were left out.
Feb 24, 2010 Nathan rated it it was ok
Wilson makes much of his attempt to fit in with neither liberal nor conservative ideology, but ends as a sort of mere Dr. No on the whole issue. Having made a few legitimate criticisms of both sides, he cites statistics that reiterate the problem without presenting any sort of solution. This book is well-intentioned, polite and honest, but it is sorely lacking a healthy dose of radical initiative.
Dec 18, 2011 VJ rated it really liked it
This text addresses Wacquant's criticism of Wilson's tendency to discuss culture as a by-product of structure, thereby robbing culture and its actors of any autonomy. As a result of decisions and meanings made about immediate context and historical experience, actors in culturally deprived circumstances have forged creative solutions to some of their immediate economic and social needs.
Marcia Nedland
Jul 08, 2012 Marcia Nedland rated it it was amazing
I love sociology of any kind, but especially urban. This gave a very nice, structured review of the key historical and current factors affecting African American families of modest means, and high poverty neighborhoods. Covers landmark research, debunks some of it, etc. Very interesting. Though as I am white, I can't speak for whether it rings true for other African Americans.
Jul 09, 2010 Rebecca rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This was hard for me to read, even though I am interested in the ideas. I wouldn't think sociology would be so hard to get through, but it struck me that this must be what it's like for non-tax lawyers to read the stuff I write at work. Anyway, the parts I was able to follow were insightful and thought-provoking.
Oct 06, 2010 Tobin rated it really liked it
A very intellectual examination of the reasons why blacks have historically been poorer, longer, and unemployed more than any other group. Recommended for anyone who's interested in reframing the discussion from something other than "poor people are poor because it's they choose to be."

Feb 26, 2011 Jon rated it liked it
More of a summary of important arguments about inequality than an original contribution, Wilson synthesizes research from a variety of sources. The first chapter is a valuable summary of the structural and cultural arguments about poverty and is well worth the price of admission.
Jordan V
Apr 23, 2012 Jordan V rated it really liked it
I read this book for my class examining The Wire. It was really a comprehensive read that dovetailed nicely off of American Apartheid, which goes much deeper and is written in a sociologist format. The book covers the plight of young blacks in particular very well, and very accessible.
Oct 10, 2012 Kristi rated it really liked it
Longtitudinal look at issues of race and poverty, supported by a broad literature review. Intersting, enlightening and depressing all at the same time. What to do about the issues of poverty remain unanswered - though the reasons behind what we see in our poorest communities is clearer.
Oct 10, 2012 Sonia rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Very straightforward and no b.s. accounting for urban black poverty. Wilson doesn't offer solutions so much as alternative ways of thinking about the problems. Fun fact: Obama once said he became a community organizer because he read a William Julius Wilson book in college.
Jul 13, 2009 Ed rated it liked it
I was surprised by the conservative angle in this book, where WJW gives cultural explanations for persistent poverty along with structural explanations.
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William Julius Wilson is one of the leading African-American sociologists in the United States, and a pioneer in the field. He received his PhD from Washington State University, and taught at both the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Chicago before moving to Harvard University. He remains there to this day, with the title of University Professor. Much of Wilson's work disc ...more
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