(Todd A. Smith)
I must confess that my new guilty television pleasure is “Our Kind of People.”
From the moment I watched an advance screening of the pilot, I knew the show would touch a nerve in the Black community because whenever dirty laundry is aired it causes a stink.
But the class divisions in the Black community that have recently hit the small screen thanks to shows like “Our Kind of People” and the now completed, “Tyler Perry’s The Haves and The Have-Nots” has forced many in the Black community to look at some of the intra-racial discrimination that exists in the Black community.
That discrimination can sometimes cause as much damage to a Black person as outright racism because it seems to hurt more when the discrimination comes from someone within your community versus someone from the outside.
But it seems that most people from the Black community can relate to the socioeconomic divisions portrayed on “Our Kind of People” from the upper class looking down on the middle class or the lower class, to the middle class and lower class believing that those in the upper class have forgotten where they came from.
Or people believing members of the upper class have become elitist in their views of Black Americans not cut from the same cloth as them.
That division even motivated me to read the book that inspired the show, written by “Our Kind of People” producer, Lawrence Otis Graham.
As a child of middle-class parents, I often got ridiculed from people who thought that we had more than them.
I often thought that those haters were just jealous of my parents’ accomplishments and hard work.
While I still believe that to be true for the simple fact that my parents achieved their success “out of the mud,” watching and reading “Our Kind of People” shows that that animosity felt by the middle and lower class for the upper class or even upper middle class is sometimes well-deserved.
Unfortunately, many in the Black elite do not care about one’s hard work, intelligence, accomplishments.
They only care about how long a person’s family has been successful, educated and elite, based on information from the book and this week’s television episode.
Therefore, to the old Black elite, one could not earn elite status.
One had to be born into elite status.
In the book “Our Kind of People,” Graham wrote, “‘Black Atlanta is a very closed society if your family has been here less than three generations,’ says a Harvard-educated attorney who arrived in the city over a decade ago. ‘I grew up in Jack and Jill, and my parents are professionals, but there’s a group here that wants nothing to do with new people like me. When I first got here, I’d go to these business events where I’d meet guys my own age, and it was like they were talking in code,’ says the attorney. ‘I’d be hearing last names of people I didn’t know. And when I asked who they were, people would look at me like I was from outer space. And the women were even worse. It got to the point where I had to start reading the society columns and go to the library to get history books on Atlanta.’
“A New Yorker who is a friend of the attorney agrees. ‘I just keep my mouth shut at these events. I was at First Congressional Church a couple of years ago and this group of older women I met scared me to death. When I mentioned that my mother had gone to Spelman around the same time as they were there, they all looked at each other as if to say, ‘How can that be?’ Then one of them asked me, ‘Why don’t we know her?’ When I told them she moved to New York and pledged Zeta after graduating, they completely lost interest in the conversation.
“‘And when people around here ask you, ‘So, who are you?’ or ‘Who are your parents?’ they want more than just a name. They want to know how many generations of Atlanta you represent, what year your grandparents graduated from Spelman and Morehouse, which literary club your great-grandmother belonged to, what street in Collier Heights your parents lived on in the sixties, and who in your family goes to Friendship Baptist Church.”
While Black Americans should take pride in the fact that many people of the same hue found success so early after the emancipation of slavery, and even before for some, any division amongst us that prevents us from collective growth should get a collective side-eye.
Success should mean little to people if they cannot make it easier for others behind them to find success too.
When one achieves elite status in their profession or lifestyle, they should reach down to help other brothers and sisters get to their level.
In the book “Our Kind of People,” Graham talked about how segregation made it necessary for Black people to stick together and support Black businesses and institutions of higher learning.
After all, if Black people did not support other Black people, then a horrible situation would have been made worse.
Now people from that same socioeconomic group that thrived despite discrimination are often discriminating against their own because of something they had no control over, what family they were born to.
Rapper Rakim once said it best.
He said, “It ain’t where you from, it’s where you at.”
Some Black people were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, while some had plastic.
However, we should be helping everyone from our community earn that gold and silver, even if they were not born with a golden ticket.