06 January 2019 - Jimmy Ramokgopa
On the 5th of August 2017, over a lovely dinner with a good friend of mine, Jessica, we discussed various matters, including that of "privilege". In this discussion, we noted that there are some black people who live (and have lived) lifestyles that are similar to those of white people, mostly within our generation, at least.
This particular group of black people is often classified as the “black middle class” and is said to be growing. According to Africa Check, in 2017, the New York Times presented claims that the black middle class in South Africa doubled between 1998 and 2008, and “more than doubled” between 2004 and 2013. I and many others argue that the concept of a “black middle class” in South Africa is misleading, because many of these classifications are largely based on average income. It is misleading in the sense that many black individuals who find themselves in that income band have many other responsibilities which their white counterparts do not have. This is popularly referred to as “black tax”. And so, even if the income is similar or is within the classification of “middle class”, such black people are effectively at a lower class due to the debt and responsibilities they have to service before fully “enjoying” the lifestyle of a middle-class person.
Of course, “middle class” is a relative concept, especially when the term is defined differently when in an underdeveloped country compared to a developed one. Therefore, we shall avoid using the term “black middle class” in our discussion, based on some of the discrepancies noted thereof. Instead, we will use the term “Better Blacks”.
In the analysis and observation, we noticed that there is some form of “privilege” amongst certain black people. But, we could not label them as "privileged" because the word is reserved only for our white brothers and sisters, and, rightfully so. Findings from Stats SA’s Living Conditions of Households in South Africa (2014/15) show that “nearly one in every ten (12.39%) black African-based households in South Africa were found to be in the upper income per capita quintile. This means that an overwhelming majority (87.61%) of black African-headed households were earning less than R74 479 per annum” whilst the majority of white-headed households (74.87%) were in the upper quintile and earned over R74 479 per annum.
Clearly, even though there is a growing number of black people who “live like white people”, we could not call them “privileged”, also because they too experience (to their surprise) racial discrimination within society and the economy. Furthermore privilege is not a bank balance. And even though the concept of a “black middle class” is fundamentally flawed, we know them as the "cheese boys and girls" who went to private schools, grew up in the suburbs and could afford to pay for their own varsity fees, despite having and making use of the opportunity to study through a bursary. These are the blacks who were given a "graduate starter-pack" and could afford a lifestyle better than others.
Jessica and I coined the term "better blacks" to better describe these individuals. I'm not sure if this is a completely new term, nonetheless, it is something that we have coined. This term describes that middle-to-upper class of black people, who are not necessarily in the same economic and privileged situation as white people, but certainly not in the same economic situation as the majority of black South Africans. With that said, the term [better blacks] should not be used in a completely negative context because it shows that there is some economic improvements within the black community, which is something that should be celebrated, of course.
However, I argue that “better blacks” should have a different “filter” with regards to the distribution of the country's wealth. There is a real need to ensure that wealth is distributed to all black people, especially those outside of the "better black" band. It has become apparent that we are at a stage where we need to modify the “black empowerment” policy. Jessica best described this eloquently by saying that “We've coined the term ‘better blacks’, to highlight that there are various classes in the black community. The elite of our community need to acknowledge their better start in life so that they make the best of it and realise that some of their friends are not on their level.”
The concept of Better Blacks will be unpacked over a series of articles. As you might have noticed from the title, this is Part 1 of that series. Part 2 will introduce a proposed new policy model for black empowerment.
- Jimmy Ramokgopa (@JimmyRamokgopa)
BSc. Engineering (Civil) - University of the Witwatersrand
Businessman - socio-economic and political commentator
Activist - The Collab Movement