One of the sad consequences of how our national media depicts Black people in America is how it flattens Black life. More often than not, when you see Black people in the media, they are either millionaire athletes and entertainers or poor dysfunctional people inclined to criminality or other underclass pathologies. That this class polarity is an illusion that erases the vast majority of Black Americans is lost on many Americans, whose concept of Black America comes from rap music or their favorite sports figures.
But this social flattening of Black life into millionaires and criminals not only simplifies the perception of Black life; it erases the fact that Black people are diverse not just economically but in many ways, including in their political world views and ideas. Sadly, it’s not only the white media that is committed to the fallacy of Black class stratification.
There exists a university-pedigreed cadre of race leaders—the Black Political Class—who work as a “race management” elite that metaphorically corrals Black electoral choices into a politically contained vessel. The Black Political Class directs Black voter participation into a specific faction of the political party in exchange for corporate patronage, contractual set asides, and racial nepotism.
And because Black politics is mediated through an elite, highly-educated class, it has swapped out a material politics that would help lift African Americans out of poverty for a symbolic politics that allows the members of an elite to charge for their services.
“Black politics… is a petit-bourgeois class politics that projects demands for group recognition as equivalent to demands for popular redistribution,” writes political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. in his piece, “The Three Tremes,” where he argues that “recognition has increasingly displaced redistribution as the foundation of the political agenda.”
The result of this shift has been that though the political needs of the Black population are material, what we are served up are merely symbolic benefits, while the material benefits go to the Black political class alone—”specific individuals who organize, administer, and enact the recognition,” as Reed puts it.
The Black Political Class projects the illusion that it makes group demands for recognition of so called “Black issues,” while requesting little redistribution of resources to most Black people. The Black political class then uses that demand for recognition to promote a class agenda that rewards their interests simply for seeming to advocate for the “amorphous constituency known as the Black community.”
This is not a new phenomenon. There is a long history in America of this sort of thing. Race management as a means of Black political and social control goes back to the nineteenth century, when the American political establishment would select members of Black society who could be elevated as brokers for the affairs of the overall Black population, while acting as unelected racial ventriloquists for the political aspirations and needs of Black citizens.
The sad reality of this race management paradigm is that these leaders were elevated undemocratically, and they were chosen because their political demands and social agenda fit most in line with the desires of the American political establishment. Naturally, these race managers often ensured that more radical forms of activism within the Black community were neutralized or even crushed.
In the post-civil rights era, after the government’s neutralization of radical political activity of the late 1960s, the race management elite gained more access to corporate largesse and finance capital sponsorship. In return, the Black Political Class directed Black America into a politics of containment that did not challenge the status quo, and assured that no movement to confront the economic immiseration of working-class and poor Black people stood a chance.
In other words, Black politics has been an establishment class politics since the rise of the race management paradigm. With the death of movement politics in the late 1960s, Black politics has ever since served the aspirations of the Black Political Class and their class acolytes. Most recently, this class has found itself serving at the behest of the corporate forces whose interests are at odds with the poor and working class, large numbers of whom are Black.
It’s important to recognize that the Black Political Class is not restricted to elected officials. There is an entire institutional superstructure undergirding it, including civil rights organizations, Black membership organizations, fraternities and sororities, segments of the Black Church, Historically Black College and University administrations, and Black professional organizations.
Whenever major election season begins, these institutions, together with Black media personalities connected to Black elected political officials benefiting from corporate patronage, shape a political narrative of racial unity needed to herd Black voters into the most pro-corporate, anti-working-class factions of their political party.
In other words, the Black Political Class is able to leverage the fallacy of racial kinship politics to ensure their corporate patronage enriches them and their class acolytes, while the majority of Black people suffer the policy agenda of the American political establishment that has become increasingly subservient to the forces of finance capital and big business.
And as the quality of life for all working class and poor Americans has become more precarious, the Black political class uses the charade of serving the noble cause of the civil rights movement to function as pawns to the forces that not only disadvantage most of Black people, but poor and working-class Americans overall.
The race management establishment must be demoted from its position brokering the affairs of the majority of Black people who are the victims of the corporate friendly politics which the Black Political Class has been supporting for several decades. The only way this Black politics of containment can be remedied is for working class and poor Black people to join in multi-racial coalitions with those in a similar class position who are not blinded by racism. Such multi-racial working-class coalitions must root politics in their economic conditions and challenge the elites of both political parties dedicated to status quo politics that only serve the interests of corporate power.
Pascal Robert is a writer and political commentator whose work focuses on Black politics as well as Haitian politics and history. He is the co-host of THIS IS REVOLUTION podcast.
The views in this article are the writer’s own.
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