This has to be read to be believed: “Criminal or Great Parent: Black Mother Jailed for Sending Daughters to White School”. And the photo of that poor mother, oh my god, heart-breaking.
White people are very good at using social capital, it is one of the many ways that we get ahead. Upper class and upper-middle class people are exceptionally clever at using social capital, it is one of the assets they pass down to their children. Of course, social capital can lead to out-right corruption but mostly it doesn’t. What it is, is letting your friend know that there is an opening at your Montessori school so she can apply for it ahead of everyone else. It is mentioning to your neighbor that your husband’s firm is going to be hiring soon so it might be a good time for them to send in a resume. It is asking your family for recommendations for a good electrician they have used. It is letting your friends know that you have an interview at the club and can they put in a good word for you. It is feeling a sense of belonging, too. It is pitching in, keeping an eye out, and taking care of others.
Generally social capital isn’t used in a malicious way, it is nothing worse than helping out people you know and like because they’re part of your network. We’re social animals and we like to live in little groups. Even when we’re situated in big crowded cities we tend only to form close ties with a village-size number of people in that city. The problem with social capital is that while it locks up advantage among a particular network of people, it also locks up disadvantage among a particular network of people, too.
Say you’re unemployed and your family has a history of unemployment. You’re probably all quite poor and consequently you live in an area with other poor people. Maybe it is a cheap area to live in because it is also an area with little in the way of public transport and few good facilities – all of this means that employment and growth prospects in the area are limited. So there you are and almost everyone you know is unemployed… who has the connections in your community to let you know about the firm that is hiring soon? Who looks over your resume and picks up on the errors, so that yours doesn’t end up at the bottom of the pile? Who can lend you a tie for the job interview? Who went to university via a bridging course and can share with you the process for following that path if you’d like a higher qualification? Who tells you about the short-cuts, the ways around, the tricks to the system, the name-dropping cues? Social capital not only informs you of how the rules work but also how they bend and flex, and even better, what to do if you find yourself caught breaking them. Social capital gives you the capacity to negotiate yourself out of a corner. Social capital is a powerful mechanism; policy makers expend enormous energies trying to find ways to mimic and borrow some of it for welfare programs.
Sending your children to a school in a better area because you can; because using your father’s residential address as your children’s address would get them into the catchment area for that school; because being at a better school will give your children all sorts of improved opportunities, is a classic example of social capital. Maybe it isn’t always fair, but when everyone is using their social capital (however much of it they have) everywhere and everyday, where exactly are you going to draw the line? Apparently you draw it with the black mother.