The Divided Minority: Black America

In an interview with Prensa Latina that focused primarily on Michael Moore, Cuban-American activist Andres Gomez made an interesting observation about Black america:

We can say that the black caucus is mostly liberal, although there is a strong black middle class that does not respond to the interests of the black poor and divides that minority.

This is sad, but unfortunately true.

Having a middle class is a good great thing. It means that people in that class [for the most part] have the things that they need and are able to get the things that they want. It is the product of tangible social mobility in a society.

Unfortunately, as we increase our comfort, we often decrease our level of observation, action, and/or dissent. Sometimes a little cash and a few nice things cause us to lose touch. Middle-class people are less likely to outwardly critique their employers or governmental leaders/policies. We (since I would consider myself middle class) have “something to lose.”

So let me get this straight G: having a middle class is both a good thing and a bad thing? Well, not really. Having a middle class is a good thing. Having a disinterested middle class is a bad thing. Having a middle class with no connections to its upper/lower class counterparts is a bad thing. Having a socially inactive middle class is a bad thing. What I’m saying is, the type of middle class you have is important.

What Gomez is implying in his quote is that the Black middle class is the wrong kind of middle class, at least if the goal is uplifting Black people as a whole. Is that true? I think I have a responsibility and an obligation (some people don’t like those words!) to do a whole h*ll of a lot more than I do today. Why not use class “status” as a chance to take a risk instead of a reason not to? What I want is to be able to play a part in positive change, which is all revolution really is. I think we all need to take some more chances for the sake of ourselves and our people.

I have read that the way to stifle revolution is to give a little bit to a few people so that you have just enough individuals that don’t care enough to act.

One Love. One II.

P.S. I hadn’t looked at Black Electorate in a long time, and now I remember why I used to look at it almost daily.

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora and am a National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I currently live in Washington, DC with my beautiful wife Ellen. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. Today I work at the crossroads of traditional political organizing and online activism. I speak before diverse audiences on empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation though emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet.

6 responses to “The Divided Minority: Black America”

  1. Brandon Q. says :

    Garlin, this post is like the Tigers no-hitter!

    Where do I begin? For starters, your line about blackelectorate.com was deep and though I still read Blackelectorate, I get what you are saying.

    I think you missed a point though when talking about why the middle class is a good thing. It is a great thing because those in the middle class can help others that are less fortunate.

    I think the problem with the Black middle class is one of community When I grew up in Detroit, it was nothing to ask my neighbors for sugar, flour, etc. The community trusted eachother to take care of our own.

    I am not middle class but I will say that the example I just gave (in principle) rarely happens because too many of us would rather starve ourselves than admit that we need help. I am not restricting help to financial terms, but help in the form of, “I used to do activism in college but after a mortgage, kids, and marriage…I don’t feel like I’m connected like I should.”

    I think I have an idea to remedy this G, but it will come in the form of another post.

    Stay up fam,

    Brandon Q.

  2. K. Warfield says :

    On point, G. I saw the headline at Blackelectorate last week but didn’t get to dive into the article.

    I think the lack of a visible middle class (of color, of less-than-color, of any color) in Miami is what’s making me dislike it so much, and the more I think about it the more I understand why that is true. This place is so much about the haves and the have-nots that there’s no one in the middle to help bridge the gap. It’s the prime example of increasing one’s comfort while decreasing one’s level of observation. And though it’s not as evident amongst Black people as it is in somewhere like Metro Detroit, that diametric pull is VERY evident (to me, at least) amongst Latin American people…and is evidenced by the lack of a visible Latin American middle class. I see lots of rich Latino/a attorneys and business moguls … and I see lots of dirt poor Cubans landing their rafts overnight on the Rickenbacher Causeway. They may or may not have come from the same crop – in the same way that not every Black person who “makes it” and moves to Birmingham comes from a family that started somewhere over on Chalmers – but at the same time they may have..or may know someone who has..

    I think the middle class is a great thing because it provides a bridge between the high- and low-end. Not a bridge insofar as one that people simply traverse to get from one side to the other (“last week we were poor, this week we’re middle-class, and next week we’ll be filthy rich), but more or less one that provides support and stability as well as a means of social mobility for people on the fringe of all three levels (those connections to the upper/lower class counterparts you were mentioning).

    Anyway, great post Garlin. A no-hitter for sure, and certainly right in tune with what I was thinking.

  3. Malcolm says :

    Give me a break man. Help your self. I did it. Why cant others? I’m so sick of people saying we need to help and do more but most of those who really need it, dont want it. Believe me I have tried. So why bother? This is America a capitalist nation. Hello! That mean you can become rich if you want to, but you have to work for it. I did it. I’m Black. My family was not rich. I went to public schools my whole life (I’m from NYC), even for college. And now my life is taking off for the better. I’m not special. I just realized I had to put in work personally. I HELPED MYSELF. Repeat, I HELPED MYSELF. This is Social Darwinism, the intelligent and resourcefull will prosper. Those who are not will lag behind. And that is the way it should be. I’m tired of excuses. This is 2007. If you as an individual dont understand how to make it in America now a days, your an idiot, and dont deserve to make it. I feel no sympathy for people who are lagging behind cause of their own actions. And btw, other peoples success is NOT my responsibility.

  4. Garlin II says :

    Malcolm,

    Thanks for the comment. I think that what you are saying is characteristic of the problem faced in our community. Why is it that this needs to be an either-or discussion? Why can’t people help themselves AND be helped?

    I don’t come from a rich family. I went to public school all my life. I am not “rich,” but I certainly am not hungry. And guess what, that is IRRELEVANT.

    Whether one is rich or broke, helping people should not be an option. That is not an excuse, that is reality. Think about it like this: there is NO WAY that I would be who/where I am today without the help of someone else. I believe that any and all people not only need help, but that they have had help whether they acknowledge it or not. The “I did it on my own” mindset that is becoming more and more pervasive as the Black middle class becomes more and more conservative is an absolute fallacy.

    The challenge here is to let someone else benefit from your experience. Telling someone that you “helped yourself” is a cop-out. Why not tell someone instead how you helped yourself and showing/demonstrating/leading them to do the same? It is this action that tilts Social Darwinism towards helping people who may not have understood how to help themselves.

    One Love. One II.

  5. Lamarr Fowler says :

    I think that if Blacks in America don’t start doing
    better than we are right now,by 2010 Black America
    will be a no show in American census because Asian-
    Americans will be by a net gain the second largest
    minority only to Hispanics. Both Hispanics & Asians
    each will fight for their rights and shout racism.

  6. Fatima says :

    No one helps themselves. If you think you did, you’re delusional and arrogant. We are in school because someone fought for us to get in. We have jobs because someone fought for us to get them. We are ALIVE because someone else is DEAD.

    AND, Saying that capitalism allows you to get rich if you want to is the biggest fallacy of them all. Work hard=more money? Oh really? What exactly is hard work? Sitting in your cubicle every day for 9 hours trading stocks? Or risking electrocution picking up trash on the subway tracks to prevent fires and therefore the injuries/deaths of 2 million passengers each day? Wearing a suit and going to court to defend corporate executives who committed tax fraud? Or researching, writing, and implementing curriculum into an urban middle school to shape the minds of young people? Sitting in your cushy clinic “treating” people for their illness while taking trips to the Bahamas on Pfizer’s tab? Or picking up 18 tons of trash each day making sure it stays off the sidewalks and playgrounds and streets?

    And how exactly does capitalism work for someone who can’t read from a failed education system? Or someone who’s legs were amputated because of their out of control diabetes? Or someone who’s name is Lakeesha Smith and can’t get job because she sounds BLACK? Or someone whose store was burned down and insurance company refused to pay? Or someone doesn’t speak English so well? Or someone who comes out of prison never to be trusted again? Capitalism would work if equal opportunity existed. But it doesn’t.

    Go ahead, think you’ve helped yourself. And when your hard work, devoid of anyone else’s help, and your precious capitalism, fails you because of one bad day or one unlucky stroke, May God help you.

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