Monday, November 09, 2009

Black Middle Class-ism; An Ongoing Conversation

One occurrence within the thorny confines of the American class structure has been the rise of the black middle class. Now to be clear: there are still far more black folks surviving in the dregs of the lower classes than enjoying the fruits of middle class status. However, the black middle class is growing, partly through the sacrifices of individuals during the Civil Rights Movement, partly through the knee jerk de-segregation efforts (read: bussing), partly because old-school (paid) entertainers have new-school (spoiled) children, and partly because some folks made the simple-yet-powerful choice to change their circumstances (all of which came before President Obama. So no, there is no Super Negro here to save us).

(On a side and unrelated note, here’s a collection of Will Smith interviews regarding the choice mentioned above. I’m not usually moved by inspirational words, but Mr. Smith really struck a chord with me. Shout to LaLaBouvier for exposing me to this).

As this group formalizes (I have struggled to accept this, but I recognize myself as a member, begrudgingly so, but so nonetheless), it seems that our ability to understand our class status has grown more difficult. It’s as if we talk around who we are in efforts to avoid accepting both the idea that we belong to a race of largely poor and undereducated people and the idea that we, as an educated and (relatively) upwardly mobile group, have forgotten our roots and “graduated” from the black race (Michael Eric Dyson explores this struggle in his book “Is Bill Cosby Right, Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost its Mind? if you care to read more on the subject. I personally agreed with less than half of his thoughts, but that may have more to do with the fact that he’s attacking The King Pudding Pops, and that’s just wrong. But I digress…).

I guess the thinking continues through a view that it is easy for poor black folks to understand their place in this conversation because the ideas of being poor and being black are a perfect match (like peanut butter and jelly, or Kool-Aid and sugar, or Michael Jordan and 18 year old girls…whatever floats your boat). But this leaves us with the question: what is a black person who isn’t poor? What class grouping are we to be herded into? Is there a defined class structure above the lowest class of poor peoples? (this conversation is both uncomfortable and difficult because it seems to require a consideration of people extremely close to me as belonging to a class lower than me. I don’t know the truth value of that, nor do I know what to do with that if it is in fact true…).

So long as this general race/class conversation centers on the double conscious notion of what others think of middle class blacks, we will continue to struggle to figure out who we are as a group (and for this reason I question what I am doing here hosting this conversation: am I continuing the negative attributes of double consciousness simply by attempting to figure out my social self?). This is a problem I hope to work through, because right now I do not have an answer…

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