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An educated black middle class: myth, rare or the rule?

BLACK MIDDLE-CLASS: Not such rare group of people

‘Will we ever have a black Prime Minster?’ roared Lindsay Johns on The Telegraph’s website. He argued that a black British PM is unlikely because, unlike in America, there either is no “educated black middle class” or the educated black middle-class is too small to counter the “black street culture” and give rise to a worthy contender.

At first I dismissed the article as the typically ridiculous Nick Griffin-esque shock-jottings that the likes of Johns and Katharine Birbalsingh are celebrated for. But on taking an objective look I was left wondering, does brother LJ have a point?

Johns relied heavily on TV as a barometer of the reality of black Britain. He pointed out that whilst the Americans had The Cosby Show in the ‘80s as a showcase of the typical black family experience, in the UK we had The Crouches. It is like saying the show Shameless is a reflection of white people. Which of course it isn’t.


TV, especially reality TV, is not a reflection of reality. TV, factual or fictional, is much better at helping shape reality than it is at documenting it. For example, it could be argued that actual black President Barack Obama owes part of his success to fictional black President David Palmer. Such is the power of imagery. But during Obama’s ascension, TV would have you believe that guys like him did not exist. Even the man who became his vice president called him a “fair tale”.

My point is this: an educated black British middle class does indeed exist. Look around you. The problem is that it does not exist in the media. And not in the conventional European definition of ‘middle-class’.

What is the middle-class anyway? The classic (white) British definition of middle-class could be described as university and state or private school educated, white collar professionals. They’re more likely to read broadsheets than tabloids, likely to listen to Radio 4, likely to take an interest in politics, theatre, documentaries and they’re more likely to invest excess income than they are to spend it on vulgar displays of wealth (i.e. you probably won’t see a gold toothed middle-class man with a Jacob & Co wristwatch on either wrist). They also take a great interest in the education of their children.

Every black person I know is, almost without exception, a university educated professional or business person that ticks the majority of the above boxes. As are most people they know too. To most of these people, Johns was portraying an alien race in The Telegraph.

But we all agreed that if, like Johns, your research appears to be based on pathetic media portrayals (betrayals?) such as Dizzee Rascal on Newsnight (wonder if Paxman will invite Amy Winehouse on if Sarah Palin or Michelle Bauchman wins in 2012), you’re unlikely to paint a rosy picture of your subject matter.


Where Johns may have a valid point is in the area of social tastes. Johns points out that you won’t see many black faces at the National Theatre for non-black related plays and black Brits, unlike him and his “Ivy League educated black American friends” may not be too interested in “medieval Latin poetry”.

“Magnificent point” I hear you say. But must a black middle-class have the exact same tastes as the white middle-class in order to be considered middle-class? I’d argue such an expectation to be ridiculous. Being different to the white middle-class does not by any means make the black middle-class deficient. The white middle-class itself is not a homogenous group of exact minded people.

And if a requirement of entering the middle-class is an appreciation of poetry in Latin I suspect there will not be much of a ‘middle-class’ of any colour to speak of before long.

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