Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Slow, Painful Death of Boston's Black Middle Class - Part I

Marcus Garvey
It was in the late 1990's that I became a part of a group called The State of Young Black Boston, an organization comprised of the up and coming young,
mainstream-bound leadership of Black Boston. There was an attitude and element with this group that seemed to differ from the older generation; but I could not put my finger on it. In time it became apparent: The cultural, political, and economic worlds of Black Boston where once much more cohesive and maintained a balance that yielded an urbane and educated community.

Monroe Trotter
Today, their social descendants are a much less well- rounded group of seemingly more opportunistic and superficial individuals; where status rules over substance. The value of a Harvard degree is greater than the value of a Harvard education and cultural events mean that it has a bar and a DJ... and if we're trying to be fancy, we might spring for a band. The presence of the new breed of elected Black officials at community-based artistic and cultural events, as well as community originated civic dialogues is blatantly absent, unless guaranteed a 'high profile' photo op with other who's-who of the new Black leadership (or has the fore mentioned bar and DJ). A far cry from the days of seeing Mel King and Byron Rushing in the audience of a play or concert in Freedom House; or Gloria Fox at a concert in Franklin Park.Watching this cultural and dare I say intellectual de-evolution over the past 25 years has been both a fascinating and incredibly sad experience; just as it is to watch any tragedy unfold.

It was 1986 when I first arrived in Boston, as a freshman at Boston University. Two things that were made abundantly clear when I took a look at Boston's social structure: 1) Boston was a segregated city. More so than New York; and 2) Boston's Black community had an actual social and economic middle- class that was part of it's social, political and economic leadership. The basic constructs and functional examples of Black Nationalism, Pan- Africanism/ Garveyism were apparent and served as an easy and welcoming world for a young man raised in a middle-class West Indian household.The cautions issued by Boston University during orientations, telling us to steer clear of Roxbury. Dorchester and "the murder capital of Massachusetts"
Elma Lewis
Mattapan, eventually went unheeded by a few of us who wanted access to a Black community with barbershops and pattie shops, clothing and record stores like the ones in our own communities in New York, Chicago, Philly and St. Louis.

To an 18 year-old, far from his family in New York (all be it a short bus ride to my people in Mashpee) this city and community would play an integral role in my progression into young adulthood and growth as an artist, teacher and man. Sadly, this world is rapidly disappearing and what is replacing it is gravely lacking the core foundation and leadership to sustain the quality of effort of the past.

(To Be Continued)

1 comment:

Grisel said...

I am so happy you wrote this, Mwalim. The same thing existed in Chicago. The community that put together The Chicago Defender, for example, saw an altered frame of mind in its children, the children of the Reagan 1980s. At Kenwood Academy, a predominantly African American and Jewish school in the same neighborhood where our first Black mayor lived (Harold Washington), my peers often spoke of getting jobs on Wall Street, making money, and they flashed their Louis Vuitton bags and wallets. Activism meant helping other people of color do the same thing: get a job at Merrill Lynch, use our cultural knowledge to help a corporation reach out to people of color, that kind of stuff.

I was disheartened by this philosophy, which is why I had to be a punker and most people of color at the time thought that was crazy, but it was the only place where, I felt, ethics were being discussed. Some hip hop had that going on back then, but that was destroyed as quickly as punk was.

Needless to say, the ethical divide I witnessed after Kenwood - at universities and after we started getting jobs - frightened me even more. I wished that the brilliant minds I grew up with had utilized their gifts for more creative and innovative goals.

However, I do think that after some life experience, some of us have started to rethink our goals. I've been happy to learn about the multifaceted lives my peers live, and how down they are with reforming the activist network that allowed them to become educated and brilliant people of color.

I hope we can discuss some ideas as to how to make that happen on this blog.