At the intersection of race and class

Pyramids, Sudan

When I was attending San Jose State College with schoolmates Tommy Smith and John Carlos, Dr. Harry Edwards was an instructor, and the director of some type of “poverty program,” an “equal opportunity program.” He once told me when I asked for a job in his agency, that I was not qualified because I was “latent bourgeoisie.” I only recently figured out what he meant by that.

Baby Boomers who came of age with the Motown Sound, typically encountered racial barriers they had to overcome as a matter of course in their lives, regardless social class or status. I thought I was eligible for the EOP program because I’m Black and had been an employment discrimination victim at San Jose State, my second semester there. I was a transfer student from Los Angeles City College.

Class did not matter much to many of the people I knew then, growing up in Los Angeles—”integrated” L.A., not the Deep South. We were bound together in neighborhoods, and in the scope of our opportunities, by race. I had an almost identical schedule with Lisa Griffith in the sixth grade at Main Street School, and in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades at John Muir Jr. High. Lisa’s father was Judge Griffith. A real judge. In my neighborhood. Not today in a typical Black neighborhood, even though there are more Black judges now to go around.

My problem was—and maybe it’s really my salvation—I didn’t know that I was middle class, that I was bourgeois. Chalk it up also to me being a typical, stiff-necked and rebellious, rudder-less Negro male in the age of Ozzie and Harriet, reared instead by a single mother, a college graduate, a music teacher, who lost her hearing building ships at the San Pedro Naval Yard, during the war. A real Nola-the-Rivetter, bless her heart.

So, I didn’t know I was a bourgie. Dr. Edwards knew, right away though. I guess my really square demeanor in those days was a dead giveaway.

But I wasn’t that bourgeois. I didn’t have a trust fund. No endowment. But I was coming of age in a time when people my age were becoming “the first Negro” to do this, that, or the other. That was a big thing. People would even call one another on the telephone to say “a Negro is on Channel 4 right now.”

When barriers to racial discrimination were worn down, qualified and motivated Black people my age, who had been held back by racism, were able to go forward in their careers in all areas, opening doors along the way.

But a remedy was still needed for the plight of the vast majority of Black people trapped in the lowest class, with never a dream of even becoming latent bourgeoisie. The people eligible for the EOP at San Jose State administered by Dr. Edwards. Those are the brothers and sisters who need some help.

The sad truth is, their numbers have grown, not decreased, even as opportunities have become more abundant for everybody, including immigrants. More, and more, and more of our young men are going to jail, where they’re forced to work for pennies an hour, in the burgeoning “prison industrial complex.” It’s as though our cities, our neighborhoods are in reality farms where the crop which is grown is our young men, and where the consumer is the jail.

But, they’re “keeping it real.”

“Real,” as in thug life?

So, the enemies of our rise up out of the mud of civilization, are now using the principle of making no racial distinctions as a weapon against affording any opportunities to Black folks who are still in need of a hand-up, and some right guidance in order to improve their lives.

Without ever conceding that it is good to be a bourgeois anything, I would say, however that I believe there is great virtue to be found, if Black people would become, once again, the prosperous, united, intelligent, peaceful people we once were, who gave civilization to the world.

That was what “race” meant to those of us who were being born again in the 1960s, not some kind of Mandingo-stereotype, “Hallmark Moment.”

So race and class have both betrayed the “Black cause,” as I see it in the 21st Century. We should have sought racial unity, rather than integration into the world of our former slave masters. We should have sought to become once again, the prosperous, united, intelligent, peaceful people who gave civilization to the world. Instead, we glamorized the “Thug Life.” We, as a people, made it to the right road for our liberation, we just followed it in the wrong direction. I, for one, am all for being part of as Marcus Garvey called it, a “co-fraternity of race,” which would at all times embrace and defend the interests of “the least of these, my brethren.” And I insist that said co-fraternity, at all times work to transform our communities once again into a prosperous, united, intelligent, peaceful nation, a nation like the one which gave civilization to the world.

That I believe is a healthy intersection of race and class. Unity. High aspirations.

One thought on “At the intersection of race and class

  1. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.