Middle Class Black Americans More Optimistic Than Ever

Middle Class Black Americans More Optimistic Than Ever

A new study finds that the latest generation of Black professionals is more excited than ever about the future. But what of their poorer peers?

Published June 2, 2011

(Photo: HarperCollins Publishers)

In 1994, the Black journalist Ellis Cose interviewed middle class African-Americans and found that many of them were tormented by a deep, dark undercurrent of rage. He wrote about this anger in his book The Rage of a Privileged Class. Seventeen years later, Cose has revisited America’s professional, middle class Black community in order to compare and contrast their feelings to the anger their forebears once held. What he found might surprise you.


Despite the fact that, economically speaking, things aren’t necessarily all that rosy for Black Americans—even middle class ones—Cose found that the African-American middle class is one of the most optimistic groups in the country.


Cose calls this latest generation of middle class Blacks “The Believers,” a term he uses often in his new book, The End of Anger. A Believer is a Black person who has never experienced the problems of a very pointed Jim Crow era. Blacks in the middle class have never seen a world in which people that look like them are outright barred from entering the highest echelons of government or the private sector. To that end, they’ve also started to believe that their career and life prospects—no matter how high they may be—are attainable.


“And this is something that is fundamentally different about the way people—particularly people of color—are viewing the American experience,” says Cose.

One thing worth noting is that almost none of the people Cose interviewed said racism and prejudice in the workplace was over. Nearly all of them agreed that it had softened to the point that they could reach the pinnacle of success if they worked hard.


“People were not saying discrimination has disappeared," Cose told NPR."[But] the kind of discrimination that made it impossible to aspire to rise to a certain level is nowhere anywhere near as heavy as it used to be."


Of course, the key flaw in this research is that it focuses solely on the middle class. Talk to Blacks still living at or below the poverty line—of which there are millions—and you’ll likely get a much different view of the world. One in which you can’t achieve your dreams of going to a good school or holding down a good job. That in mind, one wonders how much being optimistic about the future has to do with race and how much of it has to do with how much money a person has.

Written by Cord Jefferson


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