• What is the Black Middle Class

    by  • September 11, 2012 • Contributors

    An article published by Salon.com and written by Stephen Gray, “Can the black middle class survive” is Gray’s somewhat self examination of race and his experiences at Time Magazine as well as a very brief description of his living in Detroit and Washington D. C.  Gray asks, but does not answer, a very good question. As the article progresses the reader gets the impression that a descriptive reason exists. There are data points added to support some of the demographics statistics and perhaps to backup the authors reasoning. However the question initiated is never really answered. At the articles conclusion the reader is left with a desire for more. Not because of the subjects presentation or the well written approach but because the article raises more important questions which may have escaped Gray, being the real source for him questioning his own ability and his existence in his career.

    Gray describes, briefly what it’s like to work at a major publisher as a Black man in America. His experience is not unique. His seems to understand this and has intertwined encounters with others as a sort of lifetime survey of surviving while Black at companies that are not Black owned. He describes an encounter with some Detroit Black middle class members who were embarrassed by the content of his writings. The true embarrassment are instead shortened anecdotes of his where he is told how to fit in or how to be a Black man in a White world. If Gray or anyone must be dishonest about themselves to be employable then what is the true value and true nature of their employment?

    Could Gray have written on his own experiences, honestly, and skipped the story of the rise and fall of Detroit’s middle class? Time Magazine purchased a home in Detroit and hired Gray to document Detroit’s Black community. From what Gray describes it makes this assignment seem like a study of animals at the zoo. If Time is as Gray portrays then it fits into a view common among those who live in the category of racists or in the least those who allow racist to thrive. Perhaps this explains the rampant racism allowed against a siting president and the hostility from what should be respected corporations. These corporations pay people who spout racist rhetoric and none of the other media corporate entities criticize this unwarranted hostility. This may explain why politics is growing more divided. The corporations may be pushing for a divide and thus pushing this country apart.

    Detroit has supposedly undergone the beginnings of a transformation. This is supposed to grow the city, increase the chances for prosperity and like a reboot process on a computer, allow the city to start over. There are people in Detroit who believe this rhetoric. They believe that the past can be forgotten and the future can be scripted, leaving out those things that are too unpleasant to touch. The discussions of a Black middle class mirrors this thought process. This is not something started or invented by Gray, he was just the guy at the time who was picked to write the stories. The Black middle class exists on top of those who are not in the middle class. The patients, clients and those who receive the bulk of government services are Blacks who can not afford the lifestyle of those in the Black middle class. What is never mentioned, and is left out of this article by Gray, is that the Black middle class is and has always been separated from the American middle class as a whole. Racism in this country is not dead and the embarrassment by Gray’s writing subjects is there fear of being outed as not being part of the middle class and instead being part of the Black community. This is the story of Detroit. A desire to either run away from the Black community or the fight to keep the Black community at the for front.

    Gray provides a statistic regarding household wealth. The average wealth in the Black community is under $6,000 while in the White community its over $100,000. This story and discussion of a middle class is irrelevant. It’s been invented by those who wish to reboot the discussion on race. There are those, like the owners of Time Magazine and many other corporate media companies who want to write the story of how Obama’s presidency marks the end of a need for affirmative action, voting rights laws and the existence of racism. The ugly past of this country and it’s lingering effects are still ignored and whitewashed by the media. Gray does not offer an apology on behalf of Time but he definitely let’s them off easy. In Detroit, like other cities across the country of any ethnic type, the statistics above defines the problems those communities face. If Detroit’s Black community had just thirty percent of wealth versus the White community, Detroit would have huge surpluses and other great advantages that is not available today.

    Gray’s article appears like a self help exercise. He at some point understands what is meant to be Black in America. Not that it appears that he ever doubted racism, but it seems as though he thought he was immune. That it seems is the true story regarding what is called the Black middle class. The stated embarrassment from his encounters in Detroit is more of a reluctance of association with those things that are criticized by the media regarding the Black community. In Detroit in the desire to create the rebirth, those who criticize the process are those who are victimized by the process. In Detroit those not in the middle class are asked to pay higher taxes to provide funding for this rebirth. Those who complain are called obstructions. The majority of the obstructionists are Black and not part of the middle class. The attempt to push through what is called reform is accompanied by attempts to divide the Black community along what is also an attempt to classify class status.

    The middle class and the Black community are two different things. In Gray’s article he notes how easily those who are supposed to be part of the Black middle class are one missed paycheck away from falling below this magic number. Typically this predicament would define existence below the middle class. Household wealth is no longer it seems part of the definition. The wages earned it seems is now the sole status discriminate factor. But how can those who have on average about $5,000 to their name include a substantial number of persons in a middle class designation? Community wealth increases as a whole. Black households typically exist only within a Black community. The poverty that exists affects everyone. In this country a class system has never truly existed. There is not a true ecosystem setup to cater to separate class designations. Therefore how can a Black middle class exists outside and away from the Black community? If Gray and others like him wish to believe what they write regarding the Black community they should proceed from a realistic starting position. There never has been true Black middle class. The wealth never reached the point of self sustainability as it exists in other communities. The gains fought for and achieved by persons such as Malcolm X and Dr. King were to gain the ability to achieve success by self sustaining achievement. Prior to the civil rights era, government held back and worked against the Black community. Afterwards most of the largest cities gained a Black mayor, with Detroit the only city to enjoy a continuously elected Black mayor since. Today too many in the Black community buy into the argument as does Gray in his writing, that there are differences within the Black community that include different goals. This is not so, the same goals exist for all, those of survivability, self sustainment and eventual advancement. The argument is not whether the Black middle class can survive but can the Black community. Is this a question that Gray or Tavis or anyone are willing to face?

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