Real Talk- The Afristocracy in Black America

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According to a study conducted by the Pew research institute, black and white Americans express very little animosity toward each other. The research deduced that 8-in-10 hold a favorable view about members of the other group. 8-in-10 also state that they know a person of a different race that they consider a friend. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and numerous affirmative action policies in the 1960’s and 1970’s have given way to this minor breaking of racial barriers. It built pressure to de-segregate work and expand opportunities to all.

The numbers suggest that race issues in America have been resolved, with segregation ending. However, this is far from the truth. Segregation still exists today. But the problem is not just an issue of black versus white. Racial inequality has evolved. It no longer needs to limit itself to splitting apart two different races of people. It can now internalize itself within a specific group and split it apart from within. This new racial inequality has manifested itself in the African American community today. Generational lines and class wars have created two different factions within the black race; The “Afristocracy” and The “Ghettocracy” (Dyson 3). It is this Afristocracy in America that divides African-American People from within their own social context.

The “Afristocracy” in America, a term coined by University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, is driven by the black elite. These upper-middle class blacks “rain down fire and brimstone upon poor blacks” for their lack of couth and culture. Afristocrats feel obligated to speak and account for their own race, preaching the ideals of hard work and personal responsibility. Factors such as income, education, and occupation determine who is part of this regal group. Many are prone to feelings of embarrassment by their lower-class counterparts. According to Dyson , this embarrassment drives their pursuits to “clean-up” the black poor and the mark they leave on the perception of African-American people (Dyson 16) . Notable members of the Afristocracy include Tom Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Cornel West, Barack Obama and Dr. Benjamin Gates.

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The emergence of a black elite in the U.S was heavily discussed in the 1800’s. In Frederick Douglass’ 1848 article, “What are the colored people doing for themselves?”, a thesis was asserted that raised what would later become a highly debated question. The question was whether the creation of a distinguished elite would result in “the elevation of the negro” (Douglass 10) or whether it would create an internalized chasm between the rich and poor within the black race.

Today, the latter has occurred. The very existence of an Afristocracy divides the black race. The black poor are constantly ridiculed and berated for their lack of education or morals. These impoverished blacks, to which Dyson refers to as the “Ghettocracy”, consist of the desperately unemployed and underemployed (Dyson 14). It includes single mothers on welfare, single working mothers and fathers, the married poor, incarcerated blacks, and impoverished children.

While the intentions of these elites may be fair, the way they act on them further divisionalizes African-American people. One of the most recent examples of the Afristocracy’s chasm inducing practices came on May 17, 2004 when famous comedian Bill Cosby dropped a figurative bomb on the consciences of not only Black America, but the entire nation. In a discourse delivered at a ceremony commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Brown v.s The Board Of Education , Cosby delivered what is referred today as the “pound-cake” speech. In the speech, Cosby launched an attack against poor blacks for “not holding up their end” in the deal (Dyson 13). He even went as far as to say that Jesus is “tired” of impoverished blacks (Cosby, Dyson Preface 3). His words criticizing poor blacks for their spending habits, speech patterns and parenting became the topic of countless newspaper editorials and Television conversations.

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Cosby is certainly not the first to give a social crtitique of the African-American culture. Black intellectual W.E.B Du Bois spoke controversially about a “negro self-sufficient culture in America” (Du Bois 2). However, the context in which Cosby provided his social commentary added to the division between rich blacks and poor blacks. While many prominent black leaders have taken the opportunity to share their beliefs on race and their feelings towards poor blacks, it is not typical for their beliefs to become public knowledge. Discussions, commentary and criticisms are commonly confined within the Afristocrat circle. As Dyson hints, this is done more to save the black elite from embarrassment and less to actually spare the poor (Dyson Preface 4). But when Bill Cosby gave his discourse he in turn gave fuel to the general public, especially “white social critics and other prophets of black ethical erosion”(Dyson 5). It let critics who had made similar claims and were charged as racists off the hook. The overall theme of Cosby’s attack is that the miserable plight of the black poor is brought on by their own self destructive behavior.

This pointing of fingers doesn’t do anything to unite African-Americans. As W.E.B Du Bois points out in his 1933 “Lecture on Negroes’ Economic Plight”, change within Black America “does not involve throwing bricks or calling names” (Du Bois 3). Rather, it involves a re-adjustment of ideals. As Du Bois asserts, the working class and unemployed within the African-American community must become “the most efficient of.. servants and thinkers”. They must become “the aristocrats” and “masters of professional classes” (Du Bois 5). The Afristocracy must engulf the entire black race for the chasm to end.

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