I posted this a while back but thought after recent developments it would be of interest to jump start this conversation. A very good friend of mine contends that I am a bit confusing in that I am a conservative dresser, teach in a conservative school (my 2nd one), and address life outside of academic and social matters in a conservative way; yet, my intellectual appeal is that of a liberal frustrated by de facto constructs of the privileged who mask social and economic matters from a simplistic point of view. But, as I note below — race is not the factor so much as class. The contention that blacks are liberal is no longer true. However, black academic types regardless of income tend to stay towards the left on social and economic issues. Below I address this matter and that of race and privilege as it relates to my lower class up bringing, as well as my white middle class educational experience ala attending a private school on nothing but aid.
E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie was more prophetic than many realized. Frazier, who addressed the burgeoning black middle class, expressed concern about the intra-class conflict vis-a-vis socioeconomic status of black folks. Frazier notes that the black middle class was in a rush by the 1960s to assimilate. During the Harlem Renaissance, even W.E.B. Du Bois “strategically included white judges on panels for their black literary competitions, in hopes that white approval would add luster to black achievements.” This shift that occurred was not a mass or universal one. The black middle class was still small and would not be catapulted until after the advent of Affirmative Action.
The debate over true liberalism among blacks still exist. I have found the upper black middle class to be far more conservative and less active towards civil rights and social policy of late. I am concerned that the black bourgeoisie is willing to shift its focus away from the liberalism that put them in their position for racial acceptance. I believe integration is vital to a liberal society as noted by my neighborhood, friends, and place of employment; however, I do not think the black middle class should play the conservative card that carries with it values, attitudes, and behaviors that do not represent progress for all minority groups. Sure 90% of blacks vote in a solid block for the Democratic Party, but that block is not as tight as it used to be.
Here are a few observations about the thinking of the black middle class:
- Homophobia and anti-gay attitudes are pervasive as seen by the fact that many black Americans are anti-gay marriage
- Affirmative action policies, though it helped many ascend to middle class status, are no longer needed
- Black politicians are needed to protect the economic status of the black middle class, not to speak about social justice
- Black liberals have no focus and can no longer speak for the burgeoning black middle class
- Intra racism has long been the standard among blacks of different shades of blackness
- Academic underachievement is the result of the black home, not institutional problems such as racism dating back to Jim Crow
- Poverty is a problem that should be addressed by local communities and not the federal government ala taxes and welfar
As for Uncle Tom, I found myself reading a few chapters in Dinesh D’ Souza’s book The End of Racism. According to the book’s cover,
D’Souza challenges deeply held orthodoxies about race and racism in America. Was slavery a racist institution? Is America a racist society? Is Eurocentrism a racist concept? Can African Americans be racist? D’Souza argues that the liberal crusade against racism is detrimental to both blacks and whites, and that our next step must be to eliminate race as the basis for identity and public policy.
D’Souza, from what little I have read of this book, argues against not only affirmative action, but social and economic reforms that have been used to help poor minorities. In chapter 12 of the book, he discusses what is often termed the Uncle Tom dilemma. If you were to ask any black person about the term Uncle Tom, he or she depending on education is likely to say that an Uncle Tom is a black person who acts white. Furthermore, this person might claim to evidence that a black person who speaks well is only doing so because he/she has a desire to be just like white folks. It has been a long time since I have been called an Uncle Tom. I grew up in a rough black neighborhood for a while, but was given an opportunity to attend a private school with practically an all white demographic. Often I played the language card so that I would not lose any of my friends; it was easy to use poor grammar when speaking due to my audience outside of my all white private school confines. However, I did not fool people. It was clear that I did not fit in at home or at times on campus. I think this is why smart black students pretend to be dumb. They do it out of fear of being rejected by their black peers.
It is very odd if not unheard of to hear a white person call a black person an Uncle Tom. The last time I was called this term, I politely asked that person if he had ever read the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. After he said no, I went on to give him a brief lecture on the work I read back in middle school: Essentially, a white woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe took it upon herself to research the treatment and condition of southern blacks. While doing so, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed; it required northerners to return all runaway slaves to their masters. Keep in mind that blacks were nothing more than property, though the Constitution did not define blacks in this category until the 1857 Dread Scott case.
In her work, she wrote about a slave named Tom who was so trusted by his master, that he was often sent on long independent trips to conduct business. Modern day black folks became very critical of Stowe’s character Tom. Why would a black man who was nothing more than a slave be so loyal to his white master? Some speculate that Tom desired to transform himself into a better place; a white place where he was like those who abused other blacks. By 1960 the term Uncle Tom had a place among the vanguard of black intellectuals. By this point, with the civil rights movement underway, and a number of blacks graduating from historically black colleges, there was no longer a need to be like white people. Blacks proved that they were far superior. Thus, it is here that we see the heightened sense of black on black racism. As is the case today, black folks are expected to serve their own communities. People such as myself are often questioned for working in a place that does not serve the needs of the black community. Black people who prefer white lawyers, white bankers, white dentists are seen as Uncle Toms. Dating back to the days of Booker T. Washington, he argued that if black people do not visit and help black professionals, who will.
With the black bourgeoisie emerging from the status of proletarian, you find more and more black people crossing the racial divide. This does not mean the end of racism is here. D’Souza is actually promulgating racism by claiming that we can move toward a color blind society. I find such a statement to be racist.