Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are You Middle Class?

Washington, DC -“There are three levels of middle class, lower, middle, and upper middle class,” according to Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, noted essayist and Georgetown University Professor. Dyson was one of four panelist convened by the Black MBA Association to tackle the question of “The Disappearing Middle Class.”

Dr. Dyson further refines his description by assessing the group via income levels. “Anyone making between 20k-30 k is lower, 50k-75k is the middle, 75k and above is upper middle class.”

Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post suggests being middle class is a “state of mind.” “It's a shared set of values, including family, money, and education,” are what defines you as a member of this often targeted group.

This give and take is indicative of discussions happening around dinner tables, barbershops, beauty salons, or anywhere you get a group of people discussing the proposition, “Are You Middle Class?”

The 30th Annual Black MBA conference provides a unique the setting for asking this question. “Turning Point,” a polling firm, is here to measure audience responses. Remember this group is not indicative of America (95 percent black audience with post-baccalaureate degrees). The group however is one of many bellwethers pollster can use to determine the effectiveness of their messages. The way it works is each person is given a clicker to record their responses.

The host for the event is Roland S. Martin, noted author and CNN Contributor. Being provocative he delves right in. “Well who is the Black Middle Class?”
Lawrence Otis Graham, noted author on Black cultural issues in the workplace, takes up the challenge.“You are no longer authentically black if you, move into areas where there is limited number of Black folks, vacation in Martha Vineyards, join Jack and Jill, or attend Spellman(or any other HBCU’s ).” Some might call this being “buppy” or “not keep-in-it real.” Graham who’s been asked to opine with the other panelists has just pinned an article for Uptown called “Don’t Hate us for Being Rich and Educated, and Well Connected.”

In the 10th annual Black Investor Survey conducted by Ariel Mutual Funds and The Charles Schwab Corporation they provide a window on the heretofore under surveyed population. The survey showed “African-Americans are moving backward not forward.” According to Lisa Tompkins from Schwab, the only female panelist says Black goals around what to do with money is split according a recent Schwab survey. “The choices put pressures on where the money is split up.”

In the room Martin poses this question and asks the audience to respond. “Is the black middle class disappearing?” The survey says, 64% say it is disappearing; 36% say its not.

So why are we disappearing. Fletcher says, the middle class is growing but is under more strains than past generations. “It’s more expensive to be in the middle class.” Graham agrees. He says “the foundations of the Black middle are disappearing. The Black middle class has integrated into the white middle class leaving behind the institutions” which help build it.

Consider this Black life insurance companies, funeral homes, and other black entrepreneurs who were the backbone of this community are no longer its foundation because the flight from urban centers.

If the business is black-owned, does it matter?” is the question. Survey says 61% say, yes; 39% say no. Martin questions the answer. I want to ask…“How many of you use a Black owned cleaners? (People raise their hands) A majority of the crowd does not. “Take down that slide,” says Martin(as the crowd chuckles at the conclusion).

Seriously, it’s this group (Black MBA’s) which knows how keenly it is to develop markets for products. They are pro-black and entering businesses which rely less on Blacks for their customer base.

Class Gulf

I’ve said often it is this gulf which is driving a wedge in Black solidarity. Education, the greater equalizer, does not play well with those new entrepreneurs who’ve taken marketing to new levels. Add in the mix athletic stars, music stars and self starters who’ve made money without a college degree. They perceive themselves as “authentically Black” not “selling out” to meet the whims of white folks.

Dyson points to NBA star Allen Iverson. Dyson tells the audience Iverson can ask a simple question, “Where was the black middle class when he and his momma were getting kicked out their homes?” There is a mentality among popular rappers from 50 Cents, Jay-Z and Kanye West who prescribe to the theory “I got mine, go get yours!” The essayist comes to this simple, “they could give-a -….about the middle class.”


The discussion of the Black Middle Class is a much needed one. Defining it is difficult. One thing I do know, whatever level you fit in, you aren’t complacent. You are constantly struggling to get to the next level.

This is the group that is funding current and future political campaigns. They have the wherewithal to influence others and create the right kind of buzz for a candidate who wants to challenge the status quo. These are the movers and shakers and they are not alone. I describe these and other Black professional groups as the king/queen makers of the future.

Rightly or wrongly "their time as has come." They are smart, savvy, creative, and play the game at the highest level. Don’t even think about crossing them because they know their history. Don’t be confused by the custom suit, the Jim Choo shoes, the Louis Vuitton luggage, or the Benz in the driveway with being beyond Black. Nope, this group moved to the suburbs because they could.

I’m very concerned of what the middle class will mean in the future and will those who’ve made it create a critical mass for the future.




Post a Comment

<< Home