One of the many things I did not realize growing up was how rigged the game we as Black people have been forced to play for a long time. I would listen to songs about some of my idols making it from poverty to becoming wealthy and financially stable and buy into the belief that with hard work and determination I, too, would make it out. I’d be able to give my family and my children the life they deserve. The childhood that my mother gave her best to give while our environment kept tearing down.
Many times, in my life, I was told I was different from other children in my neighborhood. That I was one of “the special ones,” that I was special. It was something about that statement that never sat right with me. What would happen to my peers? People who I considered my friends, neighbors? What made them so different from me? We grew up in the same neighborhood and went to the same school for a time. There was quite literally nothing that made me any better than them. I realize, now, that it was simply the situation of what community was backing them.
As the years have gone by, I have constantly wrestled with the fact that there are many issues caused by the systematic oppression of Black people. One of which is the concept of the Black elite, a small category of Black people who are well within the upper middle to upper class of Black people in the world. One of the things that was always jarring to me was Black people beating the odds and overcoming the oppressive systems that bar us from equity yet separating themselves from their people. It really begs the question, what does freedom mean to you?
The meaning of freedom has been something that I have struggled with for years. Many of my efforts felt like it wasn’t for me growing up. I was simply living other people’s dreams for the sake of liberating my family. However, I realize now that I can still live my own dreams while ensuring that my family is liberated from the socioeconomic shackles that have dragged many of us down.
There have been many programs that have historically been said to help Black youth advance further in life and also bar some Black people from getting in. One of which being the Black Diamonds, a social club for Black wealth stationed in New York. This social club has been historically known to be very exclusive and picky on what they deem to be “quality” members. What makes quality? Who is one to dictate what makes someone “quality?”
While it is an admirable feat to make from the trials and tribulations of a system which profits off Black oppression, it’s another thing to bar other Black people from a better chance. A better chance to improve their own lives and overcome said challenges. Which begs the question, is it truly freedom if you transform from the prisoner to the jail keeper? Either way, you’re still in the cage. You simply become the thing that you sought to overcome. All that the concept of the Black elite does is simply allow us to become instruments in the very thing that we fight so hard to be free of. This is just another way to uphold standards of whiteness for us to constantly have to work to attain.
It was so jarring seeing people that I loved to listen to growing up, the champions of being the first in their family to attain success and financial freedom, distance themselves from the same community that they claimed to be avatars of. What is freedom for Black people if it isn’t the destruction of the system that forces us to work for the “40 Acres and a Lie” that we have been indoctrinated to believe in? Where does this leave us, when our own people are becoming part of the many barriers that stop our youth from thriving? This fragmenting of our community and a lack of class consciousness will only lead to the continuation of our collective oppression.
While there are many arguments against why one shouldn’t have to shoulder the entirety of the Black community on a few individuals’ shoulders, there isn’t any reason to say that it’s something that must be done. I’m not saying that this choice isn’t a challenge for Black people trying to become financially free. What I’m saying is that once people increase their financial status, it doesn’t mean that you’ve become “better” than your community. Is it such a challenge for people to understand that at some point, you can go back to the same impoverished station that America has kept us in for generations? How can we pride ourselves on our community if the second we get in a better financial situation, we turn our backs on it?
In my opinion, if we truly want to free ourselves from this system we must destroy it, not uphold it. We must also stop setting ridiculous standards for ourselves in terms of some of these “elite” organizations. There must be a collective effort to uplift each other and allow us to give the same opportunities that we had to fight for, to our people, which not only includes our youth, but our peers. We should not lock the door that we have had to kick open for years, but instead open it wide for our community while simultaneously creating new doors for our people.
I dream of a world where we no longer deal with our own people still stuck in the same oppressive system. One where we can look to each other for support during times of great struggle. Although, in order for that to happen, it starts with us making the active effort to break the system down. Whether that be giving Black people knowledge of the opportunities to improve their lives, to creating said opportunities. So, I hope whoever’s reading this will be inspired to make that active change. We are not each other’s competition. We need each other if we are going to survive this world. A world which stops at nothing to ensure that we stay in the same cage that they’ve put us in. So, make that first step to true freedom.