Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Black Middle Class-ism; An Ongoing Conversation, Continued...

I find that the best way to observe a particular social class’s honest view of itself is through the paintings, poetry, and music of its members (“art,” for those of you who get annoyed when people write more than necessary). It’s not always a perfect view, and it’s also true that the view almost always becomes corrupted through notions of profit. However, there are moments when an artist – through a stroke of a paintbrush, or a perfect lyric, or an unforgettable prose – faultlessly captures the very essence of the class with which that artist belongs to.

As black folks, we have expressed our views of self in this manner since we arrived on this land, and our art has followed a general theme of struggle. I cannot quibble with this theme, because our history has generally been one of struggle. However, as the black middle class grows, it is becoming obvious to me that the black middle class is not struggling, at least not to the same extents that our ancestors did, nor to the extent that our economically-challenged brethren currently do. However, the art that currently describes black folks continues to describe us through the lens of a struggle (you know, all of that art that is truly inspired by life, and isn’t solely designed to turn a profit …). So, the art that currently describes us (black folks) doesn’t actually describe us (middle class black folks).

So, as a wise friend of mine succinctly put it, during a discussion regarding middle class black folks: “Your (black middle class folks) life doesn’t inspire art.” And it’s true: I’ve seen nothing artful regarding black people being successful as a matter of right (if you have, please direct me to it). The closest I’ve seen in this regard are images of black success as an oddity, or success despite a struggle based on race.

I’m not sure what this says about the black middle class, but it is clear that we haven’t quite figured out ourselves in this already uncomfortable class conversation. Maybe art will never be a plausible portal through which we express ourselves. Maybe continued success will shine a light on a better way. Maybe…

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