Saturday, January 26, 2008

Reflections on Race & Class

I don't know why I haven't done this before, but this is the perfect time because I've been thinking about this at various points lately. My last several posts have been, essentially, directed at whites. Now I want to speak to black people, specifically the black bourgeoisie. Still, the "lesson" is vital for whites and others to get, as well.

First of all, I think a lot of well-off black people don't realize they are such. Let me give you a brief rundown of whom you might be so that you'll recognize I'm talking to/about you.

You attend(ed) college--any college. Anything more than college...come on, now--don't ever tell me you're not "advantaged" relative to many other people in the world.

You've pretty much never had to go without, and instances that you have it was almost always because somebody said "no" rather than they simply couldn't provide for you what you needed/wanted.

You have a good job, and that doesn't necessarily mean you're a lawyer, doctor, engineer, businessman or anything else fancy. Just a job that allows you to pay your bills, have a nice place to live, provide for your kids. You can be nearly living paycheck to paycheck--honestly, who the hell isn't, especially if they're black? The point is your job does the trick.

You can go out and get many of the things you want. Even if you have to think about it financially, you still have the ability.

You either grew up in, at least, a decent neighborhood, or you live in one now. Doesn't matter if your neighborhood wasn't predominantly white. You weren't afraid, and there wasn't a lot of crime. Same goes for your schools growing up.

Your parents have been able to financially support you at least for half of your life with seemingly little difficulty. When you went to college and ran out of money, you could ask them and they'd give it. As an adult, when you get into a financial bind, they can give you money.

Your parents never made you feel like you couldn't do something because of race. I'm not talking about stuff like be President, even though that could be true. I'm talking about college was never out of the question to them, and neither were a good career or good grades. In fact, they kind of expected these things from you.

I think this about covers it. You don't have to meet every one, or even most, of these. Some of these, just meeting one or two of them together should say a lot about either your class then, your class now or the road you're on. Essentially, my message to you goes something like this:

You, my friends, are elitist, stuck-up, naive, classist snobs!

Now, before you get upset...I'm probably not entirely guilt-free from it, but, much like with my own racism, I'm conscious of it, in addition to the fact that not every black person alive is like us...and aware that there are good, legitimate reasons why not.

Yes, I said like us. I'm bourgie, too. In fact, I meet almost every check on the list. Not only have I been to college, but I attended one of the best in the nation. My law school is even better than that. When I didn't get what I wanted growing up, few times that those were, it was because my parents simply wouldn't buy it...not because they couldn't. I never got that convertible Ford Mustang or Jeep Wrangler, but I got just about everything else. Seeing as how I'm about to graduate from law school, much to my chagrin I'm probably about to be a lawyer. Eventually, I hope to be writing and publishing my own books, as well as other people's works, and hope to continue to be published in other people's anthologies and see my works in journals. Before law school, I had my own business.

I have always, but especially in the past 10 or so years, conceived of items I've wanted and immediately purchased them. And if not immediately, it didn't take very long, or someone else would buy it for me. Part of the reason is, though I have been in college and am now in law school, my parents give me money. Not only that, they give my married 32- and 37-year old sisters money. And, people...I'm not talking about "just" $20 or $50, either. I basically grew up in good neighborhoods and attended good schools. These were especially true with regards to my time in high school which, to me, is the most important time of a teenager's life in terms of setting the pace for whether or not he/she will attend college, what college will that be, what kind of graduate school and career options will be available to him/her, etc. The only part of that list not true to me is the very last check. Nobody ever expected me to be a lawyer or attend professional school. Nobody expected me to perform well on the LSAT. They never expected to see me attend the best universities in the nation. And they never expected me to take advanced classes in high school or do well in them.

I also want to say that this kind of list is the kind of stuff that pisses anti-affirmative action whites and Asians know, despite one major thing: at least with respect to whites, meeting this list does not make a white person well-off. Being black and middle class is not the same thing as being white and middle class. For example, living paycheck to paycheck is serious business for white people. Having a parent or family member who is a lawyer, doctor or businessman ain't no big thang to them or to anyone else looking at them; it's normal when it's white people.

I, on the other hand, would never be able to convince my family members or any other black person on earth who hasn't attended law school that the legal profession is the damn devil, because all they're focused on is, "WHOA, I KNOW A BLACK PERSON WHO IS A LAWYER! ALRIGHT, NOW, A BLACK PERSON DONE MADE IT!!!! WHAT? WHAT YOU SAY? YOU DON'T WANNA BE A LAWYER?!?! QUIT COMPLAININ' AND GET THAT MONEY, GIRL!!!! WE ALL GOTTA DO THANGS WE DON'T LIKE!!!!" White people can understand not being happy as a lawyer and walking away; blacks can't. And some of the neighborhoods that would qualify as "decent" for blacks would be thought of by whites as "ghettos" (though they aren't) or almost certainly no place any white person would ever consider living unless they absolutely had to, i.e. they was the white people's version of po.

My point is more is still expected of middle class whites and they, consequently, have higher standards and access to better resources than middle class blacks. There are also more middle class whites and middle class Asians than middle class blacks, percentage-wise, which says a lot to begin with about a difference in racial equality and who needs more help becoming middle class. And with respect to higher and lower standards...when less is expected of you, you tend to expect less of yourself. And even if you don't--and I know from personal experience--when you grow up around people who are a lot more "simple" in terms of lifestyle and background than the people you spend every day with once you "make it," it doesn't matter how far you've come or how middle class you were as a black person, you still don't ever really fit in. Where you come from always affects you. Every day, I'm reminded that I didn't grow up with the same kinds of parents, in the same kinds of environments, in the same kinds of schools, with the same amount of money, as the white and Asian kids--and even many of the black kids--at my schools. There is still a huge class differential.

The point of this Reflection is black people are no longer as "the same" as they used to be, and I detect a distinct difference in outlook between the black "haves" and the black "have-nots." The reason I think my fellow black "haves" don't detect this difference, or at least don't understand why it exists, is because many of them are still thinking that all black people are the same or, despite changing class differentials among blacks, that we still somehow should magically be the same all because we're the same race.

Not too long ago, I wrote about how defensive I feel when black people start talking about colorism, as the "privileged" person in that scenario. I think the same used to be true for me when black people put middle class+ blacks down. It must be so that I've made more progress with accepting my place as an economically privileged black person than a light-skinned black person, because I eventually finally told myself--and started saying to others, as well--that, hey, middle class+ blacks really do think they are better than other blacks. I looked at me. I looked at my family. I looked at the people I go to school with. It was just true. It is still.

And I think most middle class+ blacks are just as much on the defensive-and-therefore-denial bandwagon with class as I could be possibly with with colorism, because every time an issue that "exposes" and/or reminds everyone of some "tragic problem" in the "black community" comes up, these are the people who, along with whites, Asians and Latinos, always rush to point the finger at black people and/or the black community...even when the person who was wrong in the situation isn't black. Now, I want to say that not every "black" problem or issue is solely because of racism. It's not so that blacks play no role in many of their own problems. But I think most black problems/issues are more of a combination of both than most bourgie/non-black people ever want to acknowledge. But even if they don't mean to, it pretty much always sounds as if the bourgie black people solely blame "lower socioeconomic" blacks...and if not them, then entertainers such as rappers and athletes...who, let me be honest with you, are probably pretty much all black people who grew up "lower socioeconomic," unlike you.

See, I have a hard time believing that black people who know would blame these blacks for everything. And if you're 50 or 60, Bill Cosby and people like you, and grew up poor in a completely different time...I'm not talking about you. Just like bourgie black people, you have no idea what "lower socioeconomic" black people go through today. You've been in the entertainment industry too long, making too much money for too long. Much like I do with Oprah, sometimes I have to wonder if some of these people remember where they came from and how they grew up.

Here's the thing: people use that "where you came from" crap with black people like us. What they don't get is we didn't come from that. That's why we have a hard time understanding. But, honestly, it's really not that hard to figure out, or, at least, it shouldn't be. Black people who didn't grow up like us don't know the things we know or have the opportunities we have, just like we don't know the things our white counterparts know or grow up with the opportunities they had. So when you're chastising them on listservs, in blogs, on TV shows, with friends or in discussion groups for living as they do or doing certain things, you need to remember telling people to change or be like you is easier said than done...and think about how it would make you feel, especially hearing it from someone who clearly is better off in the world than you are.

Think about how white people make you feel when they say you need to stop relying on affirmative action or stop pulling the race card when someone has clearly done/said something racist. You feel like they're idiots, don't you? They don't know what the hell they're talking about; they ain't black! They don't know what you go through! You want to knock their teeth down their throats. And, most of all, you don't hear a thing they say. I mean, you hear it...but you dismiss it. They're not going to make you do what they say you should; what makes you think you have--or deserve--that power?

You want to know why some black women go and be in hoochie-mama videos. You want to know why black men keep putting out records and images that hurt black people. You want to know why some black women sell their bodies and why some black men rob stores or break into people's houses. You want to know why black men won't take their @sses to college. Well, if you really want to know, ask somebody. And this time, don't jump down their throats before they even get the responses completely out, like Oprah and some other blacks did when they had some black rappers and record execs on her show last year.

Or, better's called read a book--and not that damn Cosby one, either. Yeah, read a know, that thing you think all of black people hate to do. That. Sometimes, it's even called "listen to the lyrics in my songs." Yeah, that thing you claim you don't do when you listen to the very songs you degrade whenever a white person uses them to be racist. Yep, that. Not all the songs say anything useful, but every now and then they do. Or go spend time down in the projects or really get to know someone who came from there fairly recently, or someone who, as my mother would say, didn't have "a pot to piss in" growing up. Go find out how the other side lives instead of telling them what's wrong with them. Seriously, you want to know why some people "choose" to make money the way they choose, but you're also the jack@ss who has come as close to having everything handed to you as a black person possibly can. Hmmm, wonder why people who ain't had sh!t handed to them do the things they do.

I'm not picking on you because you grew up "rich." I'm picking on you because you're just as bad as racists are, and that Furthermore, when you're all out in the open with your uninformed rants about what's wrong with all of black people and what all of black people need to do, Whitey is listening and using that to his advantage. If what you were saying was right, I wouldn't care. But since it's usually dead wrong, I have a problem with it and a problem with you. If you've never been in the situation where you've needed to conclude that you'd do whatever to pay the bills, don't speak. If you've never been tired of having nothing, don't speak. If you've never had a dream that you've wanted to come true so bad that you would do stupid, even degrading, things to realize it, don't speak.

Finally...I recently was reading a message board post by a black person who referred to black rappers as sell-outs. I agree. They have sold black people out, all for their gain and to our detriment. See, people think that when blacks call other blacks "sell-outs," we're doing it because they are successful. That's not what "sell-out" means. "Sell-out" is being a black person who has "made it" but has turned his/her back on blacks in the process, or a black person who does things to harm other blacks. Rappers fit both definitions. But the majority of you bourgie black people also sell out every day in every way, and don't ever forget it. Don't act like they're the only ones who don't give a damn about black people. You sell out doing that "black enough" crap to other blacks around you when you know you've had that done to you, and you sell out when a black person attempts to contact you for advice on how to get where you are in the world but you never respond or do but give lukewarm/basic-to-the-point-of-being-unhelpful advice then send them on their way.

And you sell out by telling black "have-nots" that they need to be more like you but never think to tell them how, not even in a way that is more like taking their hand and being a big brother/sister than being a white supremacist in blackface. Rappers hurt black people, and so do you. You can argue you don't have a duty to other people all you want. You're thinking about your own prosperity, and everybody else can and should figure out how to make it their own way. I agree--at least with the "no duty" part. But rappers say the same thing. Why is that argument fine for you, but not for them?

You're just like them. They're selfish to the detriment of blacks, and so are you. You might not be the hoochie girl in the video or the rapper with the nasty lyrics/videos, but you're doing the modern-day "yassa" and "nahsa" for white racists at your corporate law firm all so you can make way more money than you need rather than doing work that directly helps these people you criticize while whites, Asians and Latinos use you to say all kinds of things about blacks that aren't true. This is what rappers do with white record execs, and this is what every race does to black people with rappers and video girls. Whether your employer is using you to demonstrate blacks are lazy/less intelligent/whatever negative or to say "See? Those other niggers are all exaggerating about their problems. You're not like them. They need to work hard and be more like you, and then maybe they would get somewhere"...this is the kind of crap you've sold blacks out for.