Middle Class Black People: We Gotta Unpack Our Shit

I think it’s time for middle class black people to have a coming to Jesus moment. We have a lot of unmentioned classism deeply embedded in us and it needs to be discussed.

The only thing worse than being poor in America, is being poor & black.

I want to preface this by stating that I have been a middle class black American my entire life. I’ve never lived in poverty, I’ve never worried about where my next meal was coming from. I’ve always had a roof over my head and lived in relatively safe neighborhoods. I’ve always had access to healthcare, I had a quality education as a child, and I’ve received help from my parents and grandparents in my adult life. So, this does not exclude me. I’ve been complicit in the inherent hate for poor black people that is rampant amongst middle class black people. I’m calling ALL OF US out!

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I’m gonna say what most black people won’t admit: We base our success and worth on our proximity to whiteness, and that’s why we hate poor black people, because aesthetically they don’t fit that picture of affluence. They resemble the racist stereotypical picture that white people paint for all black people, and we resent poor black people for that.

I wouldn’t say that we hate ourselves, but we hate the idea of blackness being rooted in poverty, illiteracy, crime, broken families, drugs, incarceration, etc. So, we other ourselves from black people who are associated with any of the above, and 9 times out of 10, those black people that we try so hard to distance ourselves from are poor or at the very least poorer than us. The problem with othering yourself from your own people is that eventually you begin to think that there is an inherent difference between you and them, and there is not. There is not one black person in this country who hasn’t been poor, or doesn’t have poor family members.

They are us and we are them, ain’t no difference bih.

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Also, a lot of middle class black people are poor their damn selves and living paycheck to paycheck, one medical emergency or natural disaster and we would be thrust into situational poverty. So, the idea that we as middle class black people are any different from poor black people is bullshit. It’s also anchored in white supremacy.

It is just another way to classify us, instead of field niggas and house niggas, we are rich, stable, and poor, the principles are still the same. They are still defining us, only now we are buying into it. We’re doing the work for them.

As I stated in my blog post about black capitalism –>Read it here<– we cannot bargain for liberation by mimicking oppressive systems that adversely affect us collectively. Middle class black people are classist as fuck, and classism in general adversely affects black people especially. It affects black women especially. It affects the black LGBTQ community ESPECIALLY. (so on and so on) So perpetuating the exact same system that adversely affects all of us on our own people just because they have less than we do is counterproductive.

The same could be said for upper class black people, but the reason I’m going so hard on middle class black people is because in any caste system, the complicity of the middle class is deathly. The system was designed to give the middle class someone to aspire to and someone to look down on. We will give anything to be rich but we don’t want to be poor, and we ignore the fact that poor black people don’t want to be poor either. Poor black people are not poor by choice, they are not poor because they are lazy, they are not poor because they are uneducated. They are poor by design and it could’ve just as easily been any of us. 

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These aren’t complete strangers (not that it would be better if they were) these are our people, these are our extended families, the extended families of our friends, these are our people and they experience the worst kind of racism, and we hate them

By hating them, we reinforce the racist idea that black people are by default, poor, criminals, uneducated, violent, on drugs, living in government housing, etc., and that any black person outside of that realm is an exception to the rule. That is harmful to all black people and as the complicit class, when we aspire to be like the bourgeoisie while simultaneously disparaging the poor, we set our entire community back and reinforce the racist principles that classified us in the first place. That’s why we need to unpack our shit! It has resulted in this need to hate everything about poor black people, when it’s not their fault in the first place.

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Poor black people are not poor by choice, they are not poor because they’re lazy, they are not poor because they are uneducated. They are poor by design and it could’ve just as easily been us.

The perpetual cycle of poorness is systemic it is institutional, and ignoring that reinforces yet another harmful idea, that I think bears repeating on almost a daily basis: what we have is not (solely) a result of our hard work, it is (largely) a result of the nation, neighborhood, family, and skin that we were born into. I will even go as far to say that luck, circumstance, and favor (whatever that means for you) also plays a huge role as well. All of those categories play a huge role in the trajectory of anybody’s life. It’s worth it to be reminded of this, because we often equate our work to our accomplishments ignoring the circumstance of our birth. Putting a false value on our work forces us to think that we inherently deserve the good that happens to us and makes it easier to believe that others inherently deserve the bad that happens to them. Yet another effective tool for middle class to remain willfully dense to the harms of an active caste system.

A caste system, fueled by white supremacy and perpetuated both by white people AND by us.

Our hard work did not solely provide us with what we have. In the context of hard work & rewards, none of us inherently deserve what we have. We have no right to believe that other Black Americans inherently deserve to go without or be in a state of destitute, while willfully ignoring the family, skin, and neighborhood that they were born into. The truth is, that could’ve been any of us, and it could still become us. We must be mindful of that.

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Instead of acknowledging the fact that there is a system working against all black people that has created a perpetual state of poorness. We equate what we have to our “work” or our ability to work & then disparage poor black people for not having as much as us because they did not do as we have done. We ignore all nuance of the subject & use their poorness against them and now we hate them.

The idea of valuing work as a determinant of our “success” is also by design. Black Americans being valued for their work or ability to work is deeply rooted in racism. Our exploited labor built this country and sustains it’s wealth via capitalism. We value our work and ability to work because we were socialized to do so. We don’t have the space to be lazy or to “figure shit out” we teach our children from the time they’re born about finding honor in hard work. It’s divisive. It is a general consensus that all black people understand that we have to work twice as hard to get half as much as white people in this country, so how can we still consciously equate work to success? It is illogical. If we have to work TWICE as hard to get half, then that should tell us that work within itself, (especially our work) ain’t worth shit. Yet somehow, we still push the idea that poor black people should save their money to get out of poverty, or work several jobs, or not go out to eat, not by Jordan’s,…willfully dense. But why?

Because we as black people base our success on our proximity to whiteness. We gauge success on whiteness, because we still govern our families and communities on white supremacist ideologies that we have internalized and romanticized. It’s ok to admit that, in fact we have to because whiteness is the symbol of success in America, which is why we have to work twice as hard to get half as much. Admitting that will force us to approach discussions about poor black people with decorum, and effectively work together to combat the issues within our community. We have to admit the unpopular truths, we have to do the work if we want to see any kind of long term change.

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As a middle class, Black American, I had to admit that I had a disdain towards impoverished Black Americans. I had to stop othering myself from my people just because I have more than them. I had to look at my family, neighborhood, friends, associates, income, everything. I had to be introspective about my role as a middle class Black American, and that included how I perceived my proximity to whiteness, or lack thereof.

Whether you do or don’t value yourself as a black person based on your proximity to whiteness does not mean that other black people don’t, so this conversation is a must either way. The way we set up our lives, how we determine the best neighborhoods to live in, schools to attend and send our children to, jobs, mates, everything must be weighed on how we perceive that in proximity to whiteness. Then we have to go a step forward to find out why, get into the systems and powers that force us to define our black personhood in this manner. We have to explore how we as black people are socialized and how we internalize oppressive norms and perpetuate them onto our own people. This shit isn’t as cut and dry as it seems, and this is all surface level there’s much more to it, but if we can’t do anything else, we can at least START the conversation.

I don’t blame poor black people for being poor, I don’t equate my success to my proximity to whiteness, but it took a lot of unlearning. I’m still unlearning. That’s the point of this blog, to start the conversation, to keep us from getting off track. I believe in my people enough to risk saying the shit nobody wants to hear let alone admit. Let’s push the needle forward.

We gotta unpack our shit!

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