Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Class Consciousness

BOND: Very quickly in the short minutes we have -- we haven't talked much about class. We talked about race, we talked about gender. If somebody said you see race and gender under every tree, where do you see class? Or when do you see class?

COLE: I tend to always see class. But I confess that as I age I see it with less -- I still see it, but my language becomes less stringent perhaps. That's happened to all of us who grew up in the era in which we grew up. But it is so ever-present. What else is it if not class to see this enormous chasm between black folk who got and black folk who don't have? What else is it but class? When we turn on the TV and watch the people of Afghanistan. That's not just a country that is a country under a given regime, that's also a country that is so poor. When we pick up a newspaper, and today read about some CEO who turns down an $81 million parachute, is that class? Of course it's class. And we as African Americans have yet to fully come to grips with the influence of class in our own community.

BOND: You know, there are some people who want to substitute class for race --

COLE: Oh, yeah.

BOND: -- particularly the affirmative action debate. Why don't we have class-based remedies? And, of course, people who study this tell us that they'll achieve less of an effect than race-based remedies do. But somehow they think they will be more acceptable. Do you think so?

COLE: I can only quote the good doctor, W. E. B. [Du Bois] It's -- and I will murder it, but -- a terrible choice of terms, I will not do justice to it -- "It's one thing to be black in America, oh, but to be black and poor." And, of course, I would always add "and a woman." And so I don't understand what makes us think that the realities in African-American life are now captured either in racial or class terms. They are captured in both. And gender matters, too.