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Am I (or am I not) my brothers keeper?

Xavier Higgs | 5/25/2011, 5 p.m.

"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary." --Martin Luther King.

Many would agree the Black middle and upper classes have contributed greatly to the success of the American society over the last century, but questions still linger as to whether or not they are doing enough for the rest of Black America.

And there is the issue of whether giving money is enough, or should the more affluent stay in the larger community to offer living examples of success.

There is little dispute that in the United States, living in a poor neighborhood frequently means living in an environment that is unhealthy and violent, and may offer relatively poor learning and economic opportunities. Thus the exodus of middle-class families from poor Black neighborhoods increases the adverse effects of concentrated poverty.

However, some in the middle class feel they are doing enough to contribute resources to the poor. At the same time, some Black families of a certain means do face a dilemma and ask themselves are they doing enough to help Blacks of lesser means, especially those who live in disadvantaged communities.

"You cannot lump all Black middle and upper class (people together) as not doing enough, because there are those who are doing more than they should be doing," says psychologist Thomas A. Parham, Ph.D., University of California Irvine. "Rather than be offended I would invite them to take it as an invitation to explore, examine, and interrogate their own lives and find out if they have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of someone else," added the interim vice chancellor of student affairs.

Black separatism, comes with palpable costs as waves of Blacks flee to the suburbs, a desire stimulated by aspirations to escape the social distress of their former neighborhoods.

Studies have shown that troubling inequalities in Black neighborhoods may be contributing to the persistence of racial differences in economic mobility.

The Black middle class carries much of the load regarding financially and psychologically supporting those Blacks concentrated in poverty. Conversely, there is no shortage of consensus to explain why they are apparently not doing enough to resolve socioeconomic problems within the race.

"We have gotten comfortable," says Bobby McDonald, president Black Chamber of Commerce of Orange County. "From my point of view, there are those who believe that Black people have enough, and we don't owe you anything. As African Americans, our biggest gains have been our biggest downfall. We don't stand out or step up anymore. We are not at the city council or board of education meetings or in the community, because we are too busy working."

Jamaica-born Dorothy McLeod has lived in the United States for more than 30 years, and insists that the average Black middle-class person is so preoccupied with not being poor that they do not want to take the time to think about helping the poor. "They prefer to block it out, because it's too painful."