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

After watching this documentary I am left wondering about the unique situation of poor and middle class women. Although the show included many interviews with fascinating women, neither they nor any of the men interviewed addressed the factors influencing and affecting the lives of women dealing with poverty. Race was the primary issue, but you simply cannot talk about economics without including gender. The stories of men such as Julius Wilson, Maulana Karenga, and Mr. Gates were personalized but we never heard or saw the stories of women. This is an unforgivable bias and gap in PBS' reporting.

Joanna Miller
Wellesley, MA


I am very much engaged as I watch this program.

The participants in this program are thoughtful, challenging, and honest individuals whose commitment to asking the tough questions of America and of themselves is an invitation could only be turned down with great difficulty. I am left with one question. Where is God? Where is Professor James Cone's Black Theology? Delores Williams' womanist theology? Or, if the program needed to maintain its Harvard base, where are the Harvard Divinity School professors who could have discussed issue of God (Islam and Christianity at least) in this racial and economic struggle.

As a pastor who studied and trained at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, I am of course biased towards my professors there, but the field is so deep,I wish that religion and its oppressive and liberative potential had been addressed.

Rev. Anna P. Crotts
Arthurdale, WV


It's interesting to here from those heavily involved in the civil rights movement discussing this topic. However, there is a voice that really hasn't been heard. That's the voice of us born after the movement who received many of the benefits. My parents were unable to finish college. They were definitely the working middle class. Growing up, my neighbors were welfare recipients AND some college educated (I grew up in NE Wash., DC). I am the only one of my parents kids that took the education route. I am in Ann Arbor now finishing up my MBA. I feel I still live in that same world WEB Du Bois spoke of in "Souls of Black Folk". Living in that dual consciousness, you know. I can afford vacations at the Vineyard, yet I can't identify with the type that frequent it. I know what it feels like to visit a relative (a male relative) in jail for something incredibly stupid, and I cannot identify with that. I am not the type that wishes to run away from her community, but her community makes it harder to stay (from the oreo, you ain't keeping it real to the you just trying to be ghetto ends of the spectrum). Some may call me the lost generation, but baby, I refuse to be lost. AND, I have decided to not to be confused about this anymore. Now, this was a lovely special airing on PBS where the only folk who'd spend time watching this are the "elite classes". I am going to spend my time ensuring my poor brothers & sisters wake up and realize that they are not dead yet and they do have the power to change. I challenge YOU to do the same --- we don't need your pity, we need your education, your experience, your accumulated wealth to show us how it can be done!!! White folk pass that kind of information on for free to their own. We just sit around and talk about how things have gone so very wrong. When I've asked older, respected brothers and sisters who've "made it" this question - how did you do it?? They act as if I have asked them their net worth. When I was in college and got my first job in NYC after, there were no pearls of wisdom offered by this elite class. As for me, I guess folk say I'm apart of that class. I will make my road map as clear as stars and leave directions at every turn. This is where I think my predecessors have failed.

Nicole Dickens
Ann Arbor, MI


I could mention an organization started by a military man who learned to soldier from African Chiefs, and returned to England to start an organization for poor inner-city boys. Its called Boy Scouts and it works, just like many other such organizations work. Harvard an Yale professors (if they really meant to make a difference) should volunteer for such organizations. Where else can you directly affect the lives of thousands of inner-city youth? Where else can you build their ingenuity, civic chivalry, self reliance, self esteem, love of nature, and be assured that they will come back to the old neighborhood to help improve things? Too bad that such a solution is probably below most of the speakers on the program. They think in terms of milions, and get confused and sad. I think in thousands, like to meet them, will give them what I have, and am sooo proud of my little black boy scouts of Washington DC.

James Brown
Laurel, MD


I enjoyed this evening's Frontline presentation on The Two Nations of Black America on the whole. However, where in this discussion on race in America were the races of America? Where were the Latino voices, the Chinese, the Korean, the Hmong, Japanese, Eskimo; Filipino, the Cambodian, the Indian, and the Polynesian? Am I biased toward Asian Americans? Yes. This is why, any meaningful discussion on race and class in our society, must be dealt with from a multi-racial, multi-class, and multi-gender perspective; in short a detailed examination of all the parts of the great experiment, that is American Diversity. I appreciate the fact that the program was meant to highlight the black experience. But can such an examination be extrapolated to generalize about the state of our democracy, as the program does?

Brooklyn, NY


An excellent program but I don't think the issues were probed sufficiently. considering that one hour was devoted to this subject disturbs me. its as if all one must do to address the issues of inequality and race in this country regarding black / americans of african descent is to engage in "meaningful conversations". this conscientious stupidity allows nothing more needing to be done till next "black history month", where more "meaningful conversations" can continue ad nauseam. Unfortunately, the worst in our ethnic group are no longer waiting to exhale from such "progress". As Karenga posited in the program, its up to the so-called black middle class and/or elitists of our ethnic group. This exclusive membership need make the conscious choice to redevelop the areas of poverty and despair that plague inner cities like baltimore. Perhaps if they devoted (1%) of their incomes to the development of the inner city collectively, there wouldn't be any need to spend 25% of their time discussing the issues over 9 o'clock tails. then perhaps 75 percent of our ethnic group would progress. It's no excuse to now try and "share the pain" by including a class neutral argument into the mix. Our responsibility is to our own. Just as we want young fathers to take care of their children, the same principle must apply from within and from our leadership to its followers. I live in the inner city and volunteer my time towards community development. I tutor, I mentor, I think I do my share. When I see more of the "me's" doing the same I know progress will then truly be forthcoming. For now, its the same bullshit status quo as usual!

Jeff Taylor
Baltimore, MD


All I saw was the two faces of Liberal Black America trying to deal with the guilt of being successful. I didn't her from one black american who made their way out of poverty through embracing capitalism (the way I suspect most have)

The "Inequality" of it all! The Gap between rich and poor is widening!!!

Of course it is. The nation is getting richer. The richer it gets, the further it diverges from those with nothing and want nothing but a "check".

Your program gave the impression that 30 more years of government handouts was the solution.

Next time focus on the real black middle class: the engineers, the doctors, the machinists, the accountants, the managers, the role models.

Not think tank liberal intellectuals, feeling guilty they can't get their brother a job, because he doesn't have a doctorate.

I'm sorry but I feel like I wasted an hour.

Chris Bischof
Greer, SC


Well, I guess that's the view from the Harvard Yard. The program wasn't about how white people view the situation. Some white people's response, however, might be surprising. For example, mine. I am a baby-boomer white man, bred in the suburbs. I went to an outstanding university, and have had outstanding advantages that have given me the possibility of pursuing a musical career. This career, however, has given me a different perspective from many people white and black who have not known insecurity and poverty as I. Now, Mr. Gates finds that he is on least common ground with the "gangsta" he interviewed. Dig it: I felt the most common ground with just him. He was eloquent. He cut to the heart of the matter. He pointed to Henry's, and the camera man, and then us, and said that none of us care to help him. Why in Heaven's name is Cornel West still asking what kind of people we are? Well, I felt a lot of common ground, actually, with quite a few of the interviewees: Mss. Cleaver, Davis spoke truth. And, Mr. Wilson. Others too. I even cheered when Mr. West said that comment on crime should begin with the what happens in the halls of government and the corporate suites. We are entangled in corruption and greed from the top down in this society. Countervailing trends are not in sight.

Lake Tahoe, NV


I am too young to know if life was better then or is better now, although I suspect that, as professor Wilder stated, the black community of today has more money overall but less community and certainly less economic equality.

I found it interesting that although Dr. Gates called for a commitment to beginning a conversation about class in America with those left out of the arena of opportunity, he interviewed only the power elite in tonights episode. Of the only interview with a member of the underclass, he states "this man was like a Martian to me," thereby abruptly ending or at least editing out the rest of the interview. Perhaps a gangsta is not an ideal source for cultural commentary. But certainly Dr. Gates have interviewed a few ordinary working class citizens? How well Dr. Gates proves his own point, that he and his ilk have become as elitist as the educated whites he once envied. Who does he think he is to condescend to talk about what life is like for working class blacks, or other races, without interviewing a single one of them. We'll never know how much more alive, how much more real his program would have been had it been infused with comments from the people it was allegedly talking about. Once again Dr. Gates reminds us of the sad truism that many in academia, regardless of color or creed, are unable to reach out and communicate with those outside their own circle.

If there is any serious attempt at closing the class gap it must start with the efforts of those at the top like Dr. Gates.

Jonathan Williams
Bethesda, MD


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


previouspage 3 of 3

home . join the discussion .  are we better off? .  audio excerpts .  charts, graphs & analysis .  interviews
booker t. & w.e.b. .  a glimpse of history .  readings & links
synopsis .  tapes & transcripts .  press reaction
wgbh .  frontline online .  pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation



../interviews/ ../economics/ ../audio/ ../etc/gates.html ../talk/ ../ ../