Is Class the New Black?

Over at Mother Jones, Debra Dickerson has a powerful and insightful essay on why the age of President Barack Obama means that "Class is the New Black." Her thesis seems to rest on the idea that the heretofore invisible black middle class—which comprises some 40 percent of the US African-American population—has had mainstream exposure for the first time perhaps in history; with Obama's rise, the Huxtable family has turned out to be real—and nonblack America is delighted.

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Over at Mother Jones, Debra Dickerson has a powerful and insightful essay on why the age of President Barack Obama means that "Class is the New Black." Her thesis seems to rest on the idea that the heretofore invisible black middle class—which comprises some 40 percent of the US African-American population—has had mainstream exposure for the first time perhaps in history; with Obama's rise, the Huxtable family has turned out to be real—and nonblack America is delighted. But, Dickerson argues, upwardly mobile blacks, whose achievements are beginning to be recognized alongside those of Barack and Michelle Obama (and Craig Robinson and Valerie Jarrett and Eric Holder and Michael Strautmanis and Melody Barnes and a number of others in Obamaworld), can nevertheless eclipse the plight of many more blacks of lower station and income. So the new moment is a dangerous one:

From the article: "Now that a black man is president, and could not have been made so without the efforts of millions of whites, the temptation for them to run out of patience with blacks' continued complaints will be tremendous. Simultaneously, millions of blacks woke up on November 5 with yet another buppie made better off on their backs while they remain jobless in dangerous neighborhoods, their immediate futures no brighter for knowing that cornbread may start appearing at the White House Thanksgiving table. When we all stop weepily singing "We Are the World" and emailing each other about what Great-Aunt Bessie would say now if she weren't dead, we'll find that race is still a festering wound. A wound believed to be self-inflicted on one side, daily resalted on the other."


I think Dickerson is right. And I am reminded of one scene in season four of "The Wire," in which upstanding former police officer Bunny Colvin takes a few wayward but promising young black kids to a fancy Baltimore restaurant as a reward for good work. The kids have not a clue what to do with all the swank—having been utterly shut out from the world of tablecloths and soup spoons that their mentor inhabits. Their humiliation is heartbreaking.

Income-based inequality—which the Bush years inflamed—will only get worse in a down economy.  So we confront a new problem: Is the class divide more distressing than the racial one? When it comes to social policy like affirmative action, President Obama thinks so: His daughters "should probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty advantaged," he has said. That's so—but other than education, are there other ways to reverse the curse of class in American life?

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