A discussion about class in the black community

“Even though it was 1968, a period of unrest for many blacks throughout the country, Great-grandmother – like the blue-veined crowd that she was proud to belong to – seemed, at times, to be totally divorced from the black anxiety and misery that we saw on TV news and in the papers.”

Every now and then I’ll venture into something social and political. I’ve been wanting to write something about ‘class’ in the black community for a while now, and Black History Month 2019 has finally presented me the opportunity to do so. Before I jump in, I want to acknowledge Rom Wills, a writer in the “Negro Manosphere” and a YouTube content creator who teaches black men about dating and becoming better versions of ourselves. I can personally say that ‘Uncle’ Rom and his content have been critical in evolution, in terms of manhood, and he’s helped me to better understand my journey – past, present and future. If you’re a black man, and you still feel lost in the dating world and in life in general, I recommend Uncle Rom’s content.

In his YouTube content, Rom Wills is very outspoken about the black community not acknowledging the role of ‘social class’ in dating and mating where it plays a major role, particularly in our bigger cities. He eloquently discusses what attracts black men and women together and why in some instances, some couples who don’t look like they should be together end up doing so. He also discusses why some men and women pass over each other – potentially good mates, specifically to get to together with someone in their social class. He emphasizes men having some sort of vision, like us getting in the gym and getting our bodies right, and the concepts of ‘select’ and ‘non-select’ men.

I first became aware of social class in high school in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. Every spring, one of our black newspapers, the Buffalo Criterion or the Challenger, presented the ‘Debutantes’ and the ‘Cotillions’. The Debutantes were young ladies in high school, usually juniors and seniors. They were associated with one of the black sororities – probably “Alpha Kappa Alpha”. The ladies were all dressed in black dresses and took lovely solo head shots and were presented as a group on the front page. One year, one of the girls was a classmate. There was also a formal event where these girls were ‘presented’ to the world.

I first heard of the term Cotillion in high school as well. I had a friend who played on the Varsity basketball team with me when we were sophomores. He stopped playing in our junior year, and a little while later, he went on and on about some of the other guys in his Cotillion when we were at a party. They were doing a ‘step routine’ of some sort, showing they were also affiliated with a ‘Black Greek’ organization. I think he later pledged “Phi Beta Sigma”.

There were two Black Greeks in my family. My eldest cousin who in Georgia pledged the sorority “Sigma Gamma Rho”, and my father was a member of one of the more prominent fraternities which is kept anonymous for everyone’s privacy. I interestingly have very little memory of him being active in his fraternity or regularly interacting with his ‘frat’ brothers. Later I found that there were reasons for this. I also later found out that this Black Greek world was in fact its own world within Black America.

Lawrence Otis Graham’s Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper-class periodically pops up in my writings. I read Member of The Club one summer, and then seeing him one night on Tavis Smiley’s show on BET debating Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, was a seminal moment for me. Highly criticized for celebrating America’s black upper-class. I It was an important work for me personally because it let those of us who didn’t grow up in that class know that it existed – something, as a black person, you encounter and must reconcile in cities like Washington, DC, where I now reside. These people were born into the upper-class through generational wealth and inheritances, while others climbed there through digging and sacrificing.

While the book discusses the afore mentioned black fraternities and sororities, it also describes other clubs, groups and organizations within this upper-class such as Jack and Jill, The Boule, and The Links. The book also points out that being in the black upper-class isn’t simply a matter a of having money, as the ‘black elite’ don’t necessarily accept ‘new money’ celebrity athletes and entertainers into their circles. Instead, there was a cultural aspect to their lives where individuals had to go to the ‘right’ schools and be a part of right clubs and families to be accepted. It might sound like a bit much to the outsider, but I find it all fascinating.

Why is this important? Well, as I discussed in my previous piece entitled, Who should or shouldn’t be in the African American History Museum?, there are numerous real divisions within the black race which are often overlooked. One of the big ones is social class. If you weren’t in the right circles in smaller cities like Buffalo, you didn’t really know debutantes and cotillions existed, or the opportunities offered through participation in them. Since ascending in education and living in Washington, DC where the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference takes place every year, and attending the affluent church that I attend, you can see the delineations in social class.

And as Rom Wills, whom I discussed above states, you often see it in the dating arena. Men and women in some instances pick each other based upon their educational and social pedigrees and backgrounds. Likewise, if you’re not from those types of families with certain types of training, it’s important to understand how to socially mingle and carry yourself in certain circles when those instances arise.

I’m going to close this by saying that I didn’t really have a concept of ‘economic class’ until my brother commented amongst our friends when we were younger that we were ‘lower middle class’. Economic class is typically delineated by household income, healthcare and overall quality of life. Both my parents were college educated, worked and I grew up in a house as opposed to the housing projects. We weren’t poor, but we also weren’t rich either and this does influence social class.

All of this is interesting to me because it suggests that we’re all different, despite being grouped together based upon skin color. It also explains much of what we see now in terms of variability in our personal natures, how we navigate the world, available opportunities for advancement and political agendas. We’re seeing many of these class divisions bubble to the surface now in politics. That said, skin color does factor in as well, and once you throw ‘Colorism’ into this discussion, this all gets further complicated.

What’s also fascinating is we aren’t restricted by our social or economic class and don’t necessarily stay in them. There are instances where individuals in the upper-social classes have affinities for individuals in the lower classes in terms of dating and friendships. Also, individuals who have ascended into higher economic classes in terms of salary may still have the behavioral inclinations and vices from those in the lower-classes.

In writing this post, I am in no way complaining about my upbringing as I’m very grateful for it. One cousin recently actually told me that both my brother and myself had ‘privilege’ that she didn’t have growing up. Again, keep in mind that we weren’t rich, and we were raised by a single parent most of the year. The take home message here is that there are also delineations in privilege within a race even though we tend to think of privilege solely in terms of white vs. black.

The opening quote for this piece came from chapter one of Our Kind of People – a fitting opening to this piece. I’m going to close by saying that social and economic class are real dynamics that affect everything from our quality of life, to dating/mating, to politics. These are just some of my thoughts on class. It’s something that I think we need to pay more attention to and acknowledge, and the sooner we do, I think the better off we’ll be.

The original title for this piece was, A Black History Month discussion about race in the black community. I shortened it because this a discussion that shouldn’t be restricted to one month. I want to thank Rom Wills and another YouTube content creator named “Black Gnostics Speaks” for their work, and for helping many of us who needed the teaching to become better and wiser men. Many of us didn’t understand the roles of social and economic class in our lives aside from the contexts of color, racism and prejudice.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:

Whose job is it to teach black history?
Who should and shouldn’t be in the African American History Museum and who shouldn’t?
Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris part one
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie: A story of wasted scientific potential

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Who should be in the African American History Museum and who shouldn’t?

“The white man ain’t the devil I promise, you want to see the devil, take a look at Clarence Thomas…….”

My second piece for Black History Month 2019 may emotionally ‘trigger’ some people, but once again, it’s a question worth asking and it falls under my principles of “Creative” and “Critical” thought. If you have a reaction, please respectfully leave a comment below and share your thoughts after you’ve read this piece. I got the idea to write this blog post shortly after my piece entitled, Whose job is it to teach Black History? The seeds for it were sewn one to two years ago though, shortly after the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened in Washington, DC.

I was perusing social media one day, Twitter perhaps, when a group discussed whether figures like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should have a place in the new museum. Dr. Ben Carson’s name may have come up too. It was an excellent and thought-provoking question. I can’t recall if anyone in that discussion felt that Justice Thomas deserved a place in the museum, but I can tell you that most people vehemently felt that he didn’t. I chose to simply be a ‘fly on the wall’ – like someone slipping into a college seminar, standing in the back momentarily and then stepping out after getting the gist of the discussion. The consensus in this group gave a fascinating insight into what being ‘black’ means in the United States in 2019.

Who should be in the National Museum of African American History and Culture and who shouldn’t? That depends on how complete you want history to be. What’s incredibly clear in 2019 is that while we as black people may be seen as one homogenous group by other races and ethnicities, we clearly aren’t. How do we differ? Well just pick the way that you want to slice us up.

Starting with politics, there are liberal blacks, conservative blacks, and independent blacks. There are black people who believe in Jesus Christ and who regularly attend some form of church, and there are black people who believe in Allah and worship at mosques. There are Black Jews and Hebrew Israelites. There are also atheists.

In terms of social class, there are ‘Old Guard’ upper-class black people. There are also middle- and lower-class black people. All three groups have distinct values and opinions of the other classes. There are numerous books just on class; two that come to mind are Our Kind of People, by Lawrence Otis Graham, and Code of The Streets, by Elijah Anderson.

You have ‘bougie’ black people, and ‘street’ black people. There are other black people don’t fall into either extreme, but instead lay somewhere in the middle. In the black ‘zeitgeist’, many of us, myself included, consider ourselves to be ‘other’.

Back to my original question, who should and shouldn’t be in the new African American History Museum? Of the many distinctions in the previous paragraph, the most polarizing may be that of liberal and conservative. Since the Civil Rights Era, the Democratic party has in large part been the party for black people. Right now, we’re seeing a bit of a shift in the landscape, but traditionally that’s how it’s been since I’ve been alive.

Likewise, the Republican party has been the party of racists who are perceived to not care anything about black people. We’re slowly seeing a shift there as well. In any case, any black person who has associated with the Republican party has been seen as being against the race and something ‘other’ than black.

Regarding the two figures I mentioned earlier in this piece, President George H.W. Bush’s filling of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s seat with Clarence Thomas was a seen as a blatant slap in the face not only on Justice Marshall’s legacy, but also towards black people in general. Dr. Ben Carson’s participation in the Trump administration has all but erased his brilliant career as a neurosurgeon, and his miraculous emergence from poverty in inner-city Detroit – to liberal black people that is.

I’ve only visited the new African American History Museum once since it’s opening, and I only got halfway through it. If you plan on going, I’d recommend planning to make multiple trips. Both Justice Thomas and Dr. Carson are in there which I think is the right thing to do. To not have them in there is to give an incomplete historical account. But that’s just me, and I don’t believe we should all think the same way as described in my piece about ‘Cooning’.

Your opinion about whether they and others like them should be in there will depend on whether you still consider them to be a part of the black race. That leads to the question of whether a person’s political affiliation and core beliefs dictates their level of blackness. I personally don’t think it does, but I’m just one person, and as of now, I’m not making decisions about whose history gets told in that museum.

The opening quote for this piece is a lyric from one hip hop artist KRS-One’s tracks. I think it’s from his self-titled album, or maybe “Return of the Boom-Bap”. I opened my last black history last piece with a rap lyric and decided to do it again. As mentioned in that piece, while our parents thought it was just noise, hip hop/rap music in the 1980s and 90s had many, many social and political messages. I personally learned a lot of black history from some of the artists.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris part one
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie
A review of Marvel’s Black Panther
A review of Hidden Figures
A review of All Eyez On Me

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Whose job is it to teach Black History?

“Marcus Garvey had the idea back in the day, doing for self, keeping the way……..”

One of the principles of my blog is Creative Thought and a key focus is Education. I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, and with Black History Month here, the time has come to put pen to paper, as they say. It’s a sensitive topic, and it may upset some readers, but I think that it’s a conversation worth having and a question worth asking. If you disagree with me here, that’s okay and it’s actually a good thing. Please leave a respectful comment below this piece. With that out of the way, let’s jump in.

Whose job is it to teach Black History? One of my most vivid memories of high school is my mother, and I believe other black parents, writing a letter to the Principal of my high school about a Black History Month program which he may have cancelled during my brother’s senior year. Around that time, and probably since, there was the sentiment that there needed to be more black history taught in the United States’ schools.

I always pondered this myself, and I wondered if this job should fall to our schools which in some instances are very, very diverse. My thoughts always settled on time and practicality. While the descendants of African slaves (my ancestors) were critical in the inception and then the construction of the United States, is there enough time during an eight to nine-month school year to cover every aspect of African American history? After all, the United States is now comprised of several races, ethnic groups and cultures.

As I’m getting older, I’m becoming more of a Marcus Garvey-type in that I believe that we as black people can and should do for ourselves as much as possible, and not look to other groups as much. Thus we should be responsible for passing down our own history, or at least clarifying, correcting, and supplementing what’s taught in the schools. In addition to the practicality of time described above, I have two other reasons.

One is that other races and ethnic groups seem to take the passing on of their culture and history into their own hands. As discussed in my second vlogcast on my new Big Discussions YouTube channel, when I was postdoctoral scientist at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, NY, I was in a lab that was 95% Chinese. Likewise, my advisor and his wife were from mainland China, and their two children were being raised as first generation United States citizens. In casual talk my advisor’s wife shared with me that both of their children attended a Chinese school on the weekends.

That meant that they wanted their children to learn the intricacies of their culture and history above and beyond what they were learning in their respective school systems. Other groups seem to do the same thing: Jewish people, Arabic people, etc. I’ve observed that Arabic communities continue to retain their customs from countries like Pakistan, for example, even while their children are born here in the United States and are ‘westernized’.

This does of course bring to light the paradox that we African Americans face in that we don’t have a culture besides that which we were born into here in the United States. Some of us argue to this day that the United States isn’t our true home. Others feel that using the qualifier ‘African’ in front of American is an insult for us, as we have every right to be here. White Americans are also seldom referred to as ‘Euro’ Americans.

My final reason for saying that we’re responsible for our own history is accuracy. After all, who would know our history better than us? Just like in the media, I think that he or she who controls the historical narratives, controls perceptions, personal identities, self-esteem, etc. Images matter and this is why the movie Hidden Figures was big deal for example. As a black scientist myself, I’m very passionate about shinning the light on our historic black scientists such as Percy Julian, and astronauts Dr. Ronald E. McNair and Lieutenant Colonel Michael P. Anderson.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the figures who is most synonymous with Black History Month. He is lionized and even romanticized these days and as we know, it wasn’t always that way. While we know that he was the figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement and that he opposed white racist elements in the south, what isn’t discussed is how he was perceived by other black people of his time in an open and transparent way.

A black elder from the “Baby Boomer” generation who grew up in the south, once shared with me that Dr. King had numerous black detractors as well, and there were in fact other black people who wanted to take his life. I was surprised to hear this revelation, as I’d never heard about it before. The same was true of Dr. King’s extramarital affairs which Dr. Michael Eric Dyson discussed in one of his books about Dr. King.

The point here is not to besmudge the great Dr. King, but instead to emphasize the importance of a balanced historical perspective – telling both the good and the bad. I suspect that generations from now, people will be unaware of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s disparaging comments about President Barrack Obama leading up to his historic election in 2008, and that they’ll only remember the picturesque scene of Reverend Jackson crying at Grant Park on election night 2017 shortly after Senator John McCain conceded.

I’m going to close by extending this world history. In my “Global Studies” courses back at Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY, I didn’t learn anything about “The Moors” – explorers and tradesmen from Africa who occupied Spain in the early 700s. I first heard about them from a friend from Buffalo who I’ll call “Kenny”, who was and is very, very passionate about African world history. We as African Americans probably could and should know more about mainland Africa beyond what we learn in class and see on the news and in the media – the good, the bad and the ugly.

When I look back at my youth, one woman comes to mind in terms of actively spreading black history beyond the jurisdiction of our schools. Back in my home city of Buffalo, NY, Ms. Eva Doyle was actually my very first science teacher in the second grade I believe. As I got older though I saw that she was very active and passionate about the teaching and spreading of black history. She became a fixture in our local black newspapers and in the community in general and continues her work today, setting an example for all of us.

These are just some of my thoughts on Black History Month, and I hope that I haven’t upset anyone. In a way it’s funny that it’s the shortest month of the year, but at the same time it’s something that we as black people should be learning throughout the year. In today’s digital age, we’re very fortunate that vast amounts of information are available online to us via a simple Google searches and via video platforms like YouTube. It wasn’t like this years ago.

The quote at the beginning of this piece is a lyric from the hip hop track “Black Star Line” by a group called “Brand Nubian” I listened to when I was a teen. It was from one of “Lord Jamar’s” verses. This track was based on Marcus Garvey. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s as opposed to modern times, hip hop and rap music had educational, social and political messages, and I learned quite a bit of black history from it. The visual at the beginning of this piece is from the 36th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration hosted by the Washington Inter-Alumni Council of the United Negro College Fund., which is regularly supported by my Johnson C. Smith University Washington DC Alumni Chapter.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink
A Black History Month reflection on Percy Julian
A Black History Month interview with Dr. Vernon Morris part one
A Black History Month look at West Indian Archie
A review of Marvel’s Black Panther
A review of Hidden Figures
A review of All Eyez On Me

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. I’ve recently started a YouTube channel, so please visit me at Big Discussions76. To receive all the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

A review of Marvel’s Black Panther

I’ve written numerous movie reviews on my blog. In the current review, I’m once again teaming up with my brother Amahl to discuss Marvel’s Black Panther. According to Yahoo, the film has already made an estimated $192 million over three days, putting it on track to surpass its $200 million production cost, and smash other box office records. Black Panther is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) latest offering leading us up to the Avengers: Infinity War Part One over the summer which will bring most of its characters back to the big screen, and will heavily involve the Black Panther himself and his home of Wakanda as seen in the theatrical trailer. In Marvel’s Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman returns to play the now King T’Challa/Black Panther along with an all-star cast including: Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Forrest Whitaker, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, and many others. The following are our thoughts on the movie.

Amahl Dunbar: I think Black Panther could’ve alternatively been called ‘Wakanda: Episode 1’, because the script seemed to describe the hero’s home country versus solely describing his individual journey as is the case in most comic book movies. In the Marvel Universe, the beautiful African country of Wakanda is a highly technologically, and politically sophisticated nation. The oligarchy, government, and military work in unison to resolve major issues and maintain cultural harmony though one principle; Wakanda must not be influenced by outside forces in the form of colonists and immigrants.

The way it was written, Black Panther is subtle in its social commentary, never talking down to the audience. Most social and political messages are done with a laugh or a wry smile. As a matter of fact, none of the elements in the movie were overdone. Recently in the genres of ‘Science Fiction’ and ‘Action’ movies, the final battles between the heroes, the boss villain, and the other villains, involve turning up the speaker volume in theaters, coupled with quick fight scene editing to extend scenes, making the audience believe they’re seeing more than what they’re actually seeing. Not in Black Panther. All of the action scenes down to each shot are purposeful and meaningful because screen time is precious to audiences who can easily get bored.

Again I think the strength of Black Panther was that Ryan Coogler’s production team took the approach of building a world around its hero versus focusing solely on the hero’s journey. I look forward to the Avengers: Infinity War Part One, plus Black Panther 2 and 3. Marvel’s next challenge will be finding a foe formidable enough for King T’Challa of Wakanda.

Anwar Dunbar: First I would like to acknowledge the Donna M. Saunders Foundation for Breast Cancer Education and Support for hosting a private screening of Black Panther at the AMC Hoffman 22 in Alexandria, Va. It was an amazing event. The foundation does a lot of great work in terms of helping breast cancer patients and their families. The foundation gave attendees numerous collectibles and surprises before the movie started including: Black Panther posters, comic books, and work books. Prior to the start of the movie the foundation also gave us an additional surprise – an introduction by author Jesse J. Holland who authored Who Is The Black Panther?, a novel about the Black Panther’s history. Mr. Holland signed copies of his book after the viewing of the movie.

Leading up to the its release, Black Panther was unique from the other films produced by the MCU in that it appealed to two different audiences. Featuring a mostly black cast and production crew, it created a buzz and drew viewers other than the usual Super Hero/Science Fiction ‘junkies’ like my brother and myself. One could argue that movie for Black America was actually a cultural event as much as it was a movie debut – a source of controversy leading up to its release. The excitement leading up to film was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and was the result of brilliant marketing by Disney and Marvel who strategically scheduled Black Panther’s release during Black History Month.

In terms of my review of the movie, I have to admit that growing up reading mostly DC Comics, I didn’t know that there was a Black Panther character in the Marvel Universe. Five years ago, a friend mentioned that Black Panther was going to get his own movie which was my first time hearing about the character. My first time actually seeing the character in action was in Captain America: Civil War almost two years ago. Coincidentally, consistent with the MCU’s seamless storytelling, Black Panther picks up where we left off in Civil War where T’Challa was trying to avenge the death of his father T’Chaka whose decisions as a younger king to protect Wakanda, drive the plot and story throughout the current movie.

The movie was amazing in terms its acting, action and visuals, but what stood out to me most were the messages in it. As I stated on Twitter shortly after seeing it, it wasn’t the typical light-hearted action adventure with a teachable moment like the MCU’s other movies. It had definite political and social commentaries/messages built into its script which actually had me pondering things like: economics, foreign policy, and immigration as I was watching the film. In addition to having a mostly black cast, there was a strong female presence in terms of Wakanda’s military and scientific innovations. Shuri played by Letitia Wright turned out to be my favorite character.

Similar to some of the other reviews I’ve heard and read, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther didn’t feel as though it was completely about T’Challa/Black Panther. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger also commanded the screen in a very significant way, and actually won the sympathies of many in the audience. I look forward sequels to Black Panther and also seeing how Wakanda factors into the Avengers: Infinity War. Based upon the trailer, there is going to be a huge battle involving Black Panther and his home of Wakanda. I’ll give Black Panther an –A on the basis that it didn’t dovetail back into the MCU’s overall story arc in the same ways the other movies did – perhaps due to the fact that Wakanda is an isolationist society in terms of its story. That said I will see it multiple times, and purchase a copy when it’s released on Blue Ray and DVD.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review. If you enjoyed this review, you might also enjoy:

A review of Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War Part One
A review of All Eyez on Me
A review of Hidden Figures
A review of Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok
A review of Marvel’s Spider Man: Homecoming
A review of Marvel’s Dr. Strange

Our Twitter handles are @amahldunbar and @BWArePowerful. If you liked this review, please do click the “like” button, leave comments, and share it. Please visit my YouTube channel entitled, Big Discussions76. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right- hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add the link to my RSS feed to your feedreader. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in class, household income, wealth and privilege

“It seems to me that in general white people are content to eat soup and sandwiches if it means buying a house instead of having the latest fashions, and driving the fanciest car.”

First of all, I hope the opening quote didn’t offend you. It was a part of an actual discussion with my father – one of many, and you’ll see its relevance later on. The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success” which in short means showing others how to be successful, keeping in mind that what’s considered successful varies from person to person. The second piece I published on the Examiner titled, Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in academic achievement, revisited one of my earliest lessons about academic success. In short, my father pointed out that academic success was merely a function of priorities and time invested, not the inherent ability or genetics of a particular race – something which helped me become a stronger student later on.

With two other principles of my blog being “The Teaching of Financial Literacy/Wealth Building”, and “Long-term thought”, I’ve crafted a similar piece discussing how our ideas and misconceptions shape our financial lives, and how we see the financial lives and privileges of other ethnic groups/races. Relatively recent data shows that while black families still have half the average median income/net worth of white families, Asian families seem to have caught up to those same white families and have even surpassed them. As a black man myself, I’ve wondered if Black-Americans should look around at all of the other ethnic groups in the United States, as opposed to solely focusing on White-Americans, in terms of financial success and all that comes with it.

* * *

“All of that state and federal money is going to those white folks. The black folks aren’t getting anything.” I’ve heard these and similar discussions frequently growing up during holiday dinners, and even today from my elders in my mother’s generation when discussing current events in my home city of Buffalo, N.Y. For some, Buffalo is a segregated, “non-progressive” city as described in the story of my blog, and it forever shaped the outlook of my mother and her peers.

Actually, many discussions with my father, who is from Harlem, were also peppered with broad brush discussions of “white people”, “them”, or “they” in unflattering ways – usually about the oppression of black people, and white people having unfair competitive advantages in life. The opening quote of this post was from a discussion he and I had about spending habits and race. Are my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles racists? No, I don’t think they think black people are superior to other races, but they did experience segregation and Jim Crow causing a residual level pain, a distrust of white people, and arguably some bigotry of their own. Yes, even if only to a small degree, I do think black people can also be bigoted.

In hindsight, we never discussed how or what Arabs, Asians, and Hispanics were doing – only white people. We knew that most of the stores in our neighborhoods were owned by other ethnic groups, but we mostly talked about the, “white folks.” It was a singular focus which compared black and white, mostly talking about black people being disadvantaged and powerless. It seldom, if ever, came up that there were multiple classes of black people – some which were winning in life, had been doing so for a long time, and had some privilege of their own.

There were, in fact, affluent and privileged black people, though my family didn’t affiliate with them much. It wasn’t until I went off to college that I started to see that there were alternate realities. Lawrence Otis Graham’s Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper-class periodically pops up in my writings. Highly criticized for celebrating America’s black upper-class, it was an important work for me personally because it let those of us who didn’t grow up in that class know that it existed – something as a black person you encounter and must reconcile in cities like Washington, DC, where I now reside. Some of these people were born into the upper class through generational wealth and inheritances, while others climbed there through digging in, sacrificing, and doing some things that other ethnic groups had done – things that were considered in some circles to be “white.” The children of these black families had privileges I didn’t have.

* * *

“The person who wrote this, are they white?” my godson asked me.

As described in my post titled, We should have bought Facebook and Bitcoin Stock, a mentor gave me a copy of the book How to Turn $100 into $1,000,000: Earn, Invest and Save. I started giving copies of the book to the younger people in my circle so that they could have a head start on some of the important concepts I only started learning in my late twenties – “Compounding Interest” for example, covered in Chapter 8. One of the lucky recipients was my godson.

I had just read a passage to him from the end of the book. The subsection was titled, “You made a million dollars? Great. Now Zip it”. The section warned against, “playing the high roller to impress people,” which could, “make you look like a fool” and, “invite theft.” I didn’t anticipate his question, but it was very telling about my godson’s world view – a teachable moment which I’ll return to with him in the future.

After asking him about his question, he told me that the passage I read to him sounded like a, “white way of thinking.” I first told him that it seemed that at 14 years of age, he’d started recognizing that there were differences in the value systems of different ethnic and racial groups – in this instance black people vs. white people. In terms of values, our people are known for frivolously spending their resources, flaunting their wares (many only depreciating) – signaling to one another as described by Dr. Boyce Watkins. I then cautioned my godson that not all white people are wealthy and that some were in fact poor. There were also some black people who were wealthy from things other than athletics and entertainment.

What was my godson growing up seeing in Prince Georges County, Md., the wealthiest black county in the United States? I’ll just say that earlier that day, I watched as many of the people at his house gushed over his blue and white Air Jordans – the ones with the shiny colored toes. They were enamored with name brand sneakers, clothing, and other symbols of money and perceived power – again many which only depreciate in value. I’ll stop there. In short, the values he was experiencing daily didn’t dictate keeping any material prosperity he would achieve quiet as it was a white way of thinking.

* * *

I first thought about Asian-American wealth last year when someone on Twitter shared an infographic stating that Asian-American wealth has steadily grown, while their voter participation had stagnated. The point of the tweet was that while Black-America has been one of the more vocal groups during elections, and in civil rights/social justice arenas, we haven’t significantly closed the wealth gap with White-America (as a group). The implication of the tweet was that black people as a group were focusing on the wrong things.

I found some interesting data in a report by the Pew Research Center titled On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites are Worlds Apart. While the report mostly compared black people and white people, it also included some data on Asians and Hispanics. I’ll start with the figure titled “Whites are more likely than blacks to have a college degree”. It showed that 36% more white U.S. adults ages 25 and up had college degrees versus 23% of blacks in 2015. Interestingly 53% of Asians-Americans had college degrees – a greater number than whites.

A subsequent figure titled “Racial gaps in household income persist” showed that in 2015, blacks and Hispanics had median adjusted average household incomes of roughly $43,000. Whites had a median adjusted household income of $71,000, and surprisingly Asian-Americans had a median adjusted household income of $77,900. According to the report, Asian income has been on par or exceeded White income since 1987. Asian-Americans weren’t tracked in the report prior to 1987 so it’s not clear where exactly they started as a group. The gap between blacks and whites has steadily widened since the 1970s.

The figure titled “Blacks are twice as likely as whites to be poor, despite the narrowing of the poverty gap” showed that in 2014 the percentages of blacks and Hispanics in poverty was double that of whites and Asians. The next figure showed that whites have 13-times more wealth (net worth) than blacks in terms of household – $144,200 versus $11,200 for blacks. No data were presented on Asian-Americans. The figure titled “Homeownership is more common among whites than any other racial group” showed that whites led in homeownership, followed by Asians and then Hispanics and then blacks. Further data showed that blacks led in unemployment, versus the other three groups. Lastly blacks led in non-marital births, children under 18 living in single-parent households, and finally declining rates of marriage.

There was an interesting 2014 article from CNBC, written by Hailey Lee titled, How Asian- Americans are transforming the face of U.S. wealth. The article cited data from the Federal Reserve showing that Asian-American wealth had changed dramatically since 1989, growing to 70% of that of whites – $91,440 vs. $134,088. A subsection of the article titled “What came first: Wealth or education?” discussed whether or not the increased attainment of education could account for this gain in wealth.

The article stated that, “In 2013, 73% of Asians aged 35-39 held a degree beyond high school. That percentage was 54% for whites, 36% percent for blacks, and 23% for Hispanics. The disparities grow when looking at individuals with at least a four-year college degree: 65 % (Asian), 42 % (white), 26 % (black), and 16 % (Hispanic).”

In the section titled, “The wealth effect”, the article further stated that, “When Charles Emmons narrowed the data set to examine Asians younger than 62, both levels of median income and median wealth surpassed whites. This implies that younger Asians tend to be financially stronger than older Asians. And older Asians compared to their white counterparts, are weaker financially.”

“There’s a huge population of hardworking, educated Chinese who look to the U.S. for real estate investment,” said Elizabeth Schwartz in the Washington Post’s article titled Wealthy Chinese buyers are a growing force in U.S. real estate markets. “But they come to this market (New York City) not with money to just throw around, but rather to make informed, well-reasoned investment choices.” I looked up this article because I’d heard in recent years that there were lots of foreign investors buying up U.S. real estate in the aftermath of the great recession. One of the most prominent groups being Chinese Nationals whose average home price in 2015 was $831,800 compared with $499,600 for all other international buyers according to the Rosen Consulting Group.

* * *

So, what does all this data mean? First, as Black-Americans our measuring stick is often White- America, but the data out there suggest that the time has come to start looking around and tracking other ethnic groups, and inquiring about how they’ve gotten to where they are in such relatively short periods of time. In my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y for example, on the eastside where I grew up, none of the stores are owned by the black people who live there. The owners are from the Middle East, and they’re able to effectively run their businesses and coordinate with one another – all while growing steadily wealthier.

I didn’t know that Asian-Americans had made such strides in income/wealth. With all of the talk about white wealth and privilege, I thought whites would have been the leaders in these areas. As described in my Challenging Stereotypes and misconceptions post, Asians are perceived as an extremely hardworking group. Malcolm Gladwell dedicated a whole chapter to their work ethic in Outliers. Their attainment of college degrees in comparison to other ethnic groups is noteworthy, but it’s also important to consider what their degrees are in – probably the STEM fields.

They also seem to be very entrepreneurial, and I’m not speaking exclusively about their restaurants. Again, if you look in many black communities you also see an abundance of beauty supply and nail shops. Lastly their spending habits and marital rates are probably also important factors.

In closing, stereotypes and misconceptions are very dangerous in that they can enforce false narratives and world views. Those false narratives and views can lead whole groups of people in the wrong direction over long periods of time, setting them back for generations. Lastly, they can create false targets and goals to emulate and pursue – hence the power of political groups and the media.

Thank you for taking time out to read this blog post. If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in academic achievement
Your net worth, gross salary, and what they mean
We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story
The differences between being cheap and frugal
Mother’s day 2017: One of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
Father’s day 2017: Reflections on some of dad’s money and life lessons

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