Ben Hall Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page


Books in Review

A One-Sided View

(Spring 1957)

From The New International, Vol. XXIII No. 2, Spring 1957, pp. 129–130.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Black Bourgeoisie
by E. Franklin Frazier
The Free Press. 264 pp, 1957.

The “black bourgeoisie” rejects any identification with the Negro masses, according to Mr. Frazier, and strives more than any other element among Negroes to make itself over in the image of the white man; but it, in turn, is rejected by the white ruling classes. “As a consequence of their isolation, the majority of the black bourgeoisie live in a cultural vacuum and their lives are devoted largely to fatuities.” This is the running theme of Mr. Frazier’s account, one which comes forward in different variations and in each of his ten chapters.

The characteristics he describes are presumably based upon and derived from this unique contradiction of a black bourgeoisie in a white world; yet, the picture he draws can describe the white middle class without much adjustment. And in the end he, too, notices it. What gives the “black bourgeoisie” its basic stamp, its Negro or its middle class character? The author swings between the two halves of this question.

In any case, Mr. Frazier, who has written several books on the Negro and is chairman of the Department of Sociology at Howard University, has assembled a wealth of background detail and current facts on Negro life. It is surprising what he can pack into so few pages on fraternal organizations, churches, schools, business ventures, newspapers. For this alone, it is a rewarding work.

The term “bourgeoisie” is used without precision, not that we necessarily expect Mr. Frazier to hold to Marxian terminology; for him the concept of bourgeoisie is elusive and elastic, changing its meaning from one discussion to the next. Sometimes it seems to include all educated Negroes; or all white collar workers and professionals; or all businessmen. At times it takes in all but the mass of unskilled laborers counting as “bourgeois” the skilled Negro labor force. Most frequently and consistently, however, it simply refers to those who have a lot of money.

He does an impressive job of debunking the myth of “Negro business,” the concept that “a solution to the Negro’s economic problems” lies in Negroes owning their own enterprises. He documents the insignificant share of Negro industry in the American economy and its trivial importance in the Negro community.

In sum, he offers a thoroughly unattractive portrait of the Negro upper strata. Unrelieved pettiness, narrow social outlook, an unwillingness and therefore an incapacity to lead the Negro people in the fight for a better life, self-centeredness ... all under the ideological influence and sway of the white bourgeoisie.

“... the black bourgeoisie have shown no interest in the ‘liberation’ of Negroes except as it affected their own status or acceptance by the white community ... Because of its struggles to gain acceptance by whites, the black bourgeoisie has failed to play the role of a responsible elite in the Negro community.”

In five pages on the NAACP, he gives it credit for “significant victories for the Negro in his struggle for equal citizenship” but with severe qualifications.

“From this analysis of the various intellectual elements in the black bourgeoisie,” he writes, “it is clear that they are dependent primarily upon the white propertied classes. Even the NAACP, which has stood for ‘racial radicalism’ and has received a large part of its support from Negroes, has been influenced by the middle-class outlook of its white supporters and has sought support primarily from Negroes with a middle-class outlook.”

At all times, the book is absorbing and provocative but when it is finished, the reader will be unsatisfied. One of the key facts in American life today is the rise of a militant, mass Negro movement for equality; yet this occupies very little of the author’s attention. If the condition of the Negro professional and educated strata is as one-sided and bleak as Mr. Frazier maintains, where has the modern Negro movement come from; who leads and stimulates it?

“... instead of their old resignation toward the world, the Negro masses are acquiring a confidence in the efficacy of their efforts through the use of the ballot and in joining with fellow-workers in the labor unions.”

So he writes, but only in a passing sentence without examining the impact of this fact upon the black “bourgeoisie.”

Ben Hall Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 14 January 2020