Why “Black Middle Class” Is The Ultimate Oxymoron

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***Maya Francis offers her take on Jamelle Bouie’s recent piece about the difficulties we (Blacks) have with being truly upwardly mobile***

Someone managed to find a photostock picture of Black folk in fair isle as the accompanying photo for this article about what happens when Black people make a little money and come up in the world. It’s a weird photo, mostly because the kid in the center of it looks like the kid from Everybody Hates Chris, the dad looks like Ronald Clifford, and the caption, which mentions “substantial pockets of poverty” is used to frame this photo of smiling-ass Black folks. Photostock of Black folks is hard to come by, so I’ll allow it, especially since this rant has nothing to do with anything I have to say. I just wanted these thoughts acknowledged.

DeSean Jackson was cut from my hometown’s football team essentially because he’s a headache. And, apparently, part of this headacheness is due to the people he knows from back home. Whether its true that Jackson’s people pose a problem in his life is irrelevant. The point is, Jackson was expected to get a new set of friends because he became successful, a practice also known as “selling out.”

The reality is that many successful Black folks are just a stone throw away from poverty, either because they’re newly arrived in their own success, or because the bounty of success hasn’t spread over their entire family tree. And so while buppies have taken on the sacred ritual of mimosa toasting downtown during Sunday brunch, they also drive to their grandmom annem’s house on the south side during holidays when it’s time for the whole family to get together.

And when they leave grandmom annem’s, they go back home…which is also on the south side.

A “nicer” part of the south side, perhaps. But, for many of us, the “nice” part of our neighborhood and the “hood” part of the neighborhood are separated by half a football field. Sometimes just a backyard.

Jamelle Bouie writes:

“The key fact is this: Even after you adjust for income and education, Black Americans are more likely than any other group to live in neighborhoods with substantial pockets of poverty…It’s tempting to attribute this to the income disparity between Blacks and Whites. Since Blacks are more likely to be poor, it stands to reason that they’re more likely to live in poor neighborhoods. But the fact of large-scale neighborhood poverty holds true for higher-income Black Americans as well. Middle-class Blacks are far more likely than middle-class Whites to live in areas with significant amounts of poverty.”

Consider this: When looking for a place to live (rent or own) do you consider the racial demographic of the area?

Not sure about y’all, but being the fly in the ointment is something I can accept in school and the workplace, but I don’t want to deal with it at home. Fact is, Black neighborhoods tend to be mixed in their income level, where culture is the bonding factor. But, for outsiders, this also conflates poverty with Blackness, rendering them one in the same.

Culture is a bonding factor for White folks, too. Consider also White flight in cases where upwardly mobile Blacks move to non-black neighborhoods. Again, because the face of poverty is Black, there is only so much mobility that happens. Starbucks aren’t being built in well-to-do corners of Negronia [(c) the homie Jamilah Lemeiux]; money, access, amenities, follow along racial lines, putting an economic chokehold on people of color.

So back to Jackson. It’s unfair to assume that wealth would create any level of distance for Jackson socially, as it very rarely does for Blacks in other aspects of their lives. Richard Sherman wrote a great piece outlining how absurd it would be to think that he would. As any Black folk with a modicum of success could tell you, you can never go home again, but you can also never leave home.

You can follow Maya @MF_Greatest. And, if you don’t do that, she will follow you. Like, in real life. She will literally follow you to your house. 

On Kobe Bryant And Collective Black Thought

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The idea of better and opportunity-filled lives for ourselves and our loved ones is something we all aspire to. The means we take to get to that point will differ — and perhaps some of us want it a bit more than others — but we all want the increased access that opportunity provides us. We all want to enrich our lives. And we all want to leave a legacy.

This is why half the people reading this have six-figure student loan debts. And why so many of us are so determined to see – and eat food from – every corner of the globe. And why we make sure to send our children to the best schools we can afford. And why we make pains to surround ourselves with people who’ll add something to our lives. Because education gives you more opportunity. And opportunity can give you more access. And access can give you more freedom.

And that’s it. We want to be free. We want to accomplish enough that we’re able to do the things we want to do. And, if we’re not able to ourselves, we want that for our children.

This freedom isn’t just about action, though. What we’re really aspiring for is freedom of thought. The ability to just think and imagine and dream without any limitations or constraints.

Or maybe not.

The reactions to Kobe Bryant’s statements about Trayvon Martin suggest otherwise.

Kobe comes from wealth. His dad was a professional basketball player, he grew up in Italy, and before he was a teen he’d already seen parts of the world many of us will never see. He did not have to deal with the complexities, contexts, and constructs of race most of us have had to. At least not on the same level. Basically, he was able to just be. Which, again, is what we’re all aiming for. If not for us specifically, our children. Those expanded horizons. That freedom.

But, when Kobe said something that wasn’t aligned with how Black people are supposed to think — something that really wasn’t all that controversial — this privilege became a problem because it cultivated a disconnect to Black people and Black thought. And, while Kobe is the most recent example, this same idea is brought up whenever Jaden or Willow Smith or any other high-profile person of privilege says or does something outside of the realm of generally accepted Black behavior.

Thing is, this is something we all know. We know that the person who grows up with more privilege and more freedom probably just isn’t going to see and process things the same way as the person who wasn’t afforded those things. The rich Black kid from Italy just aint gonna see the world the same way the poor Black kid from Baltimore will. And we criticize the mindset that often comes with that privilege and freedom.

But we still want that privilege and freedom. It’s still an aspiration. It’s still something we work for and pray about.

I’m not a fan of Kobe Bryant. And I do think his statements about Trayvon Martin suggest a certain race-based naivety. I do plan to have children one day, though. And I’d love to be able to provide them with the same experiences and opportunities Kobe’s parents were able to give him. But how will I feel when those experiences and opportunities lead to them thinking and feeling…differently about what it means to be Black?

I wish I could say “What’s the point of all the education, experience, and opportunity if you feel the exact same way about shit that I do?

But, honestly, I don’t know. Cause right now, I think it would bother me too.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

40 Million Ways To Be Black. What’s Yours?

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While talking to Panama a couple weeks ago about the reaction to the post about Pharrell’s GIRL cover and Black male privilege, the conversation somehow segued to us discussing how different our backgrounds are, especially when it comes to the ambiguous and amorphous concept of Blackness.. He’s biracial, lived in the Blackest state on Earth (Alabama), the Blackest city on Earth (Detroit), and Germany. (Yes. That Germany.) He also went to an all-boys HBCU, and currently lives in the Bougie Black Person’s Mecca (Washington, D.C.).

I grew up and still live in Pittsburgh, PA -- the Whitest major metropolitan area in the country. I also lived on one of the most dangerous streets in the city, but I was somewhat insulated from that because my parents sent me to private school in the suburbs and, from the time I was maybe 12 years old, I was a star basketball player. (By my junior year in high school, we moved to that suburb.) This awkward simultaneous connection to and distance from Blackness continued in college. I went to a predominately White university, and I immediately immersed myself with the BlackBlack people on campus. As a junior I was an officer in the Afro-American Society, and my senior year I was an editor of the Black newspaper, The Nia News. But I was also a scholarship basketball player. Which meant I was immune to many of the issues Black students faced.

The conversation then shifted to how the uniqueness of each of our backgrounds, upbringings, and character traits (both learned and innate) controls each of our thoughts and actions today. None of our beliefs, opinions, personalities, and biases happened by accident. All earned their way to be with us.

Maybe I’m not as dogmatic about love and marriage if I didn’t grow up in a household with two parents deeply in love with and committed to each other. Maybe I gravitate towards the back of every crowded room I’m in today because of residue from being so self-conscious about the shape of my head as a kid that I made sure to sit in the back of every classroom so there’d be no one behind me to tease me about it. Maybe I don’t finish our book and make the decision to write full-time if the program I worked for at Duquesne University doesn’t lose its funding…and maybe I don’t end up at Duquesne if I didn’t get tired of being in the classroom…and maybe I wouldn’t have gotten tired of being in the classroom if I taught at a better school district.

Anyway, to quote Dr. Henry Louis Gates, if there are 40 million Black Americans, there are 40 million ways to be Black. I just shared a couple snippets from my Black American story. What’s yours? How did you come to be who you are today?

(And, if you don’t happen to be Black, but happen to be reading this, share your story too. We’re all family here and shit.)

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

For the next nine days, you can purchase your own I Love Bougie Black Girls t-shirt via Teespring for the insanely low prices of $11.50 for a men’s shirt, $13 for a women’s shirt

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and $24.50 for a hoodie.

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The campaign ends Sunday, March 23. We’re already halfway to our goal, but we still need to move a few shirts to reach it.

Anywho, they’re available now, so go and BUY!!! and be fly.

Under The Radar Significant Contributors To Black History

bhmBetween the 1st and the 28th of February, Black History is having the best month ever. We just heard a few days ago that DMX is going to fight George Zimmerman #justcuz on Pay-Per-View or something which…you know what? Let me go ahead and say this. What if DMX loses? Zimmerman will basically be 3-0 against Black people. He killed Trayvon Martin, beat the system in Florida, AND knocked out DMX, something the legal system can’t seem to accomplish. Point is, if I’m DMX, I’m really rethinking this idea.

Moving on and back to Black History Month. During this month we of course get all of the necessary tributes and odes to giants past. But there are some folks who have made some fairly significant contributions to Black History, but under the radar. To discuss these contributions, I’ve enlisted the help of the VSB superstar, The Articulist, Shamira aka Sham-Diddy (clap for her) to help give some nouns their proper place in history.

I’ll start it out. I’d like to nominate Cam’ron. Why Cam’ron? Well, he’s possibly had a direct influence in one of THE most important aspects of Black History. You see, Cam renaissanced Harlem. Before Cam’ron and DipSet came thru and painted Harlem pink, Harlem had lost a bit of its cultural caché. I mean, it was still Harlem but it wasn’t what it used to be. Enter DipSet and Harlem once again rises and becomes relevant for years. I mean, DipSet took over America. And therefore Harlem World’s prominence was restored. And anybody who knows anythign will tell you that Harlem is a central figure to Black History. Sham-wow, What do you think? And yes, I just called you Sham-wow.

Shamira: *cringes at Sham-wow*  But hey…the Articulist, huh? I rather like that. Gotta save that name for when I finally release my mixtape on DatPiff.com. Don’t worry Peej, I’ll give you co-writing credits.

We all know of my absolute stannery for Cam’ron. If you don’t get it, well…you MAAAAD, dawgie. Cameron Giles irrefutably influenced music, cinema, AND the news industry. And you know who else did?

William Ray Norwood, Jr. That’s right, Ray J the GAWD.

Oh, Ray, how do I love thee? Let me list the ways. Not only did he give us the seminal piece of entertainment known as “For the Love of Ray J”(Never Forget:”Danger, She Smashed The Homie”), and the ultimate Bitter Brian anthem known as “I Hit It First”…he provided what might be the best radio interview of the 21st century.  Under presumably the finest of state-altering drugs known to man , he was Ray Charles to the FCC and proceeded to inform the public of all the ways he was better than us.  And I have to say…he was right. I mean, I indeed do not have seven Rolls Royces outside. Nor do I have indoor/outdoor pools, and corresponding basketball courts. And MOST IMPORTANTLY….I do not have ride or die goons that are willing to defend my right to play piano in Floyd Mayweather’s living room (although if we were all being real with ourselves…One Wish goes, man. When’s the last time y’all listened to it?).

Basically, Ray J is all of the most ratchet parts of black twitter combined. He’s like Captain Planet if the five elements were Subtweets, Absurd Stories, B!tchmade Behavior, Delusions of Grandeur, and Wayyyyy too much free time on his hands. Brandy’s brother is tired of being humble, and we should all thank him for that.

P: Grand choice. Just grand. I’m an avowed Ray J fan. I own most of his albums (okay, I downloaded them on my Spotify Premium account, they’re on the same playlist with Jagged Edge) and listen to them after I read my leatherbound books in my mahogany scented apartment. It’s not quite as big as Ray J’s pool, but hey, we can only aspire.

One can’t bring up Ray J and his contributions without bringing up his one time Co-D, Lil Kim. Which brings up an important point. There are contributions, but then there are Black woman contributions which often go unnoticed, even when heaping ceremony upon our people. Michael Jackson did it first followed by Sammy Sosa (“these b*tches love Sosa” – Chief Keef), but Lil Kim took up the mantle for Black women by being the first Black woman to take Black Sheep’s seminal song “The Choice Is Yours” (the remix of course) to heart and go from this (Black woman, “Crush On You” blue/green wig video hot) to that (racially ambiguous, Canal Street Face/Off knockoff hood chick who put her camel toe on blast). While Lil Kim will never get the accolades she deserves as a rapper and for inspiring this generations misguided young women, she did become the first Black woman to Go MJ In De Face and that says something. Michael Jackson was an icon. So what’s her contribution you ask? She in the Black face arts. And a cautionary tale for kids everywhere.

S: Black face arts, though??? I wish I knew how to quit you.

Well, if we’re going to bring up black women presenting cautionary tales, we’ve gotta thank none other than Yandy Smith for showing us the other side of that ride or die life. For too long, the men of America have been able to champion Tameeka “Tiny” Cottle as proof of the rewards you reap when you hold your trappin’ man down. Yeah, you might have a few outside kids who’s ages in the timeline of your allegedly monogamous relationship make you question everything you know about how conception works, but hey, its the 21st century. Break babies are de rigeur!!! You give that man a firm…er…”handshake” while visiting him in the clink, and he’ll reward you with everything your heart desires. You might even get a TV show out of it that positions you as the modern-day Cosbys, cable-knit sweaters and all!

OR….you can be in your Bronx studio with two kids, only one of whom is actually yours, wondering how your fairytale went wrong. You may end up believing that your fiance who thought he was Big Meech, Larry Hoover, whipping work, hallelujah has gotten shafted…because after all “there are still murderers out in these streets.” You may convince yourself that after a year in federal prison, they are still working on getting him out on bail. You may even find yourself going to K. Michelle for advice on how to raise a man! (Spoiler alert: her answer? You can’t)

And you may even find yourself uttering these words with sincerity: “I mean he’s in jail, what else does he have to do but think about me all day?”

Yandy Smith reminds all of us that while your degrees may not keep you warm at night…your dope boy probably won’t either. More importantly, she taught us that if your man’s name ends with an S, pronouncing it is optional. Or maybe you only pronounce the S when you’re mad? The jury’s still out on that.

P: You know, I have no idea if you pronounce the “s” on the end of Mendeecees either. Maybe its like the “p” in Ptolemy, pneumonia, or pbreakfast. I think the most important contribution that Yandy and Mendeecees have made is this: we live in a world where a ninja named Yandy and a ninja named Mendeecees, met, fell in love, and procreated. In terms of Black name scrabble board, they motherf*cking WON at life.

I’d like to toss in Dwayne Cleophus Wayne (Brooklyn, NY/Hillman College) for his contribution to the Come Up. My man showed up to college as a nerdy doofus on some Can’t Get Right from Life steez. I mean, he weng from Walter Oaks questioning if his mother liked him to having the baddest chick in the game wearing his chain. He pulled Whitley, Freddie wanted him (my big haired muse), and even Denise Huxtable considered it even for a second. If anything, he’s the wavy lightskint girl whisperer which is a contribution all to its own. He went up in Byron’s wedding and said, “don’t be mad. Your b*tch chose me. So we can handle this like some gentlemen or get into some gangsta sh*t.” I may have the lines a bit wrong on that one. Point is, Dwayne Cleophus Wayne doesn’t get enough credit for his contribution to Black Cool. His guidance is the truth, the light, and the way towards realizing your full potential and pulling a bad ass light skint chick. Konishiwa, b*tches.

S: Dwayne Wayne did prove that Nice Guys (TM) can indeed win, internet proclamations be damned. He ruined poor Byron’s life though. Dude went on to marry Olivia Pope’s mom and became the evilest evil to ever evil. (YOU. ARE. A. BOY.)

I just realized that we’ve offered all these women without shouting out the realest chick that ever did it. That’s right…Remy Ma.

For those of y’all who are not acquainted with Remy Ma. Lemme learn you a lil bit. She is the leading lady of Terror Squad. A mentee of Big Pun. She’s the chick in the Ante Up Remix that makes you wanna fight everybody. She taught me that my life is not complete until I am able to utter the words “who’s that peeking in my window/nobody cuz I live in a penthouse, baby.”

She has also been in jail since 2007. Now I know what you’re thinking. Another cautionary tale, Shamira? Au contraire, mon frere. She’s a teacher. What’s that lesson, you ask? Money and friends don’t mix.

You know how the story goes: you shy against lending your friend a few Gs, they avail themselves to it anyway, promise to pay you back with their next paycheck, and then they’re waiting for their tax refund…next thing you know you’re in front of a bar at 4 AM mad as hell. What’s a girl to do? Well, probably not shoot the girl in the stomach…allegedly….and rifle through her purse for your money while she’s laying there wounded…but that’s besides the point here guys. Remy Ma knew how money alters friendships and so she just had to explain it to the girl. Forcibly? Perhaps. But I bet the girl won’t forget it.

By the way, we have so many “Free (Insert person who absolutely did the crap he was arrested for but we like him so it shouldn’t count here)” Movements…Boosie, Max B, why not Remy? Patriarchy, I tell you!! I mean, she has two Source awards. TWO. I would argue that “There’s Something About Remy” stirs something in the little hoodrat inside all of us. I should start said line, and y’all should Support Black Businesses, because it’s February. I mean, if Mama Jones can do it, why can’t I?

*Toe wops all the way to the T-Shirt printing store on 125th St*

That’s what we have. Who do you have that made a significant contribution but flies under the radar? And why?

Happy Black History Month.

(Also, if you are offended and feel that we’re trivializing Black history month…bye Felicia.)

-VSB P and Shamira

The Big, Fat Lie About Black Marriage

I think these are Black people

I think these are supposed to be Black people

Monday night, my fiancee and I attended the first of seven sessions for a pre-marriage counseling class. It’s a decent sized group with roughly 15 engaged couples, and the course is led by a husband and wife team who’ve been married for 36 years and reminded me of Aunt Helen and Uncle Junior from The Jamie Foxx Show.

Before attending, I thought the comparison of the relationship-based topics I occasionally touch on here with the topics discussed in the class would make for a good piece, and I planned on writing about it this week. But honestly, there really wasn’t much we went over that night that we haven’t already written about on VSB and my fiancee and I haven’t already discussed. Communication matters, relationships are work, and women use a lot of toilet paper.

Still, there were a couple things that stood out

1. They give you pizza at these things

Everyone who’s ever gone to any type of evening gathering like this knows how important is it to have food, right? Of course! Without it you can’t concentrate, you get irritable, and you spend the majority of the time counting stomach grumbles and waiting for it to end. Right? So, why do so many people hold food-less evening events? Why is it a pleasant surprise when there actually happens to be food? Who are the people who think it’s a good idea to invite a bunch of grown-ass men and women to be somewhere for 90 minutes without food, and why do they still exist?

2. EVERYBODY GETS MARRIED! EVERYBODY!

Now, when I say “EVERYBODY GETS MARRIED” I (obviously) don’t mean every single individual person is getting married. Nor does every single person need to get married. Even if there is someone for everyone, sometimes the world is a better place if some people never meet.

What I mean is this. If you read enough, watch enough TV, or listen to enough conversation about the state of young Black marriage, you’d think the only marryable Black people were Idris Elba/Neil Degrasse Tyson hybrids and PhD-ed Briana Bettes with active fathers and good credit.

But, aside from the age — everyone was relatively young (between 28 and 40) — it was like someone threw all of Black America in a plastic bag, and randomly pulled people out. You had short people, tall people, light-skinned men, dark-skinned women, people with nice bodies, people with not so nice bodies, virgins, former players, people who looked like they were upper middle class, people who looked like they were working class, introverts, extroverts; basically any type of Black person you can think of was there. I know this was just one class in one city, but I think it’s good snapshot of the type of Black people who get married. Every type.

Again, I’m not bringing this up to convince people they should get hitched. Or make anyone who wants to get hitched but still happens to be single feel bad about it. Just that if you put — or allow others to put — arbitrary limitations on and requirements for who and what you need to be in order to get married, you need to stop. All types of people (Black people!) are getting married all the f*cking time, including people who look, talk, think, act, and smell just like you. 

And no, you don’t have to thank me for this information. Just, if you ever invite me to an evening event, make sure to have some f*cking food there.

Please.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)