It seems that some Black people whose lives have been circumscribed by Black poverty or its image think that's all there is or that's all that's real
to Black American experience (this is THE American party line: black=underclass*). It seems that other Blacks are irrevocably entrenched in their middle class mindset but it seems like most people/the multiculti masses don't/can't recognize that Black experience extends beyond these two categories. Social stratification has always looked different in Black American communities than in whites (I suggest a conversation with Ida B. Wells Barnett's grandson NYU professor Troy Duster for further explication, while Robin D.G. Kelley breaks down class on The Continent extremely well). Pullman porters
serve as an obvious example. Obviously, legally prohibited from fully exercising our rights and professional aspirations the constitution of Black American upper, middle, lower middle, etc. classes differed from the constitution of whites. Bougie does not
denote the Black upper class and Blacks do have an upper class and the Black rich are not necessarily
the Black upper class (V
oint!) Lawrence Otis Graham's Our Kind of People
is masturbatory trip but is necessary reading for anyone wishing to further delve into the area (Joseph Wilson
and Adelaide Cromwell have important works on the subject). There are old Black families of repute and/or money. Just cause you don't know who they are doesn't mean they don't exist (or haven't existed throughout the Black American experience on this continent. Again, Robin D.G. Kelley breaks down class among enslaved unfree African labor on the plantations. In fact as a final project in his class at NYU I developed a syllabus and annotated bibligography for a course on gendered class experiences in African American History). The term bougie is an epithet/perjorative (like "groupie", another area of interest for me) and was wielded (although not exclusively as such) even before E. Franklin Frazier's indictment
of these middle class supposed posers/strivers. Bougie is everybody's favorite word these days. And I don't pretend to be an expert but I know more than most of the people who throw around terms yet lack any understanding of what class looks like in Black America.
"I'm from Maine. My Dad's an optician. I'm not that angry."
-Calvin Habbitt (Deon Richmond), NBC's "Teachers"
So I'm watching the NBC sitcom "Teachers" ('cause it follows Scrubs
) on the airplane home from Seattle and Deon "Bud" Richmond who is always impressive, delivered the above line which was likely penned by a White writer (still there are virtually no Black TV writers and most of them write for UPN) but even if it was not it demonstrates that Black rage has been deviously recast along really simple class lines in the contemporary conversation. It's been a minute since Ellis Cose put out Rage of a Privileged Class
but there seemed to be an acceptance of the Ellisonian boomerang-upside-the-head-element ("Keep a helmet handy") of being Black in a mostly White white-collar world yet now Black anger is supposedly the exclusive domain of the poor? This suggests that class mitigates the experience of race thus inhibiting Black middle and/or upper class anger. This, of course, if false. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy (i see you bell) is an equal opportunity offender.Guilt to Go Around
, the panel I was on at last weekend's EMP Pop Conference
brought it altogether. I followed Joshua Alston's
INCREDIBLE paper (dude has an incisive comedic voice) and as I was listening I couldn't help but think how much our papers were rooted in particular Black class experiences. They were synergistic in more prominent regards but class is what stuck with me. And Daphne Brooks
raised the issue of this unacknowledged suburban Black experience in response to a comment by Jody Rosen
who was part of a really extraordinary panel on Black Composers. Of course, I talked about class for my EMP talk
last year as well. It's funny; I don't like to be predictable so I was kinda writhing--ala Terry Mac
at the SPL
back when--on the panel as I waited my turn to read, thinking "Is this all I have to talk about?" (i'm sort of embarassed cause I know better -I swear I have home training- than to squirm and twist in my seat but I'll give myself a break this one time). This might be a larger problem for me; this unwillingness to focus on an interest that presents itself as a growing area of expertise. I digress. Our experience (Blacks) of class are so varied. And I have witnessed a lot of the spectrum but I'm still trying to figure it out especially as how it relates to being cosmopolitan. Daphne Brooks, for one, has more to say on the matter and I'm anxious to hear her take as I continue to develop my thoughts on the matter.
I'll save my own class testimony for a different venue. (Aside: blogging
But back to the Guilt...
wins the award for "best panel moderation" (and "best hair") with the following session ending comment:
"I have some drinking to do."
+And the aforementioned Dr. Brooks
had the session's best (preface to a) comment :
"I love you Jody Rosen.."Fin.
*of course ("of course" is the new per se, as it were, word to Safire) underclass is itself an epithet/perjorative