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January 9th, 2012
05:00 AM ET

Readers react: ‘Where is the black middle class?’

Editor’s note: Readers had a lot to say about Kris Marsh’s post about the composition of the black middle class, and particularly on the black and single portion of that group.  Marsh decided to respond to several of the comments.

Kris Marsh is on the faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is on Facebook  and on Twitter@drkrismarsh.

(CNN) - Kris Marsh started her piece this way: “While sharing coffee one day with a colleague and friend, William 'Sandy' Darity Jr., we coined a new, emerging group of single and living-alone (SALA) households in the black middle class: the “Love Jones Cohort.” Personal experiences as a member of the Love Jones Cohort help shape, inform and drive my research on this emerging group within the black middle class.

Historically, the quintessential black middle class consisted of a married couple with 2.5 children, a dog, and 'Black Picket Fences' – in reference to the book written on the black middle class by Mary Pattillo-McCoy.

Where is the black middle class now, you ask? We are right here, but look demographically different than we did years ago.”

For starters, many readers asked if Kris Marsh was against marriage or arguing that the black and single professionals she called the “Love Jones cohort” were better off than their married peers.

TMac wrote: "Kris Marsh, obviously a learned black woman, presents a tragically, dissociative view of the black middle class. Whatever her "Love Jones Cohort" morality represents, it is not the structure of a family, nor a model for the black middle class family. Family is a word she does not mention. I am a black principal of a high school, and there are serious family foundational issues with many of our black teenage students that represent much dissembling of the black family. Her approach perpetuates the single parent trap and is really destroying the black middle class."

MDH wrote: "This is a thought provoking, but uninspiring article. While I applaud not throwing a pity party because you are black, educated, and happen to still be single; I did not agree black should accept the decline of the black nuclear family. Education and family stability are the only effective methods blacks can turn their communities around. Black kids are suffering from a value deficit, which in turn is leading to high crime and incarceration rates. Unfortunately, only improving the two parent household rates will turn this around."

Kris Marsh responds: TMac and MDH, I appreciate your comments. I am not anti-marriage or anti-black family. In no way am I suggesting that SALA households are better than traditional families. In no way am I suggesting that marriage or family is not a positive thing for black America. I am simply stating the demographic trends that are taking place among the black middle class and trying to provide a positive slant for these trends. I am not making any value judgments about those who are married, never-married, or even single parents.

I agree that a black married couple (assuming it is a low conflict couple) provides tremendous advantages for children. However, the empirical data shows that black marriage is declining and there is a rise in SALA households in the larger black community and the black middle class. My goal is not to focus on the negative consequences of this trend, but to attempt to move the discussion forward.

BlueWave wrote: "So basically the black middle class is increasingly made up of a bunch of single people. Good for them individually. Probably not very good for black people as a whole."

Marsh responds: BlueWave, good point, but given what we know demographically if there was no growth in the black middle class by SALA households the disparity between the black middle class and the larger middle class would be even more pronounced.

Fraudinvestigator wrote: "The article is a complete attempt of trying to push a family system that is clearly not the optimum for raising kids and maintaining wealth. Everyone knows that a two-parent family is the optimum condition and most want to be in that situation. She probably interviewed all her single friends whom she hangs out with in the nail salon while conducting research."

Marsh responds: Fraudinvestigator, your comment made me laugh out loud. The SALA category is made up of those that do not have children and may never have children. But if we think about the extended kinship of the black family, these SALA households can serve as additional resources for the black family. I agree, a two-parent household can be great for children. And if most want to be in a two-parent household but cannot – for whatever reason – what is the SALA suppose to do? I am a demographer and quantitative researcher, so I use national data. And thank you for reminding me that I need to get my nails done. I have not been in a nail salon for more than three years now!

Another group of commenters wondered if unmarried African Americans were preventing Blacks from closing the wealth gap with whites and weakening the Black community:

TSimmons wrote: "Interesting article, highlights positive strides of single black educated women, however, there is still a subset of the black female population where marriage should required/encouraged in order for them and their children to proper. Marriage/two incomes is critical where education is lacking. A single black female w/o college degree is clearly not the central feature of this article, but they are the ones plaguing our community progress and they are the ones reproducing, further committing our children to poverty/poor education. No bright side there... I've got a man and a JD, but lot's of my sisters don't and they have children...#marriage encouraged for this demographic!"

Marsh responds: TSimmons, thank you for your comment. This is a debate I have with one of my dearest colleagues and friends: does marriage lead to middle class status, or are middle class people more likely to marry? A low-conflict, two-parent household can provide advantages for children; however, the assumption is that marriage will also move you into middle class status. If two poor people marry each other, it does not mean they are going to be exempt from poverty and poverty related issues.

psychzilla234 wrote: "Well if they are childless there won't be a generation to transfer wealth to. So the discussion about the future is meaningless."

Marsh responds: Psychzilla234, that is my exact point. If these SALA households are childless, and given our understanding of the extend kinship of the black family, SALAs have the ability to transfer their wealth in new and innovative ways.

Artist wrote: "Love Jones Cohort sounds like the selfish new generation who believes that building a strong family is either impossible or a thing of the past because they are too selfish to understand its importance in the building of their community. Or perhaps they are so lost with what they are being fed in the media that they actually believe what they hear and see, and love money more than anything."

Marsh responds: Artist, I would not call the Love Jones Cohort selfish. In fact, research suggests that this group provides tremendous resources to the larger black community. Your assumption is that just because a person is single, they do not value marriage, family or even the large community and I am not sure that is the case. I would argue that SALA households value family but for one reason or another, they are not married.

Readers also wondered why Kris Marsh’s piece singled out black professionals:

rlowens1 wrote: "Why are we still having these "black" discussions? If we want a society that is "color blind" we have to stop having these "black" discussions. We need to disband the NAACP – unless, we're ready for a National Association for the Advancement of White People, too."

DaMan wrote: "I think this article should drop all commentary on skin color and reinforce and research the overall growth and strength of single women in America, regardless of color. If at some point we (including those with doctoral degrees) do not drop the racial line divide during research and commentary the racial angle will continue to be played over and over again."

Kelsey wrote: "Great article and video! Is the shift from the African American Middle Class of 1981 and the modern African American class really specific to demographic shifts in the African American middle class or are these shifts mirrored in White and Asian middle class communities as well? It's ridiculous how racist and idiotic so many of these comments are! Did the people writing the ridiculous comments watch the video or read the article at all?"

Marsh responds: DaMan and rlowens1, why should scholars drop the race discussion from their work while it continues to have real consequences in America? For example, how then would we discuss the wage disparity that exists based on race and even gender for that matter?  Just as soon as blacks are no longer penalized for being black, such as in the labor market, and whites are willing to give up their white privilege, I am all for disbanding the NAACP.

Kelsey, thank you for your comment. The same trends are happening for other racial and ethnic groups but it is more pronounced among the black middle class. Additionally, my research interest is on the black middle class, so I highlight that group.  My research focuses on the black middle class so I highlight black SALA household. My colleague, Eric Klinenberg (eric.klinenberg@nyu.edu) at NYU does work on living along regardless of race and class.

 And then there were those who were not fond of the description “Love Jones cohort’:

Ms.TB wrote: "I like a previous commenter grew tired of the overuse of the 'Love Jones Cohort' phrase. Moreover, if it were my research, I'd probably think of a different phrase for the cohort. I can't imagine this theory/research gaining much traction with such a silly name and seemingly so attributable to a movie that while one of my favorites isn't exactly transformative. Perhaps simply calling the cohort SALA (single and living alone) is better."

Marsh responds: Ms. TB, thank you so much for your insightful comments. The academic world in some ways is often considered elitist and we often talk to ourselves in our white ivory towers. I used the term Love Jones Cohort to bridge the academic world with the mainstream. You are correct, I have received some criticism from my peers but I also receive support from the mainstream for the term – so it is a battle that I am willing to fight.

And finally, Kris Marsh responds to what the editors think is the strangest, backhanded compliment we’ve seen all week:

Willbur wrote: "I don't know what she's babbling on about, but she is gorgeous. So black professionals are more likely to chose a single life over traditional marriage? There is probably some wisdom in this trend."

Marsh responds: I have found my Wilbur – praise God, Jesus and baby Jesus (please tell me that someone has seen the movie "Talladega Nights"!)


soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. phillip granville spaulding

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3Xe1kX7Wsc&w=640&h=360]

    January 11, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  2. Doug

    "Wealth"

    January 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Samuel Earl Burnside

      Another label ! Black, whits...middle class, 10 %...

      Look ! Just enjoy life and stop trying to label groups so you can feel good in this world. Or to make yourself above others..Because we all end up with the same ending in this life. So, enjoy it and try and make others life better....

      Or just stay out the way ! And lable your groups and pat yourself on the back...WOW ! Another group label.

      And ....Please vote...Black Single Middle Class....

      January 10, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
      • sharon higman

        Why Black Blog? If it was a "White Blog" you would be yelling racist. What about "Black Chamber of Commerses? We could never start a "White Chamber" once again you would yell we are racists. What's fair for the goose if fair for the gander. Thought we were Americans

        January 10, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GCALL

    AFTER READING ZEE'S COMMENT I MUST AGREE.... I AM A 60 YR-OLD BLACK WOMEN WHO HAD THE BENEFITS THAT MY PARENTS COULD GIVE (GIRL SCOUTS, MUSIC LESSONS, PLAYS, AND EVERYTHING ELSE AVAILABLE). HOWEVER, DOING MY YOUNG YEARS (LATE 50'S) THERE SEEM TO BE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHITE AND BLACK, BUT I GOT OLDER AND THE WORLD CHANGED I BEGAN TO UNDERSTAND IT WAS NOT WHAT YOU HAD, BUT WHAT YOU DID WITH WHAT YOU HAD... NO ONE CAN REALLY BLAME ANYONE BUT THEMSELVES FOR WHAT THEY DID NOT DO... IF YOU REALLY WANT IT, WORK FOR IT... I TOLD BOTH MY DAUGHTERS (NOW IN THEIR 30'S) THAT ONLY THEY COULD STOP WHERE THEY WANTED TO GO.......SO ZEE, YOU MIGHT BE RIGHT.. EVERYONE NO MATTER WHAT RACE YOU MAY BE HAS BOTH GOOD AND BAD THAT COMES THEIR WAY... WE JUST HAVE TO TRY HARD AND KEEP GOING FORWARD.

    January 10, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jasmine

    Zee, white privilege is not always a financial thing there are certain ways that you can maneuver through society socially that differs because you are white. I suggest you do more reading on the statement and what it entails because you have made a blanket statement. Maybe you should look into videos by Tim Wise, a prominent white anti racist who discusses thi. Additionally there are scores of readings " How the Irish and Jews became white" that also delve into what you are presenting.

    January 10, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. Zee

    " Just as soon as blacks are no longer penalized for being black, such as in the labor market, and whites are willing to give up their white privilege" What white privilege? I'm white, I came up poor, and have had to live by my wits, and my sweat, blood, and tears all of my life. I've been turned down for so many jobs, school loans, etc I cannot even number them. I've gone to school and lived in neighborhoods where I was the minority and was picked on and even assaulted for it. I've always been expected to pass the test and make the grade. I don't have a "good ole boy" or "buddy" network that gives me foot up just for being pale. Where is the privilege I've received for being white? Should I ask my dirt poor Irish ancestors? Or my Norwegian ancestors who eked a hard scrabble existence from stony soil? Or my persecuted Jewish ancestors who fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe in hope of a better life in America? As a child, I, collected glass soda bottles and turned them in for the deposit money so I could buy food. What privilege? Where? What was handed to me simply for being white? I want to know. Coming up, I was eschewed by upper class whites simply because I was poor. "white people" are not a cohesive group who bestow favors upon one another on the basis of skin color – neither have I found in my 39 years of being Caucasian that "white people" as a whole get together to oppress "non-white people". Although I was married to a black man for eight years and he was convinced of this. Everytime he pointed out what he perceived as racism against him, I only saw his denied application due to his abysmal credit score (he preferred to use bill money for other things that were not the bills) or his job turn-downs due to his spotty work history due to becoming bored with jobs and changing so frequently that no employer in their right mind would feel confident hiring him. At some point we have to burn our race cards and look at matters from the perspective of simply being human, rather than this race or that race. We're really getting no where with the current hyper-raciallly-fixated route.

    January 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • r_hope

      Well stated. I could not agree more. And I'm a black woman

      January 10, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • sal estrada

      That is what I always say...And I'm a hispanic man.

      January 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carlos

      I recently heard on MPR.org Midmorning 9/30/11 of research that white men with criminal records were offered jobs at a higher rate than black men without criminal records, even adjusting for age and education. Similarly, white high school dropouts were offered jobs at a higher rate than blacks with some college.

      January 12, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |