Saturday, January 15, 2011

Budding Mammonism

Eugene Robinson's very interesting new book Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America asserts that the African American middle class—which according to him represents a slight majority of all African Americans—is doing pretty well:

Socially, economically, and culturally, the black Mainstream is part of the American mainstream. Middle-class African Americans buy too much on credit and save too little for the future, they burden their children with high and often unrealistic expectations, they drive automobiles that are excessively lare and wasteful, they become emotionally attached to professional sports teams made up of wealthy, spoiled, indifferent athletes—in short, they behave just like other Americans. Even though there is still ground to be made up, it is fair to say that for all intents and purposes, Mainstream African Americans have arrived.

They have arrived, in Robinson's view, because they've become just like other Americans. This account makes me think of something W. E. B. Du Bois writes in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), in a chapter on the economic rise of Atlanta, in which he worries that African Americans will lose sight of their higher ideals as they buy into the general American worship of riches:

What if the Negro people be wooed from a strife for righteousness, from a love of knowing, to regard dollars as the be-all and end-all of life? What if to the Mammonism of America be added the rising Mammonism of the re-born South, and the Mammonism of this South be reinforced by the budding Mammonism of its half-awakened black millions?

It's important to note that Robinson also reports that he's met few Mainstream blacks who don't feel a responsibility to help "the Abandoned," Robinson's term for those blacks who have not seen much benefit from the gains of the Civil Rights Movement and affirmative action.

But it also seems to me that this could be an interesting topic for discussion in my African American Voices class next time around. Have Du Bois's fears been borne out to some degree?

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