Black America and the Class Divide

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has a compelling and thoughtful piece in the NYTimes  reflecting upon the challenges within Black America as the huge inequality gap which affects all of the US is even more present within Black communities. Excerpts follow (but read the whole thing!):

The class divide is, in my opinion, one of the most important and overlooked factors in the rise of Black Lives Matter, led by a new generation of college graduates and students. I hear about it from my students at Harvard, about the pressure they feel to rise, yes, but also the necessity to then look back to lift others.

I asked Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence, a senior, what was behind the racial unrest on campus. Ms. Matsuda-Lawrence is co-founder of “I, Too, Am Harvard,” a multiplatform campaign that gives voice to students who often go unheard and that brought the concept of micro-aggressions into the light. She described the motivation as “our sense of responsibility to the black communities who do not have access to the universities we attend.” The goal: “to call out the ways our own institutions participate in and perpetuate structures of racism that affect the black communities we represent through our presence at places like Harvard.”

That is, the college campus is a microcosm of practices at work in the larger society, something of a laboratory in which America’s racial experiment might be altered.

Unlike the way they are framed in so many op-eds, modern-day activists, Ms. Matsuda-Lawrence says, are anything but “a bunch of oversensitive, privileged and coddled black college students complaining and whining that they don’t feel safe because of building names and house master titles.”

The nation’s African-American students are searching profoundly and visibly for a definitive end to racial injustice.

Change, even at the symbolic level, is difficult, of course, and it remains to be seen what this current wave of protests will accomplish. Will the fight against police brutality, symbols of the Confederacy and society’s plethora of micro-aggressions become the basis of a broader movement for the improvement of underfunded public school education, for the right to a job with decent wages, and for the end of residential segregation that relegates the poor to neighborhoods with murder rates as alarming as those on the South Side of Chicago?

What is certain is that the outrage that led to Black Lives Matter and its spinoffs will be with us for years to come unless these legacies of slavery and Jim Crow become remnants of a racist past.