Black middle-class comes into view
Since Obama's candidacy, African-American professionals once invisible in mainstream America, are moving from prime-time fiction to everyday fact.
These tidy streets of well-manicured lawns and hedges gracing modest, but well-appointed California-style bungalow homes are Richard Nixon country, home to his alma mater and next door to his birth and burial place, Yorba Linda.Skip to next paragraph
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This has long been a bastion of conservative, white American Republicanism, says resident Lonnie Jordan, an African-American musician who lives in the Friendly Hills district of town. Married to a mixed-race wife whose mother was white and father black, Mr. Jordan says this was not always a comfortable place for a mixed-race couple. But, that has begun to change, he adds. The reason? The presidential aspirations of candidate Barack Obama.
"He's put the image of black families on the national dialogue," says Jordan. "Now I walk around and I don't feel odd or out of place. It's come out of the shadows and into the everyday light."
Middle-class, African-American life has been invisible to mainstream America for most of the 20th century, says American University professor Leonard Steinhorn, coauthor of "By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and the Reality of Race." This derives largely from what he calls the sin of decades of segregation in the suburbs, the traditional home of the middle class.
This began to change in earnest when "The Cosby Show" introduced the nation to the Huxtables, a charming, upper-middle-class family of seven who just happened to be black.
African-American professionals and middle-income characters have continued to appear more regularly across prime-time television over the past two decades, says Mr. Steinhorn. But the process has accelerated as the Obama candidacy has progressed.
"Americans are auditioning their next president," he says, adding that this is what he calls a very intimate process. "They are trying to determine who will be in their living rooms for the next four years. As a result, they are engaging in a deeply personal way with Obama's biography. This is normalizing the middle-class African-American story, one that may be unfamiliar to many white Americans."
Coverage of the Obama narrative has steadily moved the media embrace of black middle-class life from prime-time fiction to the everyday world of fact, says entertainment lawyer Darrell Miller. There have been numerous what he calls "aha!" moments along the way. He points to such consciousness-raising moments as the 2005 surprise box office success of Tyler Perry's "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," revealing to Hollywood studios the presence of a large, underserved middle-class black audience.
The appearance of such athletes as Tiger Woods and Serena and Venus Williams in traditionally white sports such as golf and tennis were more such moments, agrees Smokey Fontaine, chief content officer for the social-networking site, Black Planet. The biggest is of course Oprah, who represents not just affluent but powerful black America, he adds.