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. 

Shabazz Napier Probably Isn’t Starving. But, He Definitely Is Right

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The next several paragraphs will be a collection of some of my thoughts about the concept of student-athletes, the NCAA, and the recent claim by Final Four MVP Shabazz Napier that, despite the fact that he’s a prominent member of a multi-billion dollar industry (!!!), he often goes to bed starving because he can’t afford to buy food.

But first, can we recognize how awesome of a name Shabazz Napier is? Seriously, I don’t mean to be a namist here, but some people have shitty names. Its not their fault, obviously. But, some were unfortunate enough to be born with a first and/or last name that immediately typecasts them as an “accountant for an accounting’s firm accountants” or “that guy in charge of putting the frosting on Cinnabuns.” Shabazz f*cking Napier though? That name would work for a president, a kick-ass principal, an astronaut, an African warlord, a p*rn star, a franchise of haberdasheries, a Wu-Tang member’s alias, a Wu-Tang member’s real name, and (obviously) a point guard of an NCAA championship team. I officially have Shabazz Napier name envy.

Anyway, the idea that Shabazz Napier — the star of the national championship (I keep repeating this because it needs to be repeated) — is going to bed hungry every night makes for a very compelling piece of evidence in the ongoing fight against the NCAA and the current definition of “student-athlete.” Here’s a kid who just helped to earn his school tens of millions of dollars, but he can’t even afford to buy a sandwich or a Snicker because of the flagrantly — and possibly illegally — hypocritical rules of the NCAA.

But…that idea is full of shit.

Now, Shabazz Napier is a star point guard who’ll probably be selected in the second round of this summer’s NBA draft. I was an oft-injured career backup whose basketball career ended when my senior year did. But, we both were full scholarship Division 1 athletes who likely received many of the same benefits. And because we share that trait — and because of how similar the meal plan situations are for most scholarship basketball players — I can call bullshit here with confidence.

It is likely that Napier and his teammates missed dinner several times because the campus cafeterias were closed by the time they got out of practice. But, taking that at face value neglects to mention some things, namely…

1. Along with meal plans, most scholarship athletes get at least a couple hundred dollars every semester for flex-type funds that can be used in the cafeteria and in several campus-area eateries. Often, these places stay open until 10 or 11, which gives athletes with late practices more than enough time to get food.

But, if Napier and his teammates are anything like my teammates and I were — and I’m assuming they are — most of them probably went through those funds in the first month of the semester. Making late night runs for cheese fries, letting a girlfriend or two “borrow” their cards, using flex funds as collateral in Spades games, etc. Granted, this failure to budget is understandable. These are 18, 19, and 20 year old men we’re talking about. But, when that happens, you do put yourself in a position where you can run out of that extra meal money with a month left in the semester.

2. Scholarship athletes are also eligible to receive Pell grants. How much you receive is largely determined by your parents’ income. Some kids don’t get anything. And some kids from low-income families can get the full amount. When I was in school, that was $1,800 a semester.

But, if Napier and his teammates are anything like my teammates and I were — and I’m assuming they are — a lot of that money goes towards sneakers and tattoos and parties and more sneakers and more tattoos. One of my teammates bought a car with his money. And the next semester he bought stereo equipment for his car.

Admittedly, it is very possible that Napier may have some extenuating circumstance causing him to be especially broke. Maybe he gets the Pell grant, but maybe his family is so poor that he sends all that money home. Maybe Kevin Ollie (the UConn coach) is a dick who schedules practices without any concern of the cafeteria times. (This isn’t likely. But it is possible.) And maybe Napier happens to be on one of the few campuses where everything shuts down at 7. (Again, this isn’t likely. But it is possible)

But, I just find it hard to believe that a person of Napier’s stature has to deal with hunger pains every night.

Still, even if this actual claim doesn’t pass the sniff test, the fact that a person who played a tremendous role in making millions of dollars for his school, his coaches, his administrators, and even the other athletic departments at his school, has to rely on flex funds and grants to help him get by is f*cked up. It’s f*cked up that he can see his jersey for sale in the campus bookstore, but can’t afford to buy it. It’s f*cked up that everyone around him is allowed to profit off of his name today except for him.

Seriously, think about this: I can start a Teespring campaign tomorrow selling “Shabazz Napier for President” t-shirts, and I could make hundreds, even thousand of dollars from it. If Shabazz Napier did that and only sold one shirt, he could lose his scholarship and his eligibility. And he’d have to deal with dozens of national columnists and pundits questioning his character.

The NCAA is a clusterf*ck. I do not see how any rationally thinking person can continue to deny this. It’s clear as day that things need to change, and this clarity makes me wonder why some people are so vehemently against even entertaining the idea of change. (Read some of the comments in the Napier article I linked to for an example of this anger. Don’t read if easily angered.)

Actually, I don’t wonder why at all. But, it’s a bit too late to unpack my thoughts about the dynamics of the relationship between the (mostly) Black athletes and the (mostly) White consumers and fans, so I’ll save them for another day.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

On Mourning An Adult Entertainer

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The deaths of Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis were probably the celebrity deaths that hit me the hardest. Part of this had to do with age. (I was 11 when Gathers passed and 14 when Lewis did.) But, even more than that, I felt connected to them. I didn’t know either of these men. But they were basketball players, like me. And they both died on what was supposed to be the safest, friendliest, and happiest place a basketball player can be: the basketball court. Both deaths saddened and scared the fuck out of me. (Sadly, my friend and former teammate Richard Jones died in a similar manner 10 years ago.)

I mourned them through memory. I (obviously) didn’t have the benefit of going to YouTube and watching old highlight clips, so instead of remembering them as they were in their last moments, I’d think of how they were on the court. And I’m sure many of the hundreds of thousands who also mourned their deaths did so in a similar manner.

This process wasn’t too dissimilar from how most of us mourn entertainers. Instead of thinking of them as dead, we tend to recall and reflect on the reasons why we were fans. We listen to their albums again, read their books again, watch their movies again, laugh at their stand-up routines again, read and watch all the features and interviews about them again; sometimes we’ll even scour the earth to possess all the things they produced that we don’t already possess. And sometimes, their deaths will make us consume even more of their work. 

We do this for two reasons: One, because it helps us feel better. We want to remember and embrace why we were fans because it makes us smile. The smiles are bittersweet, but they help. Also, this consumption is how we, as fans, honor their memories. We didn’t know them personally, so we can’t reflect on personal memories. Shit, in most instances we don’t even know what type of person they were. But we do know how their work resonated, and a posthumous recognition of their work is our way of eulogizing them.

With one exception.

Angela Rabotte was a 26-year-old mother who was found murdered last week. She disappeared two Fridays ago, and her body was found Thursday. She had been shot.

This by itself is a tragic story. Rabotte was a mother, a daughter, a friend, and much more. A person people loved and will miss.

But, as tragic as Rabotte’s death was, I’m writing about her today because of her (former) occupation.

Those familiar with the thousands of WorldStar/YouTube/Vimeo, etc twerking and/or stripping videos out there might recognize Rabotte as “Sexy Climax”, a popular Atlanta stripper. I’m not sure which club(s) she worked at, but I do know she was popular enough to be featured in a few WorldStar videos.

Perhaps you never heard of Climax. But you might be familiar with the Twerk Team, Cubana Lust, Lanipop, and the dozens more strippers, twerkers, video vixens, and porn stars who’ve been able to use the internet to garner some national name recognition.

Regardless of what you think of their particular type of entertainment, you can’t deny that they’re entertainers. They work to create and cultivate a sexual fantasy, and the people who consume their form of entertainment might spend as much time watching their videos as they do watching their favorite actors or listening to their favorite rappers.

But, when an adult entertainer dies, the process we use to mourn other entertainers just doesn’t seem to fit. I’ve seen Sexy Climax at work. But now that she’s dead, it just doesn’t feel right to watch her videos anymore. Same with all the other adult entertainers I’m familiar with who have passed. I don’t re-watch the videos I’m familiar with, I don’t scour the internet to find work I haven’t seen yet, and I definitely don’t fantasize about them anymore.

And I think that’s it. The fantasy part is what makes things…different. For instance, Whitney Houston existed as a singer, but we also recognized that she was a real person while appreciating her voice. Angela Rabotte was just as real of a person as Whitney Houston was. But, the people whose work revolves around sexual fantasy tend to be processed in a different way by the people who knew of them because of their work. Basically, they’re objectified. Appreciating her work posthumously the same way you appreciated it while she was alive doesn’t just feel wrong. It feels rude.

This idea transcends entertainment. Think of the cute barista in your work building or the co-worker you have a crush on. If they died tomorrow, would you still have the same sexual thoughts about them you did before? I doubt it. The nature of sex-based thoughts makes it rather, for lack of a better term, “creepy” to have them about someone no longer alive.

I’m sure there is someone out there who’s compiling an archive of Sexy Climax’s work. To honor her memory the way he (or she) remembered her. Which is their right, of course. But, I can’t do that. Because every time I think of Sexy Climax now, I think of Angela Rabotte instead.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

On Being Black and Having It Both Ways In The Mainstream Media

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Yesterday there was a rather spirited discussion in the VSB comments section about whether or not The Boondocks was problematic because of the way that it exposed presumed “black” culture to audiences that are primarily white.

This isn’t a new point by any means – it seems that whenever anything that is viewed as uniquely black develops a mainstream platform an iteration of this conversation rears it’s ugly head. A very notable example of course is when Dave Chappelle walked away from his hit TV show. More recently, however, versions of these talking points have emerged in the context of the Black Jeopardy skit that happened on last weeks episode of SNL.

I found the kerfuffle via SNL to be particularly interesting in the wake of the concerted effort from folks for the show to have a more substantial black/nonwhite presence. For better or worse Lorne Michaels did exactly that, casting a black woman as well as hiring two black writers. Yet when we got a sketch catering to a black audience written by black actors and casting black people…(some) folks took issue.

This begs the question: if we are given the seat at the table that we demand, should we be concerned with how our message is received.

Before I go any further, let me admit my bias and say that I thought that the Black Jeopardy sketch was funny. (I’m also quite easily amused so you may want to take my humor tastes with a grain of salt – I’m currently giggling at an overweight cat falling right now).

Beyond that, however…I’ve never been explicitly concerned about how white people receive black content once it’s been given the space for a large audience. While I understand other peoples valid concerns, I don’t think putting  content out removes the social responsibility of white people to see their privilege and know when they are able to jump in and when they should just step back and listen.

Furthermore, the folks who use caricatures and entertainment-created characters to justify their prejudices are not my worry. I don’t find value in putting out content that takes every effort to avoid the potential of future confirmation bias. In my opinion, desiring a space to depict the varying versions of the black experience is disserviced if we feel required to dilute the message to accommodate for the ignorant and the hopeless. The second we feel dictated by people who are already uninterested in our narratives is when we cede our power before mobilizing it.

To sum up…it’s not my problem if the white audience didn’t get the joke.  I’m only interested in ensuring that we have a multitude of avenues to say what we want to say in the manner that we see fit. If nonblacks get it, great. If they don’t…I’m trying to find a bother, but it seems that my pockets are all out of them at the moment.

Anyways, what say ye, folks of VSB? Am I being ignorant of reality here? Or should we go three sheets to the wind and stop worrying about what white folks may or may not think?

-SHAMIRA

Shit Bougie Black People Love: 13. Being Racist

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Do not be fooled by their blazers. Or their support of gentrification. Or even their love of Phish. Bougie Black People love being Black. Collectively, they are Blackness mavens, preternaturally obsessed with the concept of Blackness and all it entails.

Naturally, they’re also aware of the rules governing Blackness’ placement in America. Especially the one where, as an extended apology for 400 or so years of systematic oppression, America has given Black people a guilt-free pass to say whatever the hell they want about White people.

If you happen to have a Black parent, a Black uncle, or even a Black high school principal, you’ve surely seen this practice in practice. You likely have fond memories about the first time Uncle Derek told you not to hug any of your White classmates because “White people don’t use washclothes.” (The fact that Uncle Derek had a White wife made this even more confusing.)

Bougie Black People have found loopholes in this rule, realizing that maintaining legitimate friendships with a member of each non-Black group (Whites, Asians, Latinos, etc) gives them a pass to say racist things when they’re not around.

Of course, it’s all just jokes. They don’t really believe that all Indian women are “built like snowmen.” They don’t really think all Mexicans have lice. They don’t really think all White women sound the way they do when they do impersonations of them. And they don’t really want to deport every Chinese man back to “whichever country Chinese people come from.”

Read more at Shit Bougie Black People Love