Monday, June 23, 2008

The Obamas Are Not Elite....And That Is Fine With Me

Every time I hear mainstream media journalists and right wing pundits call Barack and Michelle Obama elitist, I become absolutely more convinced than ever that white America has absolutely no clue about the lives of black people, other than what they see on television or the movies or what other people tell them.

Let's make this clear - Barack and Michelle Obama are not elitist, they are not members of the black elite, period, end of discussion. If the requirement for being elite like the Obamas is having an Ivy League degree, really good jobs with decent salaries, and a nice house, then a whole lot of black people are elite. And we all know that's far from the truth.

The Obamas are not rich nor wealthy by any elite standard, in fact until Barack Obama started writing best-selling books that earned him significant financial gains, Michelle Obama was the family breadwinner, earning more than double Barack's salary. Truth be told, Barack and Michelle Obama are barely one generation remove
d from poverty. Far from elite indeed.

Unless the Obamas are leaving this information out of their personal biographies, the Obamas are not members of The Links, Jack and Jill of America, or The Divine Nine. The Obamas don't have a summer home on Martha's Vineyard or Sag Harbor, where many of the real black elite are currently sipping mint juleps right now. I also don't believe that either Obama had a cotillion that "introduced" them to society.

Even black billionaires like Oprah Winfrey and Bob Johnson cannot be considered elite. They like the Obamas are one generation away from poverty. And Jay-Z and his new wife Beyonce, are certainly in the billionaire range when financially standing together, but no one is going to call them elitists anytime soon, no matter how many Gucci bags or Bentley's they buy. No black actor or athlete either. Director Spike Lee and his wife Tonya can be considered more of the black elite than the Obamas. Lee's money may be new, but his wife's social pedigree makes the difference.

Lawrence Otis Graham who wrote, Member of the Club and Our Kind of People, can tell you who and what makes one a member of the black elite. These are black folks that even the average black person maybe unaware of and most certainly the average white person is clueless about. Black generations of wealth, power, and prosperity, like the Kennedys, the Bushes, and the Vanderbilts. (You don't actually believe that CNN's Anderson Cooper has to work, with his mama being Gloria Vanderbilt?) The Johnsons of The Johnson Company and Ebony magazine are part of the Black Elite, three generations removed from their founding grandfather's humble beginnings.

With that said, it's not a criticism to say the Obamas are not elite, it's more of a correction. A correction that is important. The Obamas are like a lot of everyday successful people, black or white. They came from humble beginnings and overcame all the obstacles to become successful. If they desire a larger slice of the American dream, more money, more power, more advantages for their children, that does not make they elitists, it makes them ambitious, hardworking, and driven.

Successful people are successful because they have dreams and goals, they don't stop once they have achieved their dreams and goals, they make new ones, like running for president of the United States. That's not elitist, that's the American dream.


SheCodes June 23, 2008 at 6:42 AM  

Great post. The 'elite' label irritates me to no end as well.

Additionally, I think that the white folk who are slinging the 'elite' label around concerning the Obamas don't actually believe a word that they are saying.

In fact, I hear the word 'elitist' more than 'elite' -- which is more of an accusation of not caring about the poor. My answer to that would be this: Obama is elitist compared to WHOM?!?

Surely they JEST if they are comparing him to John "Let the poor eat cake" McCain, who is married to Cindy "Moneybags" McCain.

Yep, only an ELITIST would marry a sistah from the south side of Chicago! Don't get me started...

JmG June 23, 2008 at 12:41 PM  

I'm walking in off the street from
Great post. If they're not elite, they'll be too 'black' . Republicans and/or racists will always have some excuse.

BLKSeaGoat June 23, 2008 at 1:22 PM  


Typically white folks have NO IDEA that a black elite class even EXISTS.

Is Michelle Obama a memeber of the Links, Jacks and the Jills, or Barack the Boule? Do they have a vacation home near Jill Nelson's family home in Martha's Vineyard?

How about the cotillions in the south and the debutante balls hosted by the rich and powerful black families who purchased thir relatives OUT of slavery because they could afford to AND could pass for white?

Most white and some blacks would be stunned to know that the black elite are just as careful about keeping "new money" or "entertainment" blacks out of their social circles as blue-blood whites keep out the white trash.

Michele and Barack are middle class at best, but elite? Nope.

faith June 23, 2008 at 5:26 PM  

I'm glad we're talking about this. I was also reading a post at Lisa Vasquez's blog who wrote something similar. Are there any bloggers who are part of the elite aside from Black Socialite who identify themselves? When you're part of that 1% it doesn't matter who gets elected President or that gas will be $6 or more by November. Old money likes to keep quiet about it for a reason. Some of the nicest people I've met have been those with mutli-generational wealth. Aside from our own life struggles they can be 'afford' to be quite gracious. June 23, 2008 at 8:12 PM  

Hello there!

I wrote a post this weekend called "The Offense of Black Privilege" and I discussed aspects of Lawrence's book (published about nine years ago) because these issues continue to crop up.

@ Faith
When I was a little girl, dad pulled out two dollar bills from his was old and soft and the other was crispy and brand new... he asked us "what is the difference between this money?" and he passed it to each child. then he said: "This bill [raising the old bill] doesn't make a sound . Old money is quiet."

He put his cash away and walked away. End of lesson.

You are right that those of means are not trying to be "bling-bling" when you see them. Not at all.

@ BlkSeaGoat

It is funny to me how middle class whites don't know HOW to define "elite"...they've never experienced it...

Michelle is very much the example of a working class girl who aspired to have more than what her parents had attained and she achieved it and she married a man who was from a similar background as hers. She certainly IS NOT part of the upper echeleon but I do understand why some people would not know that.


Professor Tracey June 23, 2008 at 8:14 PM  

Faith -

Not your fault, but Lisa and I do not have similar posts. I was making a completely different point and I was one of the first to make it. I have addressed that issue in another post.

My point is the one you raise, white America has no idea that there are rich black folks that they have no idea about, who could care less who the president is or may be voting for McCain.

I can't stand the Obamas being labeled as elite, when they have nothing near the power of money to get there.

Thanks for your comments.

Professor Tracey June 23, 2008 at 8:15 PM  


Thanks for stopping by. Come back anytime. Excellent point by the way.

BlK Sea Goat - Well said!!!!

faith June 23, 2008 at 10:51 PM  

Oh I wasn't trying to imply anyone was copying each other. Your posts are not the same at all. I just happened to read them during the same time period and thought how great minds think alike. Field Negro has a funny post about rules for Negro behavior. I saw it as symmetrical.

Professor Tracey June 23, 2008 at 11:42 PM  

Faith -

I apologize, my anger should not have been directed at you.

I know that I didn't copy anyone because I googled the topic first to see if any black bloggers had covered the topic, they had not. This was an original post on my part and suddenly several black bloggers were writing the same thing in a "slightly" different context. Great minds don't think that alike!

Folks need to be a bit more careful in granting credit. I become very wary when someone says "I read something like this on so-so's blog."

I have blogged on the same topic with numerous black bloggers, but I RARELY have had exact authors, information, phrases, and styling, in common with another black blogger. That is happening and I don't appreciate it.

rikyrah June 26, 2008 at 4:06 AM  

Love this post, and I'll be cross-posting it on JJP and Mirror on America sometime today. I love it when folks point out our depth and complexity.

Adam B. Ricketson (alias) June 26, 2008 at 8:23 AM  

Hi. I'm coming here from Mirror on America. I want to respond to this comment:

"If the requirement for being elite like the Obamas is having an Ivy League degree, really good jobs with decent salaries..."

For Republican pundits, this is exactly the definition of "elite". This is the paradigm that they use to discredit academics and other successful professionals...while pretending that people born with a silver spoon (but no personal accomplishments) are "regular joes"..

The audacity of this assertion may be increased by applying it to people like the Obamas, but it is a core part of the Republican coalition, keeping non-professional workers allied with the moneybags.

They try to separate non-professional workers from professional workers in order to reinforce the power of the ruling class. They disparage the cultural elite (people we pay attention to because it benefits us to: doctors, lawyers, academics, entertainers) in order to hide the real nature of the power elite (people we pay attention to because cops will beat us up if we don't: absentee property owners and politicians).

Professor Tracey June 26, 2008 at 11:40 AM  

@Rikyrah -

Thanks. I appreciate that.

@Adam -

I agree with you, I hope that folks will see through the tactic and not allow others to decide for them. I also think it's the price of upward mobilization and and poverty, it's just too easy to get disconnected between social classes in the black community. We have to fight to understand each other more.

Ananda June 27, 2008 at 10:49 PM  

Great post. I am going to tell my dad to check your blog out. I know he will enjoy reading your perspective.

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