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January 23, 2005

Class and Race, 1998

This below is a fragmented response giving my perspective about talking about the subject of race online. It still holds together pretty well, even though it was never edited or completed. For this and more, check out Kali's Questions from Boohab's Factotum.

(From the Archives - January 1998)

Class complicates racial issues in cyberspace because of the relative opacity of African American culture and poltical history in the mainstream. Folks come to cyberspace to discuss racial issues from a variety of perspectives. Most black folks get together to network and they wish to do so in a space where they feel comfortable. For example, students in a far off corner of the United States, where they may not feel especially comfortable in a predominately white environment, go to 'come home'. There is a latent social nationalism aspect to why black folks get together in cyberspace - they use it to cross the boundaries of distance. They want to find out what is going on in other black communities, and they come to seek common ground with other black folks in the spirit of unity which originated in black consciousness and civil rights movements.

Within the African America, there is some difference of opinion on matters of unity. The strong legacy of the civil rights movement as well as the successes of the black nationalist movement both concentrate on the idea of unity in struggle as a pre-requisite to overcoming racial barriers. Only recently in the past 10 years has there been a general acceptance of the diversity of African America which has been facilitated by the creation of the term 'African American'. We no longer talk about the black community, rather black communities. We are aware of a varying set of successes in different , in some ways class exists absolutely in African America where it did not before. Blacks who have the experience of relative comfort in a community of middle-class and upscale whites are more and more physically removed from the ghettoes and traditional black residential areas in work and play.

However the presence of racism forces most black folks in the middle-class to evaluate thier relative proximity to other classes of African Americans from a different perspective than that of other Americans. Thus far, black cultural nationalist strategies have not significantly diverged across socio-economic class within African America. The black church, while not central, is still significant across class lines. Afrocentrism as practiced and understood by most black folks unites, rather than divides blacks across class lines. The perennial stress on education and 'working twice as hard' to get ahead in America holds in both affluent and poorer black families. So while there are real class issues in African America, blacks are mostly united on issues related to fighting racism and 'race raising'. And it is from this perspective of responsibility that many African Americans find themselves discussing race in cyberspace.

So when non-blacks, in discussing race, misunderstand these class distinctions or , it is never seen as a class issue. The idea of separating class from race doesn't happen by and large in black on black discussions - even when the class differences between blacks is clear. Solving racial issues, which generally falls under the category of defeating white supremacy, calls for unity. Chances are, it is class *and* race, but that's a 'dirty laundry' issue.

It is important for me as a black individual in cyberspace to state my class credentials straightforwardly, because of the phenomenon of black neo-conservatism. Black neocons represent a challenge to the long-standing political orthodoxy of African American leadership of the past 50 years. But the black neocons have failed to gain popular support mostly because of their lack of standing in more traditional centers of black social power. Ironic, isn't it? Thus the question of their conservatism becomes more of an ideological point which is complicated by the fact of their non-membership thus perceived lack of investment in real black communities. The instrumentality of their power often stands outside of black institutions. In view of the latent cultural nationalism within African America, it is important that I situate myself in the historical continuum of black leadership. So I will make reference to my church, my college fraternity, the city of my mother's birth. From a mainstream, or racial perspective, all blacks are equally black. But within African America, all blacks are not equally credible on racial issues.

So any value or set of values which are presumed to be acceptable to non-blacks may be interpreted to be the right program. 'If all blacks were like Colin Powell...' So black folks immediately point to the fact that Colin Powell speaks to black folks on racial issues. Powell is part of the solution to help all African Americans. He would be, like all other blacks in cyberspace vying for a position of leadership, presumably on racial and race raising issues. But never in the history of African America has a successful leader achieved through the admonishment 'be like me'.

This is the framework upon which to view the dynamic of class identity in cyberspace with regards to African Americans. If you begin from the perspective that all black folks are equally black, and the more valid

Posted by mbowen at January 23, 2005 01:40 PM

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