It has been decades since E. Franklin Frazier’s book Black Bourgeoisie was published, yet tensions still simmer around the issue of existing rifts between the US’s middle class blacks and the ubiquitous poor and working class blacks. Like a heaping scoopful of glutinous oatmeal being shoved into an unrelenting toddler’s mouth, America is constantly fed pitiful stories and images of blighted black families, the 24.7% who live in abject poverty and squalor (National Poverty Center, Univ. of Michigan, 2008) . And, when compared to “other” groups, even more haunting figures are unearthed. Not once ever (ok, save one black conservative site) have I seen the same “woe is me” crowd acknowledge the great achievement on the flip-side of the statistic: more than 75% of so-called African Americans do NOT live in poverty. And this country now has more black wealthy and upper middle class professionals and business owners than it ever has since its inception. Today, adjusted for inflation, the Black Bourgeoisie are from the ranks of the chronically upper middle/professional class on up to the rich and wealthy elite.

This site is about celebrating our gains instead of wallowing in our failures. And it is also a resource for those among us who experience life through a similar lens.

I feel so angered when some rhetoric is espoused by some shock-a-tician who claims to be speaking for “the black community”. What “community”? We haven’t been a community since desegregation. There is no way to accurately gauge popular black consensus without sifting the bourgeois from the rest to understand our opinions as well, especially since we are the ones who operate almost entirely in white spheres. The last thing I want is some loudmouth who champions “‘hood” rights (not the KKK kind), making decisions for me that I will have to answer to at work. Yes, because, we’re all thrown in together, like we are united even a little. Then I get, “So, I heard the NAACP wants to name storms by black-sounding names. How do you feel about that?”. As if “Katrina” wasn’t enough! Now I’m caught up in the aftermath, having to be PC about people’s ignorance and apathy.

I am tired of being thought of and being labeled as a victim. My parents were NOT first-generation students, and my grandparents enjoyed skilled labor positions that catapulted my mother’s family to the neighborhood “pink palace”, as her friends used to call her childhood home. Even my paternal grandmother put every child through Catholic school and ensured that each went to universities. (One took a different path, but that’s still 5/6 who followed her wishes.) As the first professor in my family, I have attended quite the number of years of schooling myself, and I excelled only to have people on campus–at my alma mater years before and at work now–say that I must have achieved on the wings of affirmative action. As if affirmative action has anything to do with me skipping grades in K-12, enrolling in Gifted and Talented Education courses throughout, and finishing both college and high school years ahead of my peers! No, my hard work and intellectual pursuit is always diminished every time I read a newspaper and see that some newly upward underclassman is again begging for “equality”.

How can one ASK for equality? The minute you have to ask, you can guarantee that you’ll never be equal.

For those who cry “self hatred” upon reading this, you couldn’t be more wrong. I am the daughter of proud black parents. My father, a history major, ensured that I knew who Huey Newton and H. Rap Brown were. And my mother had me reading Before the Mayflower and The Destruction of Black Civilization by twelve. Both were also products of segregated schools.

What happened to “separate but equal” anyway? We tossed it aside for integration and urban ghettos, that’s what. I know that we can never return to a fully pre-diversity segregated life, but it is self governance and self-determination that we need.

We need black teachers who are trained in black heritage, not textbook jabberwocky, who can approach our children from OUR perspective and instill in them the cultural pride that gave birth to early Hip Hop. I am a child of “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah, “Hey, Young World” by Slick Rick, and “Why Is That?” by KRS-One; better still, I am indoctrinated in James Brown’s “I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door, and I’ll get it myself” culture. I am the Spook who sits by the door: Public Enemy #1. It is too late to change that with a pop-hip tune by Lil’ John and a video ho (I meant “vixen”) spot. What we see at-work in our era of excess consumption is beyond sinister.

The blacks who are willing to sell us all up the river are the descendants of generations of poor blacks at the bottom rung. They are duly bitter because they have been left behind. First, they were shunned because of their skin shade/birthright; then it was their profession(s) or lack thereof; and finally, their inability to compete in our new global economy and assimilated society, to which the black bourgeois have joined and clung.

At first, we didn’t bail entirely. We tried to help by opening schools and businesses while championing rights and advancing ourselves so that, when you come to the hospital, there is someone black there to step in or take you aside to help. But, over time, I’ve seen many harden. The poor just refuse to move beyond their own ignorance and divisiveness.

Yet the black bourgeois will toil on because we still remember all the sayings, the constant hammering: “You have to be ten times better than a white person is on the job,” and Jesse’s “Learn baby learn, so you can earn baby earn.” My mother drilled both. I read until my little mind was fuzzy with Message to the Blackman and LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) texts. My first tooth was pulled by Dr. Cosby (Bill Cosby’s elder brother) at a black private school, International Children’s School, in Los Angeles. I have fond memories of the middle/upper middle class black role models who helped shaped me into the relatively accomplished person I am today. (Other people consider my achievements great, but I see them as lackluster in comparison to my long-term goals of founding schools and boarding programs for disadvantaged black adolescents as well as studying for my doctorate at Harvard or Cambridge and being elected to the House of Representatives.)

As my own life became more integrated after I left ICS and settled with my family in a Los Angeles suburb, I yearned to be around people who looked like me for half a decade, only to meet them later as a tween when we returned to Richmond and New York City and have them call me “bourgie” and “oreo” because I talked “proper”. Mesh my class markers with my genetic gifts of slanted eyes and thick, long hair; and you have a recipe for all types of uneducated comments, like: “You got ‘good hair'”; “Are you just black?”; “You Indian?… Chinese?… Caribbean?”. It’s so disheartening to me that my own people won’t just accept our variety even though we see evidence of great genetic difference walk by on us on the sidewalk every day. “Yes, I’m ‘just’ black”, I tell them, “just like you. I don’t know who all my ancestors are, but I’m black just the same.” Unless there is specific discussion on past, I don’t even divulge what I do know about my roots. I’m certainly not going to give into being one of those silly Negroes who says he/she has “Indian in my family”. ((shaking head))

In fact, it has been to President Obama’s credit, in my eyes, that he didn’t shout like a little girl about how black he isn’t or that he is biracial, as Tiger Woods declares like a child throwing a temper tantrum. Welcome to the club, black Tiger. No matter what you *think* you are, society will view us all as “just” black anyways. By definition, African American–just as Latinos are–are a multiracial hybrid people. That, and I refuse to openly claim any Native American tribal ancestry after their tribes have bastardized and denied African American descendants any tribal birth rights.

My father has traced my albino grandmother’s roots to the Cherokee tribe, but I refuse to walk around with that “I’m not ‘just’ African” chip on my shoulder. I love that my skin can be high yellow during a harsh NYC winter and cacao brown after a day of California sunbathing. Unlike many of our unenlightened counterparts, I don’t worry that I’ll “get too dark” from being exposed to the Creator’s sun.

For so long I tried to blend in with the underclass and wear my hair like “they” did and reduce my own vernacular to “their” way of speaking when, finally, I realized that being an “oreo” meant that I sounded articulate and was capable of finding a job. I’ll be your oreo all day long if it means I can keep collecting my six-figure salary. The more I talked to so-called conscious blacks, the more I realized that they hadn’t half of the knowledge of self that I had; they were just fools judging me by my lifestyle and upbringing. I don’t use terms buzz terms like “folks” or make up Ebonic terms like “orientated”, and if that’s a finger up in the face of my so-called race, then so be it.

But know that I’m one of the last true blacks, especially for my generation, a young cross between a “Joe Clark” and a Robert Gillaume black, if you will. My mother taught me well. “Play the role. Straighten your hair, and dress just like Susie does to get IN the door. Once your foot is firmly in, then you can switch to your natural hair and dawn your dashiki, even, if you like.”

I have no qualms pulling young black men who are behaving obnoxiously on campus aside and asking them if they know how white people are viewing them and how embarrassing their behavior is to educated blacks. The same young men about-face and come to my classes with their pants pulled up and their manners on-point; they thank me afterward because no one had ever explained to them the importance of one’s public image and its direct correlation to an ability to survive in our Western capitalist system, which demands strict adherence to moires if one is to excel.

If the white students think I bend over for them (and I go out of my way to help all students more so than 95% of my colleagues), they should see the contortion act I endure for my own if I see they are capable and willing. No one sees the 2am phone calls I take from black and Latino students or the money I hand them out of my own pockets to buy books or a meal. Yet everyone’s ripe with lectures on negritude. Save it!

This blog is “unapologetically” (to use the cliche African American term) bourgie and black. Not African American… Black. I have never been to Africa and neither has anyone in my family since the Middle Passage.

We have no idea where we are from or from what part of Africa we originate. And the West African rumors are myths. Yes, most slaves journeyed from W. Africa as a shipping point, but that doesn’t mean we were all FROM Nigeria. We are defined by so many intricate parts such that the common knowledge that you never know what color a black baby will be at first still rings true. (My first daughter was so “white” that my ex-husband and I jokingly–and lovingly–called her Michael Jackson, referring to post-Pepsi Michael.)

And many more forget that WHO is counted as “white” and “black” has shifted dramatically over the years, such that my maternal great-grandfather, an Irish/Native American mix, was considered more of a “n**ger” than the dark-skinned woman he married (click on link in last sentence to learn more about the history of Irish immigrants being deemed “white n**gers” in the US). On St. Patrick’s Day, I proudly announce my heritage. I’m just as much Irish as I am African, and at least Ireland is an actual country (not speaking of my own admixture percentage necessarily).

African? Where does one begin? That’s defining a whole continent as if it’s one place, like calling a Greenlander or Peruvian “American”. Sure, you can argue the case, but it’s the antithesis of what one means when he/she refers to an “American”.

Why should I be a hyphenated American while only whites enjoy the privilege of being full status “Americans”? My grandparents and their grandparents built this country too, literally. I am proud of my cocoa-skinned great “Aunt Edna” who directly spent her early years in indentured servitude, caring for and nursing white children. When people say we have no connection to slaves, I retort that I most certainly do as most of my maternal relatives lived into their late nineties, perishing only in the last decade, which means that several of my “greats” had experienced–if not overt slavery–sharecropping and weakly enforced emancipation in the post-war south. The lighter of my great-grandmother’s children “passed” as my grandmother, the youngest, did. (My grandmother was also nursed by Aunt Edna and raised alongside Edna’s passable daughter.) My great-grandmother, who also lived into her nineties, was definitely chattle-born.

And still, why not call myself Mexican American since that’s the last place outside of the US from which most of us came? Oh, do I step on the toes of ignorance? The port of Veracruz remains one of the largest points of entry to the New World, and its proximity to Gulf states was/is prime. Our brothers and sisters in Veracruz look so similar to us, yet their hair has remnants of Mestizo, as many of our hair textures are similarly influenced, and they speak Spanish or an indigenous language.

The term “black” recognizes who we are throughout the diaspora whereas a true African American, just like a Chinese American is one who has immigrated or whose parents have come to the US, is an African who now lives in the US. African “Americos” may be considered African American since they were American at some point. Unless you want to make an existentialist statement and suggest that we are all from Africa and ergo call everyone an African American, then I say we squelch the absurd references that are solely based on random phenotypes.

Further, I don’t want to be associated with those who sold us out in the first place. Many of the remaining Africans were hardly clean-handed, and it bears remembering that the best (the most physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually capable) boarded the ship, and we are a product of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” like no other. The brutal trip took two to three years! Who was still breathing when they opened the deck? My great-great-great grandmother/father. They would’ve probably spit in an African face if they saw one of those who subdued and pawned them.

While my elders are no longer here, I carry their DNA, the gene of the Middle Passage. I have no qualms with schooling a young black failure and telling him/her: “You have no right to step on the dreams of my ancestors! I’m not going to let you do it.” What no one seems to remember when they’re talking all this “A. Afarensis=modern African Americans” crap is that my people had to endure torture and death just so that they could READ. And now some thugged out youngin’ is going to tell me that he doesn’t “like” to read?? Oh, you’re gonna’ read, ‘brother’. You WILL read. You don’t have a right not to!”

I take it very personally when a black person calls me “sista” or refers to himself as my “brotha”. I didn’t have one “brotha” or “sista” when I was getting my ass whooped by the ghetto girls because I wasn’t black enough. Save your Ghanaian getup and your soul-talk. Do you even know who you really are? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. Every day, black professionals who work in white worlds go forward as torch bearers so that others may walk a little easier. Now if that’s not the greatest gift to black Americans, what is?

Just don’t’ answer with “social programs”. Heaven knows we have enough victim-assistance (social) programs already!

The last definition here is imperative: the black bourgeois are not nouveau riche; we have enjoyed middle class lifestyles for generations. There is a strong psychological difference between black poor/working class who “make it out” and those of us who have been working in the Big House for quite some time. Yes, we do have a secret–yet undisclosed–greeting that we offer one another, and–no–we do not offer the same extension to all blacks because the manner has less to do with color and far more to do with socialization and acculturation.

We do help each other significantly when we spot one another. And we know by the mannerisms, tone of voice, presentation, and demeanor “who is who”. Please, don’t reduce our collective intelligence to spotting “bling” or a specific car make. Our identity is couched in the tailored “power suits” we wear, not those ostentatious blue or loud yellow get-ups with coordinated alligator shoes; it’s in the “ma’am” and “sir” that we respectfully use instead of “Ay! Lemme’ get…”; it’s in the pearl earrings we prefer over gaudy gold. In short, our refinement is displayed in our composure.

It’s quite irrelevant whether or not an outsider can spot us as long as we can identify each other. Our unity is in our enigmatic yet multifaceted distinction. Unlike those who have to play into stereotypes to affirm their blackness, I am black in the absence of cast and caste. I am an undying champion for my people, and it is high time that our greatness is restored.

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  2. Jorge says:

    Overall I thought your analysis was informative and valid. Defining myself as Black bourgeois has helped me frame many things about my life as an individual and Black people in general. Sometimes your tone seems kind of angry and resentful, which I don’t think is helpful. Why be (or seem to be) mad at the Black underclasses for their “failings” and mad at Africans for them selling you into slavery? Even if the context of your anger and resentment towards the underclasses and Africans is correct (which it isn’t), Black bourgeois leadership is what is going to help African Americans, Afro-Carribbeans, Blacks in South America and Blacks in mainland Africa. You cannot lead people you are criticizing all of the time. And the fact that the same criticisms you level towards the Black lower classes are the same exact criticisms whites and Republicans use should scare you more than it scares African Americans. On the whole however, your essay was a pleasant read and I look forward to reading more from you in the future. Thank you for your positivity and sincerity. It is very much time that the phrase ‘bourgie’, ‘bougie’ and ‘Black bourgeois’ stop having a negative connotation. Thanks!

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