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Occupy who exactly?— The History of Class Tensions in Black America

Two individuals in different situations, both black, both innocent. Each individual gets pulled over by a white police officer that is notorious for racial profiling. They both are wrongfully discriminated against, they both are wrongfully put in jail, but both do not become heir to the same fate. One individual remains in jail. The other gets out in a matter of hours. What is the difference between two black people that faced the same discrimination? Class is the difference. And even though the Occupy Movement has put a microscope on class issues in America, as many of us know, these are NOT new issues. Even though the media has momentarily started to focus on these things, in the black community, we have been struggling with class for more than a century.

To finish off my opening example, class makes such a stark difference in the experience of these two men because, shortly after the upper-class black person was put into jail, he immediately called his personal lawyer and started a chain of events to legally remedy the discrimination that he or she faced. The lower class black person did not have this option. This anecdote outlines the difference of discrimination between lower class and middle/upper class blacks. Middle class black people do not perceive discrimination as more or less acutely than poor blacks, however the difference is in experience. This dissimilarity in the black middle class and lower class experience is also one of the main reasons why there is such a divide in the culture of middle class and the lower class. We see the realities and remnants of this “divide” come to the surface when middle class blacks began to return to the inner city—specifically the Kenwood community—and tensions arose between classes.

This internal battle between class and culture is nothing new. Examining the relationship between discrimination and class tensions that grew within the Old Settlers and the southern migrants or between the different classes in the civil rights movement allows one to understand how these conflicts foreshadow the disunity between classes that has increased and remained within the black community today. Ultimately the idea of linked fate unifies the black community in spite of the differences in experience and culture. To understand current tensions within classes of the black race in the Kenwood community, one must first examine the history of class and what divisions occurred to shape the experience of the various groups.

There were various pull factors that attracted southern blacks to Chicago and several push factors that convinced blacks that the lack of economic opportunity, the slavery similarities of sharecropping and political disenfranchisement were all causes for black people to want to leave the south. Rich community, political influence, and higher pay were all reasons for black people to be attracted to Chicago. Many individuals that had already settled in Chicago before the first great migration were both eager and cautious about the new arrivals. Different institutions like the Chicago Defender and the Urban League assisted in making the transition of the migrants one of ease. However, these institutions that have gained the honorary 100 year survival, are also the very same institutions that started some of the class wars that we still struggle with today.

After more than a hundred years of class tensions in the black community, are we still connected by linked fate? (lol I hate to end a blog with a rhetorical  question, but I think it has yet to be decided.)


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