Join the discussion.  Is the black community better off in 1998 than it was in 1968? How can its growing class gap be closed?


homeless man

It is about time a show such as FRONTLINE gets to the heart of the matter in our society. I have believed for a long time it is class, not race that separates us, and even within the black community, it is obvious that two worlds exist. I honestly do have any good or rational solutions, and I am truly not sure anything to date has actually helped. It is, however, very difficult to see the "radical children" of the 60's, who objected to material possessions, cling and fight and actually find the means to keeps others of their own race down (white and black). It's almost like we never learn that the journey is better when all of us on on-board.

Thank you for an excellent television show.

Steve Kadar
Richmond, VA


Why did you even bother mentioning race? You should have called your program "Why we love communism". This class separation is the same argument that Marx made in the 19th century, we see how well it worked out. Capitalism is the best system for the poor. If people can't understand why, I fear for the future of the world.

Steve Johansson
Detroit, MI


This documentary surely raises issues that are contingent to this country's future, but in my way of thinking it does a great disservice to those that fought the struggles for racial equality in this country, a goal still unachieved. I come from a family rich in their efforts in fighting for the rights of not only blacks but the disadvantaged of all races. Clearly, though particularly in the minds of inner city black youth as displayed in the program, the issue of race and not class predominates. The lack of education surely leaves these youth unequipped to rationalize the ills before our nation, but this does not dismiss the issue of race as the primary point of conflict in their collective minds. The work of Dr. John Hope Franklin from slavery to freedom to presidential appointee to chair the committee on race will all be for naught if we fail to remedy the chasm in race relations first and foremost. If we can collectively deal with the issue of race in this country I truly think that the class issue will rise to the surface to eventually be dealt with in similar fashion.

James W. Compton, Jr.
Virginia Beach Va.


It was refreshing to hear distinguished Blacks recognizing that social inequality today is more of an economic problem than a racial one. The problem of drugs was not given enough stress, however. The disproportionate incarceration of Blacks unfortunately correlates with disproportionate use of street drugs by Blacks, and so is the drop-out rate of Black high school students. No one has much chance of rising out of poverty and ignorance when addicted to drugs or when raised by an addicted parent. For so many, the slavery of the Ante-bellum South has been replaced by a far worse slavery -- to drugs. Let all races work together for a new emancipation!

George B. Markle, M.D.
Carlsbad NM


Folks at Frontline...After watching tonight's program, I am left thinking that is was created to ease the conscience of Henry Louis Gates Jr. This program thoughtfully illustrated the conflict Mr. Gates is exploring within himself around his own abandonment of regular Black folks. However, the real nitty gritty conversations that need to occur about issues of race and glass are occurring in the halls of k-12 schools and publicly funded hospitals and small business where teachers and doctors and struggling entrepreneurs are working hard to not only close the class divide, but to pay for their student loans, small business loans and the financial crises that go along with being part of a developing community. Please inform Mr. gates and his chums that their difficulty in understanding this phenomenon is the result of their inability to not only understand but to FEEL the pains that are part of living within the confines of reality.

Ilana Kaufman
Oakland, CA


I think your program touched on subject that is really too vast to be explored in one hour production. Like Skip Gates life is interesting, but it ain't my life and before the debate shifts, more stories from a wider array of places in the black community need to be told. One of the key elements that I feel is missing is any analysis of the impact of the Vietnam War on the lives of working class black folk. I too remember those halcyon days of the black community in the civil rights era of pre-Vietnam America and contrast it to what came after. My contention is that war, which we studied and partied through inflicted massive social damage on the black community and that the seeds of gangsta rap were sown in the soil of Vietnam. Our intellectuals, in order to answer their own questions should look outside of their own experiences a little more in coming to grips with the social and economic bifurcation they lament so deeply. Further the need here is to widen the debate where the stories of more working class folks are told. I think a lot of interviewees got the analysis right, but their age old problem is that they only know how to talk to each other and not the people who are the subject of their internal debate.

Clyde Dorsey
Bridgeport, CT.


I identified very much with the narrator in this program, being of about the same age and having had similar life experiences. I find myself at mid-life concerned about the plight of those who did not have the opportunities or benefits, like affirmative action, that I had. Like the professor, I find myself more comfortable with those in my class, and troubled about the increasing distance I feel from members of my race. I thought your program was thought provoking and hope it will encourage more discussion about the schism that exists. It also emphasized to me the need for each of us as individuals to do what we can where we are to encourage our young people and help them find hope for a better future within themselves. Excellent program!

Sandra Rosser


Although I truly enjoyed the presentation, I feel as though the documentary did not delve into the reasons why middle class Blacks are so far removed from other Blacks that are in an entirely different arena. It is not as if we do not want to affiliate ourselves with our disenfranchised counterparts. The truth of the matter is that in many situations, we are shunned and made to feel as though we are sell outs. We are constantly bombarded with statements such as, "You don't act Black," "You don't talk like a Black person," You are not really one of us." What these segment of society fails to grasp is the reality that the majority of White America still views us as Black, regardless of our accomplishments. There are so many middle class Blacks that have worked exceptionally hard to attain the status they currently hold, only to be trapped between two worlds. One which shuns you because you aspire to do more, and the other that despises you for having the nerve to (in their slanted view)want to be White.

Suisun City, CA


Did I miss it or did you overlook the facts about people regardless of race who come up seeing no value in an education and so don't ever try to break out of their self imposed lifestyles. I applaud all people who move if they need to, learn if they need to, get help if they need to, and break through that pride that keeps them in bondage to an attitude of defeatism and self destruction.

Also, what about people who just flat can't learn what is needed to overcome the obstacles to a decent income level? Who will provide and teach the basic technology to the poor? Who will watch the kids so that the poor can work? Who will provide a decent wage that will encourage more than a mere "get by " lifestyle? And who will do it with no strings attached? You who are strong should support the weak and you who are strong should take care of those unable to care for themselves. As for those who are able but unwilling? Well, they make their bed. Anybody of any race should be able to have information easily obtainable that would help them climb as high up the ladder as they desire to. Where are the t.v. commercials for that?

Michael Cutler
College Station Texas


This was an excellent program. I am concerned that Dr. Gates did not address how one's personal decisions can also separate and create a large gulf between the Black Middle class and the Black underclass. It is not only economics and class that fractures the community it is the lingering pychosocial trauma of race. Many blacks hate their own skin color. We even seek out persons from the larger population to assimilate to. This too must be addressed.

Mathews, VA.


Another piece of the puzzle. That's how I view Skip Gates' piece on race in America. Relationship between blacks folks at various class levels has been neglected because the impact has never been so profound. Yet, one could argue that it began before slavery, dating back to Africa, when various tribes struggled within themselves for leadership and control of the village. Although this subject has been under-studied, the problem is not new and unlikely to go away any time soon. What we failed to realize is that obtaining the opportunity for upward mobility meant that we would take on the characteristics of the same people who were already there and inherit the same class struggles that were systemic to their racial group.

Now we find ourselves at a crossroads trying to define whether our success makes us a credible member of the so-called black community. I contend that the black community is constantly changing and for us to limit it to the ghetto is short-sighted. There are a number of suburban "black communities" where good things are happening. Youngsters are gaining a sense of culture and their blackness is being defined by their success rather than slang. You need not look beyond Florida A&M University and the number of National Merit scholars enrolling in FAMU annually.

The failure, I believe, has been a reluctance for us to tell the real black success stories. Many of the young African-American students who are in college today come from such backgrounds. However, their point of origin in life doesn't necessarily mean they are distanced from the plight of the inner-city poor. Regardless of what class we come from, our skin color cause a reaction from non-blacks that reminds you, whether you're from Harvard or Harlem, that bring about a second-class persona in how they deal with us. When that happens, most of us just deal with it and move on and work harder. A missing piece of the puzzle is personal responsibility. The documentary didn't include how the decisions that one makes about life often determines where he or she will end up. Racism is too easily invoked in a debate that really has more to do with person decisions. Decisions such as whether to have sex as a youngster, whether to experiment with drugs or alcohol, whether to steal cars or work to have your own. Racism has nothing to do with a 21-year-old man getting a 12-year-old girl pregnant! Let's not paint such a broad brush when it comes to what the black middle class isn't doing for America. The real question is what is the underclass doing for itself! It's a fair question because many us began there, but decided not to stay there. . .with or without blaming our plight on racism.

Bill Cooper
West Palm Beach, FL


As an academic, currently teaching at an Ivy League school, I was left with many questions after your segment of Frontline. On the one hand, Gates's dismay is very real. One does ask the question at times, "What am I doing here?" And this happens to me, not only on those days where the racism is palpable and real, but on the days that it goes "well" and some white person makes a "You're not like the rest of 'them'" sort of comment. I think my feeling about "The Talented Tenth" these days is that Du Bois's moment in 1903, when he put the idea on the table, is not indicative of the sorts of resources that exist at this moment. If anything, many of the kids I teach are from the middle-class and as such, they have no idea what it means to struggle. On the one hand that is good, on the other, it produces what I like to refer to as "survivor guilt," where the students start to adopt the dysfunctional idea that mediocrity is a way to "keep it real."

I will say one thing about the program that bothered me: where was a discussion of the Black church? It seems to me that is the one place where Black folks of different socio-economic background still come together and work together to accomplish all sorts of things. While Mr. Gates does well to pose the question, "Are we better off," I'm bothered by the fact that the Church still represents a place where activism, vision, and cooperation continue to rule the day. In the church my wife and I attend, we worship amongst single mothers, grandparents raising their children, former drug addicts, retired postal workers, teachers, etc. It could be that one way to deal with the class issues facing the Black community is to look to the alternatives offered by spirituality. And, here, I would hesitate to say that by "spirituality" I don't just mean Christianity, I mean spirituality of all types. There ARE places where we can do good work. But I don't think that it's intellectuals who should be taking the lead. If anything, we should acknowledge that the most important thing we can do is to think, write, read, and teach. And while we may do that in a variety of settings (prisons, halfway houses, alternative schools, shelters), ultimately, what we do is NOT activism--and need not be. But we must have the compassion and vision to SHARE what we learn with those coming behind us. That might take us a whole lot further than our usual choice of either guilty hand wringing or arrogance and self-aggrandizement.

Herman Beavers
Burlington, N.J.


The discussion was right on point and very well presented. I especially appreciated the ending, which recognized that a National conversation is needed on class, but also recognized that it is unlikely that America is ready for that conversation. Until then, I hope that the Black Middle Class, collectively and individually will commit itself to participating in some way to uplifting the lower class Brothers and Sisters. One aspect that particularly bothers me is the situation when so many young African-American males are incarcerated and society has a wonderful opportunity to provide education, job-training, anti-drug education, and values training, all of which could move them toward becoming productive and successful citizens with good self esteem. But instead, practically nothing is done in this regard and when they are finally released, they are worse off and more of a threat to society and themselves than when they entered.

Melvin Buckley
Baltimore, MD


There are divisions in America, but I see the problems we face as a Nation are not so much race oriented as culturally. It's as if we don't want to see that we aren't all an amorphous collective, that we live, believe, and dream our own versions of human history. Race is one of many factors that must be considered when speaking of the inequalities faced not only by black Americans, but by all who seek interaction with others. Everyone judges, just by what degrees is what people want to measure, and wish others to be measured by. I know this commentary is vague, but this issue is bigger than color or even class, it encompasses human behavior, and a better understanding of why (frustrating sometimes) we have through history, had racial, cultural, and gender based prejudices. I believe the key to our current discourse on the state of American culture is to look into the past, and draw those lessons into our present discussions. Thank you for an enlightening program. I hope to see more forthcoming.

Jenny Haines
Seattle, Wa.


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