Progress can be defined as a “forward or onward movement toward a destination,” or as an “advance or development toward a better, more complete, or more modern condition.” This definition is easily understood, however our experiences with the word are often tricky to navigate.Through class discussions led by David Levy, we were asked to discuss what progress means to us, and how it correlates to the collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, written by W.E.B. DuBois. His work unpacks the difficulties faced by African Americans after the ratification of the 13th amendment and during the Jim Crow era in the south. This pertains to any laws enforcing racial segregation in the South between the late 1870s and the beginning of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.
In one of his essays, DuBois asks, “how should men measure progress?” In his writing, DuBois illustrates various ways in which many emancipated African Americans strived for advancement through education, as society often sees education as a gateway for elevation in status. However; once these students come back home, their schooling was unable to help provide for their family with the business of farming. Newly emancipated slaves were unable to profit off the land, especially after the destructive over-farming of cotton stripped the soil into clay. Society pushes the misconceiving idea that higher levels of schooling will result in a better future. However; many minorities find themselves burdened with high levels of debt and enter an unforgiving workforce. Statistics show that only 30% of Blacks obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher Also, as of 2017, African Americans hold the lowest percent of employment (63.1%), “continuing a longstanding pattern.” This problem resonates with many other minority groups.
As many new generations find it hard to escape their poor upbringings due to lack of “progress,” politics and societal influences allow poverty to accumulate more poverty. One example of systematic oppression is Redlining, or the refusal of loans (or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed a poor financial risk. This is one way local governments trap many minorities in a cycle of destitution. Although banned 50 years ago, the effects are still prevalent. Studies by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition show that “3 out of 4 neighborhoods “redlined” on government maps 80 years ago continue to struggle economically”. Gentrification, defined as the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper (or middle) income individuals, often occurs within these past redlined neighborhoods. This often result in the raising of property values but often the displacing of low-income families and small businesses.
However; how can we discuss progress without the conversation of its measurement? How do we define the achievement of progress without the hierarchy of ideals? My next post will further discuss the point that we can never measure the notion of success, due to its roots in a fluctuating societal criterion.