Black Bourgeoisie


"J'appelle bourgeois tous ceux qui pensent bassement."
---Gustave Flaubert


Metropolis is a silent science fiction film released by the famed Austrian-German director Fritz Lang in 1927. The film is set in the year 2026, in the extraordinary Gothic skyscrapers of a corporate city-state, the Metropolis of the title. Society has been divided into two rigid groups: one of planners or thinkers, who live high above the earth in luxury, and another of workers who live underground toiling to sustain the lives of the privileged. [Wikipedia]

One of the major lessons of this past century, if any, is that "the exploitation of man by man" has no political or economical ideology, it manifested under different forms on either side of the Berlin wall, before and after the fall of the wall, it has no color, no particular ideology or social class per se, and it exists all over the world, on this side of the Atlantic as on any other continent - whether it is noticed or not is all a matter of intensity (how tolerable or visible - or how well hidden- it is), and the level of social indoctrination or the degree of smug self-satisfied complacency on the part of those who for one reason or another (regardless of their race, gender or social origins) have the good fortune of being among the few who, knowingly so or not, happen to profit from the exploitation of their brethren.

Essentially, it is a dynamic that has been and still is, more than ever, very much part of the human condition (a thing the Founding Fathers of the American Republic, which was intended to function on a system based on a separation of powers, understood well). Not that there is something necessarily inherently or endemically "evil" about the heart of man - though the pursuit of wealth and power can be a vicious and ruthless game - rather, there is there something that functions more like a mindless phenomenon, some form of entropy by which those who live lives of privileges tend to credit their success to the strength of their character and their own personal virtues, while blaming the shortcomings of those who live less fortunates lives on their lack of moral fiber. Things are of course, more complex than that, but such fictions are a convenient myth which assuage one's conscience while at the same time being addictively flattering to the ego of the so-called "self-made man."


Black bourgeoisie is not immune from such fictions.

According to a Pew Center poll released tuesday (11/13/07), a majority of black Americans have apparently joined the ranks of those who blame individual failings -- not racial prejudice (or socio-economical inequities) -- for the lack of economic progress by lower-income African Americans.

Interestingly, the result of the survey made the front page - no less - of the Los Angeles Times.

"The survey found that there has been a convergence of values held by blacks and whites. For instance, a majority of both groups say that rap and hip-hop music have had a negative influence on society."
Really, now?

Is that what the problem is?

Well, maybe, they've got a point here, I can see how, say, Wagnerian music, perhaps, would work better in the current cultural and political climate as a more appropriate embodiment of the American Dream under the presidency of George W. Bush - and, now, isn't our President the ultimate poster-boy of what "self-made" means?

The article has elicited a few healthy heartfelt responses in the commentary section of the LA Times website:
Knowing how many AA's sit in prison, lacking education, many innocent of the crime they are charged with (DNA cleared AA's), and many who have known nothing but poverty, drug infested communities and crime as the only way to make ends meet. To those who overcome these odds, I applaud you! For many others, the odds remain formidable, and the racism that existed for centuries is alive and well in this country. Yes, there has been some improvement, but it's modest at best. Until we enter the ghetto and find it's not predominantly black (or brown), then I could agree with this article.
---Submitted by: freedomanjel, November 14, 2007
While the survey is interesting in itself, if only for the social perception tendencies it points to - that's the vocation of surveys - it is regrettable that the LA Times didn't see fit to publish as part of the article an investigative piece exploring more in depth statistics and the reality of the facts beyond the mere perception presented by the survey - that would have been interesting - that's the vocation of investigative journalism.

Far from reflecting the adoption of a neutral point of view by news media, the increasing reliance on opinion surveys illustrates one of the biases of contemporary journalism where opinion are presented as fact - a tendency that has been carried to an amazing extreme by television network with so called "news" program in which opinions and "some say" comment are frequently presented to insinuate a point without providing facts to back it up. Perception shapes opinion, and opinion (especially media-published opinion) shape perception. This is precisely the reason why it is the duty (and ethical responsibility) of any responsible reporter to go beyond the mere publishing of the stereotypes (any stereotype) of the perception of his or her time, anything less is irresponsible journalism, or, else, yellow journalism (i.e. biased opinion masquerading as objective fact.)

If one is interested in opinions, well, there are other places in a newspaper than the front page - like the opinion section, for example. And if one is interested in opinions, one might always pick-up a book. There are plenty of them around. Bourgeoisie Noire, 1955 (translated in 1957 as Black Bourgeoisie) by E. Franklin Frazier comes to mind. The author was known for his thorough scholarship and his mastery of skills in both history and sociology, and the way I look at it, I figure, hey, if one is going to go for "opinions," one may as well go for "informed opinion."

Is that 1955 book still relevant?

You tell me.

As over the years the divide between increasingly prosperous middle-class blacks and their increasingly desperate "underclass" brethren has grown into an almost uncrossable chasm, I'd say the book remains as relevant as ever - maybe even more so today than it was then. (And so is Metropolis.)

"When the opportunity has been presented the black bourgeoisie has exploited the Negro masses as ruthlessly as have whites. As the intellectual leaders in the Negro community they have never dared think beyond a narrow opportunistic philosophy that provided a rationalization for their own advantages."
---E. Franklin Frazier, "Black Bourgeoisie"


11 comments:

Maggie Bremmer said...

Bias is perpetuated by conformity with in-group attitudes and socialization by the culture at large. The fact that white culture is dominant in America may explain why people of color often do not show a strong bias favoring their own ethnic group.

Maggie Bremmer said...

Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, is a perfect example of that. I'd like to know how Hillary Clinton got him to talk negatively about Barack Obama. I wonder when he will feel used???

As for Hillary Clinton's remark with regards to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I must say that I am not sure what to make of it.

These were her exact words:
"Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. It took a president to get it done."

Although this might possibly not have been her intent, there is an implied disparagement of the work of Martin Luther King that rubs me the wrong way. MLK put his life on the line every day, ultimately losing it to help others. I find in that context the implication that LBJ's actions were more important inappropriate and way out of place. The truth is, if it had not been for MLK and others like Rosa Parks, who inspired THE WORLD TO TAKE NOTICE, it would have been business as usual in the White House.

Next - why doesn't she? - Hillary Clinton will want to tell us that "Mohandas Gandhi's dream began to be realized when Lord Edward Irwin decided to get it done." I am awaiting with baited breath to hear what Hillary Clinton might tell us next, about the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. Let me guess: It took F. W. de Klerk to get it done?

I don't know who Hillary Clinton is anymore. (Maybe I never did - she began losing me back in 2002 already with her vote on Joint Resolution 114.)

While I understand that politicians will say things that come up wrong in the heat of a campaign, Hillary Clinton's comment was NOT an "innocent remark" as some make it to be.

More revealing to me, beyond the race-baiting issue, her comments also points to a certain Patrician dismissive attitude on the part of Senator Clinton, that does not just extend to Black-Americans, but string-out condescendingly to all of us Plebeans.

A thought occurs to me: Maybe the Senator is in the wrong primary and she should be ducking it out on the other side with John McCain and Rudy Giuliani for the the Republican party's nomination.

Anonymous said...

Why would billionaire Bob Johnson, who was an early backer of Social Security privatization and has a history of rounding up prominent Blacks to provide a veneer of "diversity" for the most reactionary schemes of the Bush administration, endorse Hillary Clinton?

Nausicaa said...

All politics aside, I think John Edwards struck the right tone on this. I mean it was, of course, the right thing for him to do politically, but it was also just the right thing to do - period:

Speaking before a predominantly African-American congregation at the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina, John Edwards criticized Hillary Clinton and her husband for comments they made last week just before the New Hampshire primary vote.

"I’m gonna say I was troubled recently to see a suggestion that real change came not through the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, but through a Washington politician," Edwards said. "I fundamentally disagree with that. Those who believe that real change starts with Washington politicians have been in Washington too long and are living in a fairy tale."

Though he did not mention Hillary Clinton by name, Edwards sought to address a statement she recently made, which some thought gave President Lyndon B. Johnson more credit than Martin Luther King for civil rights laws. Edwards’ use of "fairy tale" seemed to be a gibe at Bill Clinton’s "fairy tale" characterization of Obama’s Iraq War position.

The Clintons have since defended their remarks, claiming they were purposely distorted by rival campaigns for political gain—and were not intended to depreciate Dr. King’s influence or degrade Barack Obama.

In his address to the congregation, Edwards praised Obama for his political achievements.

"This may come as a surprise to some of you coming from another presidential candidate," Edwards said, "but as someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel an enormous amount of pride when I see the success that Senator Barack Obama is having in this campaign."

"The hopes that both Senator Obama and I have for this nation and this country that we love so much, these are not false hopes. They’re real hopes."

Nausicaa said...

Meanwhile, Barack Obama adopted a conciliatory tone in Reno, Nevada, where after speaking to about 2,500 people at a rally he told reporters:

"I've been a little concerned about the tenor of the campaign over the last few days... We share the same goals, we are all Democrats, we all believe in civil rights, we all believe in equal rights."

"I think that (former President) Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have historically and consistently been on the right side of civil rights issues. I think they care about the African American community and they care about all Americans and they want to see equal rights and equal justice in this country."


Hillary Clinton, took an equally conciliatory tone today in New York, hailing the fact that the Democratic Party's top two presidential candidates were a woman and a black man.

"Each of us, no matter who we are or where we started from, is a beneficiary of Dr. King," she said. "Both Sen. Obama and I know that we are where we are today because of leaders like Dr. King and generations of men and women like all of you."

There, now, isn't that more like it?

Anonymous said...

The MLK/Johnson remark has brought quite some interesting reactions on the internet. People are not duped and many share Maggie Bremmer's opinion that the remark was not innocent.

Here is a sample of a few comments, found on The Hunffington Post:

- "Isn't it funny how the Clintons introduced race but BLAME Obama for it?"

- "There is an old joke about the guy that kills his parents and then complains that he had to grow up as an orphan. Clinton brings up King and Johnson, and then is Shocked!!!... Shocked!!! that someone would question her motives.
The Clinton machine will do anything they can to win, plain and simple. They are shrewd and calculating, and you can bet that everything Clinton says in a public statement is first vetted by a cadre of political advisers."


Although there are those who have been looking at it as much ado about nothing, I think it was actually quite useful as a catalyst in promoting civil debate.

One of the more interesting comment, to me, came from HaroldBeu:

Now, it was clear to me that Senator Clinton did not mean to demean King"s contribution when she pointed to the fact that it took a President Johnson to create the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She only wanted to make the point that one can not live on hope alone, especially false hope, that she claims Obama is promoting.
But I think it is important to understand that President Johnson was able to close the deal in implementing a new law that for the first time made African Americans first-class citizens legally because the nation was ready. The nation would never have become ready without the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message of hope. And remember, King could not have implemented legal reforms because he did not have the political power to do so nor could he ever have that power in his day. His was the power of the prophet, of his ability to touch a nation with his hopes and dreams.
Now, unlike LBJ, Hillary was not able to implement health care reform, partly because the nation was not ready, but also partly because she lacked the skills to persuade people to make a radical change. I believe that Obama has those skills.

Maggie Bremmer said...

In a conference call with reporters, today, Representative Maxine Waters of California has endorsed the candidacy of Hillary Clinton taking up the senator's argument that she's a doer, "committed to concrete proposals and projects aimed at solving problems." She said Clinton understands the needs of underserved rural and urban Americans as well as "soccer moms."

Waters was named in 2005 and 2006 as one of the "most corrupt" members of congress by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Reportedly, Waters' daughter Karen charges other politicians to appear on mailers sent to constituents in Los Angeles showing her mother's support for the politician. Karen has received $450,000 in fees from this endeavor and Waters' son Edward has received $115,000. Waters' husband Sidney benefited from his wife's connections with his hiring as a political consultant by a firm, Siebert, Brandford, & Shank, seeking government investment. Sidney Williams earned $500,000 from this consulting, which consisted of introducing Siebert to politicians his wife had supported. Sidney and Edward Williams also benefited when they won a contract to run a Los Angeles golf course, with the decision made by a county supervisor who had won a close race after Waters' endorsement and from which they made financial gain of between $140,000 and $400,000.

Waters has served as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (of which she remains a member).

The Caucus describes its goals as "positively influencing the course of events pertinent to African-Americans and others of similar experience and situation," and "achieving greater equity for persons of African descent in the design and content of domestic and international programs and services."

Black members of Congress supporting Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential bid have expressed their concern over the fact that leaders of the officially neutral Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have been trying to help Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama’s supporters are privately crying foul because they feel that the group’s neutrality is being subverted by Chairwoman Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), chairman of the CBC Foundation, who have invited Clinton to a forum, last year (Sept. 28), at their Annual Legislative Conference at the Washington Convention Center. The forum was called “What’s at Stake in 2008 — A Dialogue with Sen. Hillary Clinton.”

Kilpatrick, Meek, Clinton and Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the congresswoman’s son, participated in the dialogue, in violation of CBC rules which dictate that only CBC members can hold these so-called “Brain Trusts” at such events.

“They sold out,” said a black Democratic lawmaker who asked not to be identified.

Another CBC member described it as “divisive."

Anonymous said...

Well, no big surprise, here.

Black Bourgeoisie and Political Opportunism go hand in hand.

The way Rep. Danny K. Davis from Illinois put it is:

"They are all professional politicians, and the first thing professional politicians learn is to try to be where they think it is more politically advantageous to be.”

Sadly, he's probably right about this.

“Many people [and typically Black bourgeoisie] will go with that which is projected, as opposed to going where there is no path and helping to blaze a trail."

Maggie Bremmer said...

And the winner is…..

I think the prize goes to John Lewis for the following comment:

“As an elected official, you have to lead,” Lewis said. “Sometimes [your constituents] don’t follow, but you still have to lead and not be afraid.” Lewis cited his long relationship with Bill Clinton as the chief factor in his backing Hillary Clinton. “They’re like family,” he said.

My disillusionment with John Lewis begun when he endorsed Joe Lieberman for re-election to the Senate in 2006, despite Lieberman's loss to Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary, and in spite of John Lewis staunch opposition to the Iraq War (which Lieberman supports.)

What gave?

How old is John Lewis today?

He’ll be 68 sometimes next month.

He is not that old, but then again time takes its tool for those who are into politics (like dog years, for politicians.)

And, it’s hard too to know what goes on in a politician’s life…

I am sure John Lewis feels he is doing the right thing, but I am disturbed that his judgment is more easily swayed by his felt allegiance to the Clinton dynasty than by his allegiance to his constituents. On can call this kind of personal loyalty many things, but “leadership” it certainly isn’t.

Bill Clinton's influence was certainly decisive here. There was an article in the New York Times in March commenting that "Representative John Lewis, whose political career grew out of the civil rights movement, had longed for the day he could vote for someone that he believed could become the nation's first black president.”

Apparently, still according to that article, “when Senator Barack Obama entered the race, he was on the cusp of declaring his support… Until Bill Clinton called.”

Reportedly, John Lewis said, at the time, that he was agonizing over whether to choose Senator Barack Obama, whom he once described as "the future of the Democratic Party," or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Maggie Bremmer said...

February 27, 2008:

Civil rights leader John Lewis dropped his support for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid today in favor of Barack Obama.

His change of heart follows a similar move by Rep. David Scott, a black Democrat who represents a neighboring district. It also comes a week after the Rev. Markel Hutchins, a young Atlanta minister, announced he would challenge Lewis in the Democratic congressional primary this summer.

"I think the candidacy of Senator Obama represents the beginning of a new movement in American political history that began in the hearts and minds of the people of this nation," he said. "And I want to be on the side of the people."

Anonymous said...

It would be a great irony indeed if in the first time in American History that an African American had a real chance at a shot for the presidency, it were an African American in the end who ultimately proved instrumental in sinking that candidacy.

And so, the "black bourgeoisie" award goes today to:

Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, a former editorial board member of USA Today who teaches at the Howard University School of Divinity.

New York Daily News columnist Errol Louis reports:

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright couldn't have done more damage to Barack Obama's campaign if he had tried. And you have to wonder if that's just what one friend of Wright wanted.

Shortly before he rose to deliver his rambling, angry, sarcastic remarks at the National Press Club Monday, Wright sat next to, and chatted with, Barbara Reynolds.

A former editorial board member at USA Today, she runs something called Reynolds News Services and teaches ministry at the Howard University School of Divinity. (She is an ordained minister).

It also turns out that Reynolds - introduced Monday as a member of the National Press Club "who organized" the event - is an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter...


Errol Louis could not tell if Reynolds' eagerness to help Wright stage a disastrous news conference with the national media was a way of trying to help Clinton - his queries to Reynolds by phone and e-mail haven't been returned.