Sardonic Sistah Says

Observations… Ruminations… Ponderances… & Rants from Another Perspective

Black is Black Until There’s Green

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I’m almost finished with Stephen L Carter’s, “New England White”.  I love this book.  It highlights the black elite and touches upon the rarely talked about issue that upper class African America doesn’t necessarily feel connected to those not in their realm.

The plot is propelled by Julia Carlyle, the well-to-do wife of a President of an unnamed New England Ivy League college.  The story opens with Julia and her husband Lemaster finding the mauled body of her ex-boyfriend during an early New England snowstorm.  Her dead ex, Kellen Zant, is also award winning economist and professor at the same university where the Carlyles work.  As she sets off to solve Kellen’s murder we are taken into a world that is rarely seen or talked about: the affluent side of African Americans. 

It can rival anything seen on the OC or Dallas.  With all the twists and turns we learn about the secret lives of the Black upper class: the Ladybugs (whose real world doppelganger might be The Links), the reticent Empyreals, and how the lives of the Black rich often shadow those of their White counterparts.   They, too, don’t want to travel to the rough side of town or feel a strong affinity to Blacks who don’t move in their circles.  There are scenes where Carter is brutally blunt  about the rift between these two Black Americas, pointing the finger at both factions of black people while different characters oft times repeat how America won’t give help to its black brethren, although the haves of black America won’t give to it’s same brothers with less.

The bromide that Black is Black is drummed into every brown skinned child at an early age.  White America sees all of us as (n-words), we say, and we are veritably all in the same boat.  Perhaps we are, but some are riding in the leaking hull trying to keep their heads above water while others are on the topside of the luxury mainliner eating caviar and playing shuffleboard.  We are separate and unequal, divided by privilege, money and sometimes color.

Eight years ago Lawrence Otis Graham wrote the history of the black upper crust in his book “Our Kind of People”.  In it he discusses his life among the Grand Families of the black community and is open about his nose job and insecurity in not having the brightest skin and straight hair.  In a review for Salon Magazine, Karen Grigsby Bates quotes a Detroit socialite from the book as saying, “”Why would I be socializing with some caseworker or mailman who goes to NAACP events?  I’d have about as much in common with them as a rich white person has with his gardener.”

I often think the only ones who don’t realize this rift in the Black social classes are those who would benefit the most if they would only wise up.  Recently the focus has been on how middle class America has been voting against her best interests by voting for the Republicans.  Well, African Americans have long been voting (and sometimes not voting) against their own interests by tightly holding onto a political party that takes them for granted while allowing the other party to overlook them completely.  Who is looking out for the poor people of Black America?  Many want to take to task Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby as if they are elected officials instead of their own state congressmen, senators or, even on a micro level, their mayors and city councilmen. 

In her essay “Racist Like Me” author and columnist Debra Dickerson argues for a class warfare to replace racial warfare. 

“A world of perfect harmony would be lovely,” Dickerson writes.  “But until the rapture comes I’d rather blue-collar types of all races faced off against us “suits” than one race against the other. There is nothing logical, natural, or beneficial about a world organized by race-the very concept is irrational. Any system divided along racial lines, implicitly or overtly, will be immoral, inefficient, and unstable.”

It’s exactly the conundrum that Julia Carlyle encounters as she follows the clues left behind by Kellen and comes face to face with her a side of her community she often ignores.  If a black person from a disenfranchised community were to meet  Julia’s duplicate in the real world, they more than likely would only see another sister in high priced clothes and but not high cost that is paid by both of them.


Written by rentec

1 September, 2007 at 4:08 am

2 Responses

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  1. I used to be unaware of this elite Black group until I went to university and met up with people who belong to certain social clubs and churches and did not want to associate with those who didn’t. Before then, I lived in a mostly white suburb and thought that when I met more Black people I would suddenly fit it. Hah! Such is life. We can only struggle for the best in the life we are given.


    3 September, 2007 at 9:05 am

  2. Hi Diva,

    Like you I didn’t know of the elite Black group until college, also. Class is a pervasive problem in the US, but we keep focused on race instead.


    4 September, 2007 at 9:10 pm

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