Shelby feels that when the ghetto poor engage in criminal activity or refuse to work legitimate jobs, this is widely regarded as a failure of reciprocity on their part. This would be the wrong conclusion to draw because most people who live in the ghetto respect the law. They are classifying a whole group of people under a stereotype based on their location. People in the hood are forced to struggle, they have less job opportunities than someone who live in a suburban or rich neighborhood. Also, they are not able to attend the best schools that would help further their education. For example, employers deny possible employees based on where they live. They don’t even have the opportunity to get an interview or showcase their potential skills because of a stereotype. “In general, the economy is not structured to sustain full employment at decent wages, so there are always a significant number of unemployed persons who find it difficult to find a good job” (7). In other words, the economy isn’t structured to maintain jobs that pay well. Therefore, it’s not that people don’t want to work, they’re forced to be unemployed and struggle. Because of high housing costs and discrimination, people are not able to move into areas that have better schools or well-paid jobs. So how do people who are well off have the right to complain about poor people when they see these injustices but refuse to help? When people try to elevate themselves and try to change their circumstances, they are denied certain opportunities. Therefore, some people are subjected to criminal activities just to slightly be able to live within their means, it’s not ideal but it can be morally permissible to do, since it doesn’t violate civic duties.
Civic obligations are obligations that exist between citizens who are trying to create a fair and just cooperation. Natural duties are unconditionally binding duties that we owe others regardless of whether they are our fellow citizens. However, both are moral requirements. “The key difference is that one has civic obligations qua citizen and natural duties qua moral person” (19). Civic obligations are rooted in the idea reciprocity when the institutions are just. However, when they are not the ghetto poor do not have to comply.
Shelby believes that “the ghetto poor does have duties natural duties, that are not defined by civic reciprocity and thus are not negated by the existence of an unjust natural order” (26). People shouldn’t be cruel, they should show mutual respect and they should help the needy and vulnerable, if affordable. I agree with his statement that these duties are not suspended because the ghetto poor are oppressed. Everyone should be a decent human being. Shelby claims that certain actions are viable and can be justified while others can be criticized and are wrong. For example, taking the lives of others, except for self-defense, can hardly ever be justified. Shelby claims that “the ghetto poor should not take courses of action that would add to the injustices of the system or that would increase the burdens of injustices on those in ghetto communities or similar situations. Nor should they do things that would make a just society more difficult to achieve” (29). In other words, they shouldn’t make life harder for other people. They should work on creating change and more opportunities for the oppressed.
Rawls emphasizes the paramount significance of the basic structure for social justice, “the basic structure is constituted by the way the major social, political, and economic institutions of society apportion the benefits and burdens of social cooperation” (4). According to Shelby, any social arrangement we choose to participate in should be constructed in a way that we are able to succeed. Rawls theory suggests “providing that fair chance means ensuring that no citizen’s life prospects are diminished because the social scheme disadvantages him or her in ways that cannot be justified on impartial grounds” (4).
For a society to be just, Rawls believes that “fair equal opportunity requires equal life prospects (primary social goods) given similar natural talents and motivation. One should be able to expect similar income..regardless of social they were born into. Educational system must be set up and administered so that each has the same chance..regardless of class origins.” (7). In other words, everyone should have a fair and equal opportunity to flourish, regardless of their social class. Everyone should be able to attend the best schools and receive an excellent education and people should be able to acquire the same wealth as one another as long as their ability allows them to.
However, today’s society is very unjust because not everyone has the same opportunities as they should. People are still passing judgments on others based on the color of their skin and where they live. If you live in a poor neighborhood, then there are less opportunities and resources for you to succeed than if you lived in a more respectable neighborhood. Schools are not properly funded and lack the proper resources to help kids to really prosper and do their best. People are not able to even live within their means because they are either struggling to get a job or are living off a job that pays poorly. They barely have their heads above water. Many minorities want to do better for themselves, but they are not able to because of the social class they were born into. According to Shelby, the government doesn’t step in to restructure these inequities. For instance, “there is little attempt to provide retraining programs, jobs in the public sector, or subsidized income for laborers in declining industries” (7).
Shelby maintains that the ghetto poor should be held accountable for how they choose to respond to unjust conditions. However, I don’t really agree with his criticism that “ghetto residents should think carefully about how they respond to the injustices of the social order and consider whether the forms of deviance they sometimes engage in are ultimately obstacles to effecting positive social change,” because not everyone has mutual respect for one another, including the rich or the well off. When people try to create change in a civil manner, they’re not heard or treated as respectfully as they have treated others. When chaos happens is when people want to stop “acting” blind to injustices and “try” to create change. Sometimes it is best for people to come out of their character because that seems to be when they are heard the most.
Therefore, Shelby needs to be more realistic, if people are oppressed they are more than likely to respond with anger than civilly. Sometimes, it is necessary for people to act out of character for change to happen. For example, during the Civil Rights Movement both Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. were major political activists who fought against racial inequalities. However, Malcom X “exhorted blacks to cast off the shackles of racism “by any means necessary,” including violence. “You don’t have a peaceful revolution. You don’t have a turn-the-cheek revolution,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.” I believe that push for violence showed that blacks were no longer going to allow racial injustices to take place, which pushed for the integration of blacks and whites. Therefore, instead of criticizing people for their barbaric behavior, we need to look at the bigger picture. Why are these people upset or acting out? What is causing this behavior? There is clearly a message that others are ignoring and it needs to be brought to the forefront.
Critics argue that blacks still have a civic duty to vote and to abstain from criminal activities. By voting, they could easily invoke change; in other words, they must not be suffering like they claim to be, otherwise they would make an effort. Living in the ghetto poor isn’t an excuse to disobey the law. Because of their classless actions, blacks are giving themselves a bad name, forcing others to believe that the stereotypes are true. Opponents may even claim blacks are suffering because of their own actions. The basic structure of society already meets the fair equality of opportunity, since it’s illegal for jobs to discriminate based on race. Therefore, the ghetto poor are not making the right decisions, they have resources like everyone else to succeed. So, clearly the critics are refusing to see the challenges the ghetto poor are forced to face.
It’s so easy to claim that people have a civic duty to vote, but how effective is voting? If the ghetto poor votes a politician into office, who claims their objective is to help the poor and turns out to have a hidden agenda all along, then what? America had its very first black president, yet he couldn’t pass various bills to help the poor because Congress constantly blocked those bills. This shows that even when blacks make it into positions of authority, their actions to incite change are limited. It’s not always the people, it’s the system. If the impoverished are lacking certain resources to make educated votes, then why would they? If they’re uneducated in politics, then how could they know that certain bills or people are truly going to benefit them or their community.
The media plays a key role in casting the ghetto poor negatively. The media distorts our perceptions of racial inequalities. For example, when white people commit crimes, they’re seen as mentally ill or unstable and when black people commit crimes they are portrayed as “thugs.” Every black person isn’t the same, we cannot put them into the same categories as the ones who have committed crimes. People are easily manipulated by the media because it appeals to their emotions. For example, the media will downplay and stereotype the poor to make them look bad, while they will make fun of the middle class and portray the rich as superior. We need more diverse people in powerful positions that would change the biases that have been shaped.
Although, it’s said that there is a fair equality of opportunity, many African Americans have tried to elevate their lives; however, according to Coates “from the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market.” In other words, they were purposely excluded. They were forced to live in bad neighborhoods or sign contracts that would foreclose their house if they missed only one payment, regardless if they were always known to be on time. The cycle never ended, one black family would lose their home and another would move in. Trying to get a legit mortgage was never obtainable, especially in decent areas, they were only available to whites. These devastated effects and lack of governmental controls still affect people today.
Therefore, if you lived in poor neighborhoods, then the chances are extremely high that parents are not receiving opportunities to work for well-paid jobs. Also, the chances are extremely high that education system is also poor. Usually the more desirable schools are located in decent areas, which makes it difficult for their kids to attend those schools because they don’t live in that school district. Unfortunately, their kids are out of luck because the teachers at the schools that they have to attend, usually do not value their jobs nor do they care about their student’s education. The dropout rates are 10 times higher than the school’s in the nicer areas. The school probably does not encourage higher education or does not have the proper resources to support higher education such as SAT or ACT practice. It is also easier for her kids to get involved with the wrong crowds. Therefore, they do not have the proper resources like everyone else to succeed. If kids cannot receive a proper education, then how do people expect them to excel in life? The odds have been against them from the very minute they were born. Coates states “as a rule, poor black people do not work their way out of the ghetto—and those who do often face the horror of watching their children and grandchildren tumble back.” So even when they are able to finally succeed and leave the ghetto, the odds are extremely high for them to fall back into poverty. It’s hard to maintain something that you have never had because you don’t have the proper resources to do more than to just stay afloat.
Therefore, when the ghetto poor is accused of not doing their share of reciprocity, it’s the wrong conclusion to draw. They’re doing the best that they can due to their given circumstances. We can’t hold them in the same high regard as someone who truly has the fair equality of opportunity. In some circumstance, it’s morally permissible to engage in legitimate criminal activity such as cheating the welfare system, since that doesn’t hurt others. It’s not the ghetto poor that we should be blaming for their lack of reciprocity, it’s the broken system that we need to hold accountable for setting up racial inequalities. They have missed out on opportunities to succeed before they were able to try.