They wear wardrobes of designer suits and bags and shoes that together cost about as much as their grandparents’ first home. They buy condos in swanky neighborhoods and find ways to fit the fact that they own condos in swanky neighborhoods into daily conversation. They jetset on weekend getaways and take trips to exotic locations that some folks only get to enjoy as screensavers. Education has unlocked the gateway to enviable salaries and a foothold in the rungs of the corporate ladder. They are the upwardly mobile new Negro, and they have arrived.
On the other side of their world are their polar opposites: the lost ones, the tragically ghetto Black folks who can’t get it together, the men and women reporters always seem to stumble on when it’s time to cover a story about the goings-on in the ‘hood. They’re the Antoine Dodsons of the community, good for a chuckle or a share on Facebook but so outside of the comforts of the new Negro’s reality. To them, lower-class Black folks are a “they,” not a “we.”
There aren’t many positives to highlight about the Jim Crow era. In the grainy, black-and-white playback footage, it seems so long ago but in actuality, is barely a generation past. It humiliated our parents and grandparents, and emasculated brothers in particular by snatching their manhood and demoting them to “boy,” no matter how old they were. To make matters worse, they couldn’t do anything to defend their own honor. Break tough about not being able to eat at a certain restaurant or shop at a certain store and see if that rabble rousing didn’t get handled by law enforcement and their gang of dogs with a preference for dark meat.
But the one good thing about that time is that we were all in the same boat. Black was Black was Black, no matter how much money it made, what kind of degree it had behind it, or who it had allied itself with. We were a community once upon a time. We had to be. Black business owners were, for the most part, interdependent on Black customers. Neighbors leaned on one another because it was literally us against the others. Because of that, we took our brother and sisterhood a lot more seriously and we understood one another’s struggle.
Now we’re a people divided between the have’s and the have not’s and, for some, getting an education and ascertaining a little clout behind their names has disconnected them from the issues and needs of the entire community. They’ve pulled away from the pack as self-made success stories and as a result, they’re on that Booker T. Washington, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps program. Unemployment and poverty and their coinciding health and social disparities don’t affect them. They turn their noses up at the little people way down there but the privileges that have been afforded to them actually make them more responsible to do something to help remedy the hurting in lower class, more disadvantaged circles. Yes, it is an obligation. To whom much is given, much is required. It’s a Biblical principle, true. But it’s also a universal call to action.
The eagerness to move up has also left our neighborhoods wide open to gentrification and purposeful rezoning by politicians with a real agenda to herd all the money-making constituents into one area and leave all them broke bottom feeders in distant memory. You know, we so often blame White folks for razing our landmarks and blasting through our Bed-Stuys, our Bronzevilles, our Anacostias. But we’re not treasuring our own histories. Family homes that could be passed on from generation to generation are being sold. Sometimes it’s for financial reasons, and those I can empathize with. But there are others of us who just don’t have any allegiance to the effort our parents and grandparents invested into building our neighborhoods. The moving-and-shaking new Negro can’t be somebody unless they’re residing in an upscale, exclusive area with an impressive-sounding address.
Being educated actually holds us to a greater responsibility to empower the rest of the community. Lifting as we climb isn’t the kind of mantra that gets dusted off solely as part of our Kwanzaa celebrating or our Black History Month rhetoric. It’s a living, breathing duty. When we think about the sacrifices laid down not all that awful long ago to make it possible for us to have gotten this far, it seems like just a tiny contribution to make for the greater good of our people—from the ones in the PJs to the ones in the glitzy high rises.