Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard questions in the media about whether some African Americans think of themselves as being members of the black race. Apparently, some see themselves as a different racial group because of their higher than average social or economic status.
Now, old school folks like me were taught that African Americans are members of the Negroid race just as Polish Americans are members of the Caucasoid race. How could some African Americans think they are not members of the Negroid race? The smarter and richer some of us get, the dumber we behave.
As a member of an older generation, I’ve experienced the era when rich blacks segregated themselves from poor blacks, and educated blacks segregated themselves from uneducated blacks. That era hasn’t passed. But despite social and economic segregation, I’ve never met any black folks who didn’t realize they were black.
I loved comedian Richard Pryor’s candor in dealing with issues of race and economic and social status. Pryor often noted that despite a black person’s wealth or education, white America still only saw a black person.
Conversely, comedian Bill Cosby’s long-running television sitcom projected, what I consider, the myth that wealth and education could transform a black family into an all-American family. I wish that were true. But the reality is that ours is not a color-blind society. Nor should it be.
The American melting pot would be a much better blend if its different parts were more tolerant of each other, but we haven’t gotten there yet. Prejudice and misunderstanding are still out there. Some people want to pretend it doesn’t exist. That’s a mistake. You can’t fix a problem until you admit there is a problem.
I witnessed such ambivalence at a party recently where most of the guests were young professionals. A young black woman hosted it, but most of the guests were white. It struck me that perhaps most of that woman’s peers are white. She grew up in a much more integrated society than I, and her family’s social and economic status offered her a home and educational environment that was predominantly white.
I’ve seen many beneficiaries of a more racially tolerant American society rush to assimilate with the mainstream culture. But they’re still part of the black race. Education and economic privilege don’t change race.
My generation and others before mine were instructed to go into mainstream America, gain education and wealth, and return to our communities bringing those resources back with us to collectively empower the black community. My generation may have failed in that responsibility. We got the education and some of the wealth, but we didn’t return to our communities. As a result, the black community is marked by a lack of those resources and is often distinguished by social and economic disparities. We’ve raised the past couple of generations outside the black community. Many young upwardly mobile blacks don’t want to be identified with those images of the black community.
Apparently the disconnect has become so great, some young blacks don’t even see themselves as part of the black community. Hence this discussion of whether some think of themselves as being members of the black race. The disconnect I’ve come to understand, but the racial denial I think is insanity.
For me the discussion highlights the need for African Americans to continue developing strategies for the preservation of our history and culture, which taught past generations that individual advances should be pursued for the collective benefit.