SOCIAL PROBLEMS, Vol. 49, No. 4, pages 544–562. ISSN: 0037-7791; online ISSN: 1533-8533
© 2002 by Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Classed Out: The Challenges of Social Class
in Black Community Change
Shawn A. Ginwright,
Santa Clara University
The growth in the black middle class since the Civil Rights movement has spawned an interest in the rela-
tionships between the black middle class and the black poor. Scholars are interested in understanding how social
and cultural capital among the black middle class both ameliorate and/or sustain the conditions of the black
working poor. While this literature provides us with an understanding about the role of social and cultural cap-
ital in the lives of poor and middle class blacks, it says little about how ideology functions in intra-racial, multi-
class coalitions. Through materialist and culturalist frames of community problems confronting the black working
poor, I argue that culturalist frames of community problems fail to address black working class issues. Drawing on
a case study of a community’s effort to use Afrocentric ideology to improve an urban school, I demonstrate how
black middle class community members misdiagnosed the problem at the school through culturalist framing.
Findings indicate that social class plays a signicant role in how problems are dened, interpreted and addressed.
In 1957, E. Franklin Frazier argued that the black middle class in America suffered from
an identity crisis. He believed that while new middle class blacks enjoyed the benets of
higher income, education and social status, they suffered from a loss of cultural identity
brought on by assimilation into the American mainstream (Frazier 1957). Since that time,
there has been a dramatic growth in the black middle class in the United States. The growth in
income levels, educational attainment and middle class lifestyles spawned a burgeoning interest
among researchers about the experience of the new black middle class (Landry 1987; Pattillo-
Recently, scholars have focused their attention on understanding the relationship
between the black working poor and the black middle class (Pattillo-McCoy 1999; Wilson
1996a). Scholars are interested in understanding how social and cultural capital among the
black middle class both ameliorate and/or sustain the conditions of the black working poor
(Wilson 1996a). The prevailing argument here is that the black middle class escape the
connes of urban communities, and in their exodus, take with them valuable social and cul-
tural resources. Along with urban problems such as unemployment, the removal of black role
models and the displacement of middle class values all contribute to urban decay (Anderson
1999; Wilson 1996a, 1996b).
While this research is useful in our understanding of the role of social and cultural capital