This Week in Race: Angela Davis, Gerald Boyd & The Black Class Divide

Is there such a thing as the Black “community” anymore? To what extent has the Black middle class abandoned poor blacks? How do the black middle class still get treated in America despite their efforts to rise above racism?

This week there were several news articles that asked these questions. Forty some odd years after the Civil Rights/Black Power Movement was violently dismantled, 35 years after the flood of heroin into black communities, 25 years after the begininng of AIDS and crack, mass imprisonment, and urban renewal (aka Negro removal aka gentrification), black Americ is seemingly beginning to shake off the whirlpool of disasters in order to figure out what has happened over the last 40 years.

In a November 8 interview with the UK Guardian, Black feminist scholar and activist Angela Y. Davis told (my favorite journalist) Gary Younge about her perceptions of what is happening today (and I recommend the entire article, her perspective is pretty damn sharp about everything from Condoleezza Rice to Barack Obama to prisons).

“We used to think there was a black community. It was always heterogenous but we were always able to imagine ourselves as part of that community. I would go so far as to say that many middle-class black people have internalised the same racist attitudes to working-class black people as white people have of the black criminal. The young black man with the sagging pants walking down the street is understood as a threat by the black middle class as well. So I don’t think it’s possible to mobilise black communities in the way it was in the past.”

Speaking of the black middle class, New York Magazine has a feature profile of the late former NY Times Managing Editor Gerald Boyd. Boyd loved the news. And he worked his way up the newspaper chain as a boy from St. Louis all the way to the world’s most prestigious daily. But that didn’t spare him when they needed a fall guy for the Jayson Blair affair.

Not to say that a senior staff such as Boyd and his former friend colleague Harold Raines didn’t bear some responsibility for the letting so many fabricated stories by the young journalist go to print without ever catching it. But it was the fact that it was pinned on him, simply by the fact that he MUST be giving Blair some sort of break because he was black, or that they were even friends or colleagues because they were both Black. Absurd. As it turns out, the two apparently didn’t really even like each other. However, New York Magazine retraces the life of a man who tried so hard to swallow the bitter pill of racism in order to overcome it, to only be poisoned by it at the end.

“…Boyd, too, was trapped by the silence of race. At an awkward “group therapy” session at Behr’s home on the Upper West Side, he revealed that he’d worn a dashiki at college—and the sharing stopped there. (“How racism hurt Gerald was not a comfortable subject to Gerald,” Behr said.) And he was deflated when a female reporter blurted, “Gerald, you make me feel very white.”

After fourteen stories on page one, the team hit the lecture and talk-show circuit. Suddenly, Boyd had license to vent the frustrations he’d smothered inside his tight Windsor knot. Race was “the American nightmare,” he said. Black people gave it so much weight “that you can’t be yourself, you have to try to figure out how whites want you to be. And it doesn’t change based on how much success you have.”

In a roundtable published in the Times Magazine, he was eerily prescient: “Race is out there, time and time again. And if you’re not careful, it’s going to reach out and slap you and knock you down in some way, and you’ll never be able to get up from it.”

Davis and Boyd both point to the conundrums of blackness in the US. They represent and express what seem to be growing tensions and anxieties in the black community, as exhibited by two recent studies.

The Pew Center just released results from a survey showing “African Americans see a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks, and nearly four-in-ten say that because of the diversity within their community, blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race.”

The survey also finds blacks less upbeat about the state of black progress now than at any time since 1983. Looking backward, just one-in-five blacks say things are better for blacks now than they were five years ago. Looking ahead, fewer than half of all blacks (44%) say they think life for blacks will get better in the future, down from the 57% who said so in a 1986 survey.

Whites have a different perspective. While they, too, have grown less sanguine about black progress, they are nearly twice as likely as blacks to see black gains in the past five years. Also, a majority of whites (56%) say life for blacks in this country will get better in the future.

What I don’t understand is the issue of how blacks van’t be thought of as a single race. Do they perhaps mean a singular culture? The two words have very distinct meanings. The Washington Post reported on another study by the Pew Charitable Trusts on economic acheivement of Americans, and the data on African-Americans over the last 40 years has worsened.

Nearly half of African Americans born to middle-income parents in the late 1960s plunged into poverty or near-poverty as adults, according to a new study — a perplexing finding that analysts say highlights the fragile nature of middle-class life for many African Americans.

Overall, family incomes have risen for both blacks and whites over the past three decades. But in a society where the privileges of class and income most often perpetuate themselves from generation to generation, black Americans have had more difficulty than whites in transmitting those benefits to their children.


Forty-five percent of black children whose parents were solidly middle class in 1968 — a stratum with a median income of $55,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars — grew up to be among the lowest fifth of the nation’s earners, with a median family income of $23,100. Only 16 percent of whites experienced similar downward mobility. At the same time, 48 percent of black children whose parents were in an economic bracket with a median family income of $41,700 sank into the lowest income group.

2 thoughts on “This Week in Race: Angela Davis, Gerald Boyd & The Black Class Divide

  1. Pingback: Obama Series #1: Exploring The Barack Obama Movement « Kenyon Farrow

  2. Pingback: Middle Class? I Aint Heard Of That! | PimpHop Lifestyle Magazine

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