Recent news based on last year's census data reported on how severely the recession has impacted different ethnic groups in the United States. The report speaks in opposition to one of our longest-held cultural myths. Specifically, it refutes the capitalist, often conservative belief in the bootstrap mentality. As the legend goes, success and wealth go hand in hand with hard work and self-reliance. This current economic downturn has proven it untrue yet again. If all things were equal, which they are not and have never been, that old myth might have some validity. But the issue here is a question of starting points. They are not and never have been the same. Whites have long had more capital to begin with, and those non-white have had to make do with much less.
Seeking to put the matter in a broader context, I’ll take a different tact altogether. For an analogy, I'll reach back into our nation’s past. As a native Southerner, I’ve seen the results of economic inequality for years. The antebellum South was in many ways a wealthy region, but most of its money was concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy planters. The majority of whites were poor subsistence farmers. Some participated directly in the plantation system. Others had no connection to it at all. African slaves had no power or money at all, of course. The elites at the top of the food chain ran the show. Ironically enough, on paper, the Southern states were the wealthiest, but only a small amount of what they made ever trickled down. No middle ground existed in between those who had everything and those who had not much at all. A middle class had begun to coalesce in the North, but not so for its Southern cousins.
The Civil War utterly destroyed the South. The top heavy distribution of wealth which in many ways rivals our own today is part of the reason why the devastation was so intense and long lasting. With the growth and spread of industrialization in the North, the South slipped further behind the rest of the country in the years following the conflict. Its fate would be cruel enough if another catastrophic event were not to arrive. This time, it took the form of the Great Depression. Whatever income the South was able to accumulate was then wiped out by the Depression. And it wasn’t until the Post-World War II economic boom that a phenomenon called the Bulldozer Revolution brought the beginnings of modernization to the South.