The black elite in the South of the United States started forming before the American Civil War among free blacks who managed to acquire property. Of the free people of color in North Carolina in the censuses from 1790 to 1810, 80% can be traced to African Americans free in Virginia during the colonial period. Free blacks migrated from Virginia to other states as did their neighbors. Extensive research into colonial court records, wills and deeds has demonstrated that most of those free families came from relationships or marriages between white women, servant or free, and black men, servant, free or slave. Such relationships were part of the more fluid relationships among the working class before the boundaries of slavery hardened.
Catering services and other skilled employment were important because they had the white contacts needed to remain within the “status quo”. The black elite also enjoyed the benefits of living within the white neighborhoods which further isolated them from the darker-skinned negro which caused them to blame them for the downward shifts in life-style choices. They felt that by “emulating” the white man could social standing and class be achieved. Wikipedia
Now we know there’s class of white elites and they probably break it down a bit further by ethnicity/culture as well. Other groups have their “One-Percenters” also. We can learn something from non-black (and non-African American) elite groups. They actually make an effort to maintain some cohesiveness amongst their collective. Sure Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh and their band of merry racists will trot out the red meat to throw at the white underclass but that’s to keep them chasing their tails and being mad at non-whites. It’s a well-documented misdirection so the wealthy can stay wealthy. If people don’t do their own internal analysis of ways they’ve been indoctrinated they’ll never progress.
I’m just curious though: what does the so-called black elite do? I think at one time it was a few people who banded together for the purpose of surviving and thriving. The focus on building intact families is normal human behavior. Yet there were always other pathologies in place that weakened their efforts from the onset. The men were engaging in gender-based skin shade racism against darker-skinned black women. I imagine that would be akin to white elites demanding all the women in their class had to have a certain hair color from birth. You can alter hair color though. Charities are great. Great publicity. Foundations can do a lot of good. They also shield family wealth and are tax-free entities.
We have a history of great philanthropy from many families. We recognize names like Rockefeller, Ford or Vanderbilt. We cannot ignore these families built their wealth doing things that would be frowned upon – or were outright illegal. When non-whites try to do the same thing no one is willing to look the other way. Some want to be invisible which is prudent. Are we wrong to have expectation of them giving something back? Families like the Johnsons – who started a publishing empire with Ebony and Jet magazines DID do something great. They contributed to the media the image of civilized, productive family-oriented and hard-working blacks. [It’s a shame they weren’t able or willing to change with the times and adopt to keep the magazines solvent. By comparison Black Enterprise has a print and digital version, a video widget and an Editor In Chief who uses social media.]
By contrast you have another Johnson who created BET and sought to destroy all the work of the former. I’d say “Bobcat” Bob has been wildly successful. Oprah isn’t a member of the black elite though I suspect she has done more to uplift black women and girls than most of them combined. Oprah is likely to be included in Lawrence Otis Graham’s follow-up book to Our Kind of People though. It gives an account of the black elite, a registry of who’s in – and who’s not. It seems the categorization of who gets in may have shifted slightly to allow for some favored people. The strictest definitions used to be that you had to have generational wealth. Oprah’s billions are newly acquired during her lifetime which is no mean feat!! Michael Jackson is a record-breaker not only for his music but as we’ve discovered since his death the most generous music artist with his philanthropy.
We’re constantly discussing behaviors and pathologies of the working class or lower classes and why certain things just don’t work in our best interests but it’s incomplete without evaluating members of the upper crust. As a collective there may be obvious separation but numerous individuals display some of the same behaviors they frown upon. We don’t need to know every single venture but we can study patterns of behavior to guide us what future steps are likely to be undertaken.
“If you, as an African American, have ever wondered why some “brothers” seem to ignore your existence, even if you have the same education, this book will fill in a lot of holes for you. As I read it, I continually said to myself “So THAT’S why so and so treated me like I was the invisible woman!” I feel more sad than angry for the blacks described in the book. They are caught in a no man’s land partly of their own making. They believe they are above other blacks without the family bloodlines, wealth, and education they have. Yet the Caucasians who should be their peers reject them as social inferiors because of their skin color–even if it is lighter than most other African Americans. It’s a tragedy; their skills and talents are needed by us all, yet they are lost because of their own snobbery and the racism of others. Read this book, then live your life differently from these black “elite.” Amazon reviewer quote.
I read a blog called The Black Socialite. I find it informative. The blog host had to turn off her comments section well over a year ago due to the vitriol of those who had axes to grind, but some people did have legitimate criticism. A certain former hip-hop Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was featured in a post for example. It was before he was charged with his crimes and booted out of office but the word had already gotten out about his nefarious behavior. So in situations like that I think it is not only necessary but wise to question why certain people would be thought of as “separate and special” from the masses when they’re simply (would-be) criminals with a “pedigree”.
Here are some simple facts. We have a vocal vanguard within the ranks of the so called Black Elite who are still out there inflicting pain on some people. They often quoted in the media and they run around making outlandish statements about class, color, and ‘pedigree.’ They are a small but loud minority who had to claw their way to the manor and are somewhat vicious in their treatment of others……They are NOT representative of the majority of the so called Black Elite. Most of the people featured on this blog go to work each day, volunteer tons of hours for community service, and leverage their resources for causes that matter to them.
That Toure article about the Martha’s Vineyard crowd comes to mind. It’s where the Obamas (non-elites) are vacationing, er summering right now. Now my personal pet peeve is to ask why the President is on vacation with health care circling the toilet but that’s just me I guess!
So I imagine it is very similar to those of us from middle class and working class backgrounds having to see the black underclass and those with that mentality wear their dysfunction like a banner, waving it proudly. Especially if they’ve achieved fame and fortune from music or starring in a reality show. It’s not only embarrassing but it’s down right infuriating. We have a lot of fools running in our midst. Yet I wonder if by the very nature of someone declaring themselves special don’t they have an added responsibility somewhere down the line? Why can’t non-elites offer a similar critique often levied against them by others outside their group?
If it’s just about them and their family why do they deserve any attention at all? They’re not the ones keeping the Civil Rights Industrial Complex (i.e NAACP, etc) going, it’s whites donating a majority of the operating expenses. Regardless of their lofty positions they are still in the end deferring to the dominant group. Why haven’t they effectively elevated themselves to a dominant position? Own a major network? A movie studio? Run a distribution network? A major chain supermarket? Having 3-4 generations of an intact family is a feat considering the obstacles blacks had in place, but does that make your family elite or simply smart with a little luck thrown in? Comparing yourselves to the plight of others in your racial category who aren’t doing well isn’t exactly a high standard. Wouldn’t a more accurate analysis come from measuring oneself against other groups’ elite families?
When you do that there is no comparison. Real execution of domination required working in concert with the masses because we are a minority population in this country. Instead it would seem many have actively worked against them. So like so much within a diseased and disordered mentality there are those who like to believe they are surrounded by rarified air. Just like those of the underclasses who blame everything on “whitey” and don’t want to change. Where does that leave the rest of us? Getting into one group’s “club” isn’t a guarantee of a quality life it’s just a membership to hang out. It’s another system of control. If we’re leaving the Matrix we have to be free from ALL falsehoods.
I have to note that blog host hasn’t revealed her identity (wisely), is an African American woman, seems to be compassionate and is fully divested. She doesn’t reveal much of her life but has mentioned she’s an AKA (sorority member) and her significant other is a white male. I mention these things because I think even amongst her peers she is probably living the life of a “radical” akin to how many of us regardless of our social class are taking steps towards doing. So brava to her. It just proves we have to be our own women regardless of any preconceived advantages. So many members of prominent families engage in questionable behavior that often gets swept under the rug. It only proves that in the end we’re human and solely responsible for our mistakes…and what we may contribute to society in the wake of our absence.
Supplemental Reading: Our Time Will Come, But Not Likely In Our Lifetime and Banking On Our Own