I often joke with people that I didn’t know I was poor until I got to college. The reason I say this (we weren’t really poor) is because I remember, way back yonder in 1997 when I graced God’s land of Morehouse College, encountering Black folks who came from means. Not that my family was wanting for much, but we weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, and its quite possible there were times when we were just scraping by no matter how “big” the house we lived in was. Living in the South has definite real estate perks, especially back in the early 90s.
Well, when I got to Morehouse, I remember seeing not one, but two cats driving Hummers. I remember seeing dudes with Benzes. There was even a guy who had both a Lincoln Navigator AND a Lincoln Town Car (when Navis first became the thing) and only wore Coogi sweaters. I remember seeing dudes driving Range Rovers. Real talk, its entirely possible that I’d never actually seen a Range Rover until I got to college. It was also in college, sitting in front of Hugh M. Gloster Hall, our administrative building, on a bench right in front of the famous statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, that I remember reading Our Kind of People by Lawrence Otis Graham.
If seeing 19 year old college students driving Hummers informed me I wasn’t rich, this book informed me I didn’t even know what rich and well-to-do were. This book taught me about Jack & Jill, The Boule, Links, Martha’s Vineyard, etc. In essence, I discovered that there was an entire world of Black opulence out there I wasn’t even remotely aware of. Not that I didn’t think that Black folks could have money, I just didnt get the society aspect of it. My parents both went to HBCUs (my father was retired military so he graduated from Alabama A&M University around the time I graduated from college) and my mother went to Albany State University in Georgia. Neither were part of Greek letter organizations or any other organizations of note. They were and are hard-working middle class Southerners.
But that book and going to Morehouse changed a lot for me. It showed me what Black folks with money looked like. While my immediate crew and I were trying to make our refund checks last all semester (amazing to think you could live off $1,000 for 4 months; college was great), I knew people who were living a privileged life. They were the proverbial Carlton/Carltonita Bankses of the world: rich, entitled, and despite their color, felt shielded from the struggle that many of the rest of us knew too well. This isn’t an indictment at all. In fact, I felt very envious of many of them. In a strange twist of irony, many of those privileged kids spent A LOT of time attempting to prove how down they were. I remember meeting people who grew up in gated-communities in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, or rich enclaves in Atlanta, Georgia, going out of their way to remind everybody that they lived for a year in SE DC or on the West side of Atlanta. Authenticity is still a Black community struggle no matter how far we’ve made it.
Read more over at VerySmartBrothas!