Class Warfare Pt. I Our Kind of People vs. You all

Posted: June 28, 2009 in Uncategorized
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So I went to Sequoia’s on the DC waterfront for my birthday a few weeks ago.  Well, let me restate that. Tried to go to Sequoia. After a lovey dinner at Bistro Fraincais (I highly recomend their early bird prix fixe special: 3 courses for $25), we strolled down there only to find that last call is now 9PM. Last year, it was 10PM. Back in the day, I think it was like 12PM. My friends and I all surmised the same thing: They’re really trying hard to get rid of the element. By the element, I’m referring to a name my friend Bianca calls a certain class of people. You know who I’m talking about. So we went over to Tony and Joe’s, which is right next to Sequoia, and where the element migrates once the Hennessy stops flowing at Sequoia. If you’re unfamiliar with sequoia, it’s a large seafood restaurant in Washington DC right on the harbor. What makes the place neat is that it’s large, has great views of the water, and has a huge outdoor area with tables and a bar and these nicely lit trees. If you live in Brooklyn, think a much more upscale Habana. But with fish, not corn.

All this brought me back to a conversation I had a few years ago when my Mom, my Dad, and his friend Chucky were all eating at Sequoia on what happened to be a Sunday evening. Chucky’s from Cape Cod and is one of the few black people I know who can pull off a Massachusetts accent without a hint of irony. You know, like BAH-ston. Cape CAHD. Things of that nature. We were eating my mom began discussing the influx of people who frankly, didn’t look like they belonged there. The Element. I explained to my Mom, who’s a rural sociologist by training , and naturally thinks of these patterns in nerd terms, that around 5 or 6, there’s a shift change in the consumer base. The upper class whites and blacks finishing up Sunday Brunch dates or an early dinner with the family close out their tabs and vacate to make room for lower class negroes from Prince George’s county and Ward 7 and 8, and their middle class hangers-on who ascribe to emulate their hip lower class values and sense of style. Chucky, who lives a stone’s throw away from Martha’s vineyard mentioned that the same thing had been happening recently there. The Mom, being the little fireplug that she is, argued that we shoudn’t let them drive us out, rather we should stand fast against the tide and rally forth. We should take back this beach from these trespassers! It was a stump speech worthy of Winston Churchill. I invited her to stay around in that case. To which she replied, “I don’t need to be around these ghetto people. Tennis is on. I’m going home.” Way to abandon your troops, Mom.

So I had pretty much forgotten about this whole shebang but for the fact that a couple of articles came out recently talking about the ever-widening class divide that seems to be gripping Black America. One in the Root, was about the over-representation of foreign blacks in Ivy League schools. The comments show the schism as people argue for the many reasons American blacks underperform.  One in New York Mag, written by the insufferable Toure, was actually directed at the exact same phenomena Chucky was talking about two years ago: The Element invading Martha’s Vineyard and the response by upper-crusty blacks wearing polo shirts and eating cucumber sandwiches. The response wasn’t positive. But the strategic response was very effective:

“A series of community meetings were convened. “No one said ‘Where all these loud niggers coming from?’ But that was the vibe from black and white Vineyarders.” In 1997, a solution was implemented that was simple and subtle enough to fix the problem while avoiding charges of racism: The ferry from Woods Hole changed its policy to eliminate standby passengers and to make reservations nontransferable. Party promoters could no longer buy tickets in bulk, and most students wouldn’t think to make a reservation months ahead of time. The parties moved elsewhere, and the Vineyard went back to business as usual.”

So why? Why did they come to OUR places with their unrefined manners, baggy clothes, rude conduct towards women and loud cursing? And better yet, why are we so perturbed by this? Are we threatened, embarassed, annoyed? Why can’t we just get along? Here are some ideas I’ve heard:

1. You all like to start shit: As part of your general chip on your shoulder and obsession with swag and being tough guys, an unacceptable percentage of you didn’t come to socialize, you came to fight. An unacceptable percentage of that percentage came with guns. Now while you all can beat each other in the streets and shoot at each other all day with somewhat limited repercussions, the same isn’t true for us. A felony assault charge for us would throw a serious wrench into most of our plans. Which when we invariably run into you leaves us with some unpalatable choices:

-Get Chumped

-Fight you and lose. You’re probably better at it than we are since you have so much practice. Also, your freinds will undoubtedly jump us, and since a couple of our friends are kind of punks, you’ll have the numbers advantage.

-Fight you and win. And get hauled off to jail, incurring bail costs, legal defense fees and a potentially career killing felony. Great

2. You make it harder for us. People associate us with you because of the fairly obvious phenotypical similarities. So when you show up with your retrograde behavior, let’s face it, it reflects badly on us. Next time WE show up to the same place, we’re going to be subject to a certain level of suspicion because last time YOU were there, three people got shot.

3. You’re a bad influence As much as we would like to make our brand of unthreatening academic high achievement “cool”, it appears that you all with your casual nonchalance, shiny watches, and rollicking swagger have won the culture wars up to this point. Which means that you’ve done a magnificent job of subverting OUR youth to your way of life. Witness the piss-poor academic performance of schools in even high-income black suburbs and the fact that we all dress like you. You are a fashionable bunch, I’ll grant you that. But your seductive negative influence on too many of US has got to stop.

4. You judge us. Not unlike how we judge you, so I can’t really blame you. It’s called cass warfare, not class one-side assault.Regarding the vineyard, one person in the article said:

“It’s this mecca where you can be yourself and be with people who have so much in common with you. No one has to feign some street cred when they’re playing tennis.” It’s a source of communion and of pride. “When you see a beautiful black family with their kids, it makes you feel really good about being black,”

You all, not so much. We don’t really feel good about being black around you all for two reasons. One, your version of blackness is wack. It’s an infantile celebration of violence, materialism, mysogyny, and general underperformance. Two, you make us feel that our version of blackness is inadequate. We know we should be confident in our version and believe in it, but it’s difficult. We want to feel conencted to “blackness”, not have it questioned or ridiculed because we don’t engage in the more self-destructive aspects of your culture. We realize we can be  a little tight-assed sometime. We’ll work on it.

So am I totally out of line here? Was this just a rant designed to up the arms race of class warfare/ Or are wroking towards something of a resolution? What are your thoughts? I’ve only covered one side of the argument. Part II will discuss what the upper class is doing oh so wrong.

  1. Cori says:

    I’m a M.V/camp atwater/j&j breed etc and I sometimes hate my associations with some orgs and people.

    With that being said, I just finished reading this article:

    The comment that stuck out to me at the end was: “Obama is more a man of the people,” says a Vineyarder who’s part of black high society. “He doesn’t seem to identify with affluent black people. His wife definitely doesn’t; she is basically a ghetto girl. That’s what she says—I’m just being sociological. She grew up in the same place Jennifer Hudson did. She hasn’t reached out to the social community of Washington, and people are waiting to see what they’ll do about that.”

    Black elite and the Obama’s DON’T mix. The Obama’s aren’t considered to be one of them so based on the rigid definition of the term when taken in the context of Lawrence Otis Graham’s book “Our Kind of People,” but why would anyone, especially a supposedly educated Black person, make that sort of comment to a White magazine? To me, it just felt like he/she was trying to get a cheap shot in, in a way. I know Michelle grew up on the South Side, but does that really mean “ghetto girl?”

    To some of the black elite it does not matter what you do, what school you go to, what you have accomplished. You will NEVER be apart of them because you were born on the wrong side of the tracks. Notice they are waiting for the Obama’s to reach out to them, versus the other way around when the Obamas have accomplished more than any of them ever will. What good are they to her? She is the First Lady, what a riot but that is how some folks think and knowing good and well her reception in that society still may be shoulder cold. This attitude was made very clear during the campaign when it came to who *some* were voting for and why. Also remember the entitlement issues that popped up during the election?

    Most of these so called black elites don’t control anything in the grand scheme of things. The FLOTUS is way more important than all of them combined and has way much more power and connections. They need to stay in their lanes and their money isn’t all that long nor old either.

    There are a “few” of us in the circle who think logically and for the greater good of the group, and not in a classist manner. I won’t ever adopt the pretentious ways of my family.

  2. Cori:

    You actually stole a little of my thunder from Part II. wherein I will unleash a devaststaing attack on the so-called “black upper class” and their monumental failings.

  3. DayDreamer says:

    Growing up I had all of the privileges most ‘our kind of people’ have, eg The Cape & Nantucket, sleep away summer camp, dance classes, Broadway plays, 5-star restaurants, etc., etc. My ‘rents pushed me to go to a black college and mom lived the sorority life; as do I now too. I always knew I was a lot more blessed than some of my friends and peers. However, it wasn’t until HS I learned of J&J. I went to a dance and I was super unimpressed.-still not knowing what J&J really was. I grew up mainly in NYC where J&J wasn’t so prevalent like it is in suburbs and the midwest. My parents didn’t run in circles with typical J&J parents so they weren’t ‘invited’.

    In college J&J came up again. I was never ethnic enough for the regular black people and they thought I was uppity. Therefore, I naturally hung with the ‘rich black kids.’ I felt my life was more aligned with theirs. Now in my mid-late 20s, more than ever, I’m meeting the real inner circles of the J&J kids. We all lounge and run in the same circles and make up this Harlem/ Brooklyn buppie scene. I still don’t feel any different and fit right on in. There are rare exceptions when the money is obvious. But mostly, we are all doing the same thing; just some have help from Daddy more than others. I’m convinced that family last names or youth organizations don’t create the only ‘our kind of people’ upbringings. Now that I look back, my family IS ‘our kind of people’ just minus the last name, a house on the Vineyard and yea a J&J link. I debate whether I’ll want my kids in J&J if I remain in NYC. What is the point? But if I move to the ‘burbs, then maybe??? I don’t wanna get caught up in the hype of it all…..

    Which leads me to my last point…there is such a push these days to be a Buppie. To fit in and be the Joneses. I look at one of female mentors who is about 10 years older and she and her husband stay looped in like a mug. He’s a music exec and she is a stay-at-home-mom; with a degree mind you. They have a nanny, baby-sitter, house keeper, kid’s in J&J, they to the Vineyard, etc… sometimes it seems so overwhelming. Is the new successful black plateau of achievement to in fact be a Buppie?

    (Dang, I have so much more to say but I don’t wanna take up your comment section)

  4. I don’t recall implementing a word limit. I think it creates more fodder for discussion, so go head, have at it

  5. DayDreamer says:

    Mmmmm, my last thought was regarding social groups. Lifestyle is one thing. But as I’ve come to understand things, groups, associations and who you know is what really matters in these circles. I’m kinda going two ways on this so follow me….With the ‘popularity’ among today’s upper-middle class black families to reach that next level, has the authenticity and exclusitivity of these elitist groups diminished? Do the ‘new rich people’ really care about the organization or just the name? Additionally, Cori stated, she won’t adopt the pretentiousness of her family, which is great. So on that note, have the children of the former elite generation given up the ghost of their parents and grandparents? Do lil Sasha and Maila, do stand a chance with people like Cori? It’s almost a catch 22. One generation is going out and the next generation going into these groups is up in the air. It kind of reminds me of when I was on the yard and we had to take in a new line into my sorority. Our main concern was chapter preservation. Who could we select to protect and uphold our traditions and ideals yet bring fresh new perspectives? We did our best. But as these organizations get older and older, the new people seem to be getting less and less concerned with the real reason for these groups…..ok, I’m off my soapbox….thoughts?

  6. Reina says:

    Not sure how I want to comment on this. Black people like to gang up on me. “You’re only 35% Black!” Whatever. (j/k)

    New to the DC area, I checked out Sequoia recently. Everyone kept suggesting it so I went, & I gotta say I think I wore a disapproving look the entire time. I felt kinda snobbish due to the thoughts I were having.

    Eh. I have more thoughts, but I’m going to wait until Pt. 2 as I think it’ll be more apropos.

  7. Heavens. Even the Mexicans are looking down their nose at us, people! We gotta get our shit together!

    Just kidding, Reina. Whoa, whoa, put the switchblade down, I was just kidding!

  8. ebwriter says:

    I definitely agree with this post! Our people HAVE to do better! Sink or Swim. And so many are already drowning. SMDH

  9. frankly says:

    I agree 100% with this post. With regard the Lawrence Otis Graham types, let’s remember this class rose up post-slavery. Some of us descend from the free people of color who existed well before these people knew what a class was. Obama is one of us, not one of them. His wife, she is as much one of Graham’s people as any other.

  10. fishintruth says:

    I thought I was reading something from the 1940’s not 2009. People who think and act like you and your Mom are the real N’s of the world! You all were just the house niggas who scraped and katooed at the feet of the white people or the so called free blacks who lived in even more fear than the slaves. Your yellow skin and attitude about it just identifies you as house niggas who were raped and breeded by the white people. They breeded you so you could be a scary nigga they wouldn’t have to fear You all are just trying to hold on to that junk because you have nothing else. You can’t give up your Uncle Tom house nigga status after all these years. Even most white people have stopped trying to live that crazy junk. What the heck is Martha’s Vineyard but a peice of dirt?

    You and your Momma are real dumb nigga to think class is about what you eat, wear drive and games you play. Anyone can go to the car dealership and get a car! Your momma tries to act like playing tennis is high class! She is such a dumb B! The most famous and best women tennis players ever are Serena and Venus, proud girls from the HOOD! When you dumb niggas can play and get paid what they do and still keep it real you may matter. Until then you aren’t s–.

    Look you don’t have to be fraidy cat house niggas anymore. Brave real Afro-Americans fought for civil rights and they even included you uncle tom niggas. Get real! Every community, country and skin color group of people has had people who are weak and evil like you. Thank God, real people don’t give a damn now. That restaurant doesn’t give a d—who spends their money there. Do you really think they are going to turn money away for your broke ass. I don’t hate and definitely are not jealous of you. Yet, I will not tolerate you. Yes, my family was greatly blessed with more education, real estate, and accepted physical appearance than most people black or white people. My family did not teach me to lord over the other people or even to help them with pity. My family’s code is, “Real class is to love, respect yourself and others in a Godly matter. My mother was a real lady who would turn over in her grave because I said the words nigga or even white trash. May she and God forgive me but you all are just real ignorant, low down true niggas!!! Nigga’s like you make me know why People of color stayd slaves so long!!! You all are some of the dumb bas—who were cowardly enough to betray us to get over here or turn in escape plans!!! I hope I never meet you bcause if you started talking that junk I would probably vomit on you!!!

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