Class and Race: The New Black Elite

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Bell starts Chapter 8 of Class Matters talking about the suppression of historical scholarship on the contributions of African explorers, and the fact that most blacks trace their history in American to slavery while whites trace themselves to journeys of the privileged. Apparently the quintessential example of American colonizers – the pilgrims fleeing religious oppression – is an example of privileged people leaving Europe for the New World.

But the chief focus of the chapter is the way that the Black Elites throughout history have betrayed their own race in colluding with whites. W.E.B. Dubois had a vision of a talented 10th that would lead the rest of the blacks into equality. But by the end of his life he was questioning whether this gifted class of Blacks wasn’t more likely to act in individual best interest to the detriment of the collective black race.

These gifted, middle-class blacks enjoyed their power as mediators between the white world and the working class blacks. First they did this as parts of a still segregated black community. But once civil rights movements allowed them to move and to integrate with whites, they abandoned the black communities and their brothers in them, taking their money and their industry with them. Hooks contends that racial integration was a racist ploy of the whites – breaking up the leadership of the “militant self-determined black population.” Basically, buy out the best blacks to let the others stay behind. She also mentions that this seeming integration helped white Americans better permeate and negotiate their control of world commerce with the majority of new trading partners that were not white.

About here is where Hooks begins her use of ad hominem attacks and use of hyperbole. “Concentration camp-like conditions now exist in this nation in all major urban communities.” Such a use of the term concentration camp is a slap to the millions who died in Hitler’s and Stalin’s and Mao’s camps. It is a slap in the face to the Jews of the Jewish Holocaust. If Hooks had chosen ghettoization as her example she might have been closer to a realistic comparison.

The talented tenth is now the creator of most major images about blacks. Blacks create their own stereotypes for the consumption of their underclass and the white elite. This is how they buy their place in the upper classes, their class privilege, Hook says, and make themselves distinct from it, and insulate themselves from racism, as much as they can. They are the censors of other blacks.

Hook is incensed that class solidarity supersedes their racial solidarity. They use education, and lack of access to it, to strengthen their position.

The miseducation of all underprivileged black groups strengthens the class power of the nonprogressive black elite. Without anti-racist reparations, a central one being affirmative action programs, which once offered financial aid to the poor and working class, these groups are not allowed entry into the ranks of the talented tenth.

Unlike my generation (poor and working-class children of the late sixties and seventies), who were able to receive college educations because of financial aid but were not seduced by the fantasy of becoming rich or entering the ranks of the mainstream black elite, as that elite was not yet in place, the underprivileged today are more tempted by the goodies offered by the status quo. Since they have no organized visionary radical movement for social justice to make them more conscious and to sustain them should they rebel, they fear dissent.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (pp. 97-98). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Throughout the chapter, Hooks shows an interesting inconsistency. It is bad for the whites to keep the Blacks segregated; It is bad for the upper-class blacks to integrate – they should stay segregated with the rest of the blacks. She has legitimate points that some Blacks may be selfish and try to avoid and forget other Blacks. But she also shows symptoms of Crab syndrome – where crabs in a bucket seek to pull down any who would attempt to climb and become better than the rest of its peers.

As usual, she paints a consistent picture – just don’t look too closely to question any of the details – the issue becomes much more complex than she suggests.

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