Growing up in the seventies there was no such thing as a middle-class black man. The type of person I am now simply didn’t exist then. I was very aware of my working-class status and like many black children, then and now, I felt less than someone who was white. The older I got, the more conscious I became of being poor and working class – and the more I wanted to escape it, but I was trapped. Messages in the media, from teachers and my family was that education would allow me to escape poverty, improve my social status and integrate as a black boy in a white society. Although I accepted this, deep down I never truly believed it. Buried inside me was a belief I was less intelligent than my white classmates. Despite this, I put everything into studying for O’ levels and ended up with 5, all at grade ‘C’. This average performance confirmed what I already knew… that as a black boy I inherently lacked the intelligence to do better.
By the time I left school most of my friends were white and middle class. Every summer I was invited to Scotland where one of their family had a country cottage. I always said no and never knew why. I had somehow contrived to turn myself into the beginnings of a middle-class black man, who wasn’t totally comfortable with his old black and working-class friends or his new middleclass white ones. I got along fine in both groups but was conscious of not truly fully belonging to either. Rather than integrating me in society, my striving for educational success had made me a misfit.
More than thirty years on I want to claim my identity, and to understand what I am – a black man from a poor background who, despite the various contrivances to get there, is now middle class. I no longer feel alone. Unlike in the seventies, there are more and more middle-class black men and women. We have made progress as a society but in an increasingly divided world, there is still a huge amount to do. I’m wondering if my earlier sense of being in between social classes, might now somehow be helpful in bridging divisions in our society. That there may be a need for those who can move between class and cultures. A role in connecting people with different lived experiences. For this reason, I have decided where possible to use personal stories to give an emotional rather than intellectual engagement with the complicated topics I will post about. The stories are intended as points of connection, not meant to illicit sympathy but hopefully some empathy and understanding. This is just the beginnings of an idea and something I want to develop through the blog by:
- Exploring my identity as ‘middle-class black man’
- Looking at news and current affairs through this unique perspective
- Deepening my understanding of how identity, power and exclusion play out in society
- Using the above to come up with a project that even in a small way will make society better
This all probably sounds more organised on paper than it feels in my head as I write it. But my blog is an attempt to reconcile where I’ve come from with who I am now. To explore my ambivalence around the social justice issues that are important to me. This won’t be an orderly or carefully curated exploration, so the themes within each post and across the blog may at times seem a bit random. Also, the goals set out above may change as I add more posts on the site, have conversations and deepen my thinking.
I will start the blog anonymously as Middle Class Black Man for a combination of reasons:
- I’m not confident in my writing
- I’m sharing personal stories which leave me feeling vulnerable
- Having not fully understood it or acknowledged it, I want to explore ‘middle class black man’ to understand fully who this is and what it might bring to me and to our society
- So MCBM is about protecting myself and exploring my status/position in the society and how I might use this to shape my future work.