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March 08, 2005

Equality vs Destiny: The Right Fraction

Somewhere in the past few days I read a tale of despair over the low numbers of African Americans in some high profile positions. If I'm not mistaken it was Robin DG Kelly, the renowned professor and the percentage of blacks in his profession was something like 2%. And on the face of it, that seemed to be a fairly dire situation. Then I thought about it a little bit.

If African Americans are about 12% of America, then 2% representation in a profession would mean that only 1 out of 6 of us is doing what we 'ought'. Given what we know about African America, that's not so bad as it seems.

I'd have to check out Booker Rising for the stats again, but I think that by American standards, only about 2/3 of African America is part of the broad middle class by economic standards alone. We know that most of us live in ghettoes and ex-ghettoes and otherwise segregated un-mainstream places, so even those who are doing well economically are generally a bit underserved, underemployed and over-beat down. But we're still middle class, by and large, with middle class values. What do right-handed blacks have on their left wrists? Watches. Maybe a little bit cheaper watch from the Wal-Mart instead of a nicer one from Target, but it still tells the same time. So we have issues with mobility, there's no doubt about that.

It's not so easy for the black middleclass kid to become an upper-middleclass kid. By and large, he is not as mainstreamed, and has greater fidelity to home and 'hood, than his white counterpart. It's part of the same old formula, that blacks have to work harder to get equality. And so I think we understand all of the reasons that the black upper-middleclass is not as large, relative to the race, as the white upper-middleclass is. But black geeks understand the same anti-intellectual challenges as white geeks. Upward mobility is tough all around, and pretty damned rewarding if you get up.

But how many blacks get up? If you look at African America as its own nation as I often do, I'm concerned about how high the upper class of blacks get in the context of American power. I think that's what I think Malcolm would have me do. And in the context of a Black Contract with Black America, by and for, what the focus ought to be is not so much what fraction of blacks are doing exactly what whites are doing, but what fraction of blacks are doing better than before.

It seems to me that it is reasonable that African America may not produce as many pawn shop owners as Russian Americans. However we may produce more police detectives. The important question to me is whether our Old School values will put us where we deserve to be in the world, in other words what will be the ultimate fruit of our history in the New World? I'm convinced the expression of that victory will not be in the representational percentages of white vs black in American bourgie institutions.

America is the vehicle and African American destiny is intimately bound to the America's destiny. But America's destiny is equally bound to what free black men and women decide to do with their lives. I know that's more than just keeping up with the Joneses. So I have no doubt that we could have more upper-middleclass black professors, but a more important question is should we. Furthermore, how well are we accomplishing the upward mobility within our own ranks? What we do with equal opportunity is the burning question, bringing up arbitrary inequalities by race in any profession is not necessarily a productive one.

I the game really that of equality or destiny?

Posted by mbowen at March 8, 2005 01:35 PM

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