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

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