Black Middle-Class Interpretations of Civic Engagement: “It’s What You’re Supposed to Do”
Candice C. Robinson
In this article, I address the ways members of the Black middle class approach their civic engagement activities, specifically voting, volunteering, and voluntary organization membership. The Black middle class’s life experiences are often bounded by their racialized identity leading them to feel linked to the struggles of their working-class and poor counterparts due to their race and therefore to often feel obliged to get civically involved. This article builds on a history that involves politics, organizations, volunteering, and civically engaged work in support of racial equity that the Black middle class have engaged in as early as the abolition movement. Using ethnographic data from 2015 to 2019, I conducted interviews with members of the Black middle class to discuss how interviewees frame their dedication to civic engagement. I conclude by highlighting: (1) the Black middle-class individuals’ methods of civic engagement; (2) their responses to this involvement; and (3) how they frame their reasons for involvement. This article begins to explore how, despite variation in occupations, educational attainment, type of college attended, parental class backgrounds, and gender, the framing of Black middle-class civic engagement stays consistent and supports a global arc of commitment to justice.
Black middle class; civic engagement; voting; volunteering; organizations
Scholars have long traced Black Americans’ active involvement in civic life in spite of their institutionalized exclusion from participatory democracy (Du Bois 1899; Dagbovie 2015; Robinson 2019). A history of slavery, segregation, and institutional racism informs Americans’ racialized experiences (Omi and Winant 2009; Golash-Boza 2016). Specifically, the exclusion of Black Americans in social mobility opportunities have reified racial boundaries that subsequently lead them to live separate lives from White Americans (Dollard 1936; Golash-Boza 2016). In the earliest sociological study, the Philadelphia Negro, Du Bois (1899) outlines how classed stratification among Black citizens occurs within the racially segregated Seventh Ward of Philadelphia. Notably, Black Philadelphians of the “middle classes and those above” organize among themselves through civic engagement activities that include church attendance, monetary donations, volunteering, and organizational membership despite barriers to voting, political office, and admittance to the predominantly White social groups throughout the rest of the city.
Despite these forms of participation that support a broad arc of resilient Black civic engagement, Black Americans are often depicted as disengaged. When shown as active civic participants, they are presented primarily through high-risk activism, such as protests and riots, with few works on formal volunteering (Bracey 2016; Oliver 2017; Musick et al. 2000). Formal volunteering literature argues that Black Americans have lower rates of volunteering, except when controlling for church involvement (Wilson 2000; Musick et al. 2000). This general conclusion that Black Americans do not have high rates of voluntarism encourages assumptions that they do not volunteer at all, with no further discussion on those who do get involved and little discussion on how volunteer survey questions may not allow for a full picture of the activities in which they participate. Additionally, this line of work flattens this demographic with no attention paid to the varied positions that class identities can influence. Furthermore, their civic life is not paid attention to fully. Taking into consideration this literature and limitations, this article bridges work on the politics, organizations, volunteering, and philanthropic work in support of racial equity in which the Black middle class have engaged, and discusses their perspectives of this work.
Below, I include a brief discussion of Black middle-class civic life literature. I then describe the methods and data for this article, including clarification on the use of participant observation and twenty in-depth interviews with members of the Black middle class. I conclude by highlighting the Black middle-class participants’ (1) methods of civic engagement; (2) responses to this involvement; and (3) framing of reasons for this involvement. This article supports the area of research that explores an understanding of Black middle-class life with specific attention to interpreting their commitments to civic engagement.
BLACK MIDDLE-CLASS CIVIC LIFE
As sociological research exploded in the twentieth century, studies evolved to better understand the lives of Black people that had been often regulated to segregated communities. Notably, scholars like Drake and Clayton (1945), Dollard (1936), members of the Atlanta School (Wright II 2017), and Wells (Wells-Barnett and Gates 1991) recounted the daily experiences of Black people, often noting a unique elite class that emerged among Black people. Throughout the history of the United States and academic literature, this unique elite class has been known as freedmen, educated Blacks, the Talented Tenth, Black bourgeoisie, Black elite, Black upper class, Black professionals, and/or Black middle class. Each of these terms define the Black middle class as individuals who are privileged in some way, through human, economic, social, and/or cultural capital; however, their life experiences are often bounded by their racial identity as Black (Du Bois 1903; Frazier 1957; Collins 1997; Benjamin 2005; Oliver and Shapiro 2006; Lacy 2007; Lacy and Harris 2008; Pattillo 2007; Landry and Marsh 2011; Thomas 2015; Lindsey 2017).
During the mid-twentieth century, E. Franklin Frazier (1957) turned full attention to summarizing the activities of the Black middle class in his work Black Bourgeoisie. The Black bourgeoisie actively participated in the Black church, civic and voluntary associations, and Black Greek-lettered organizations (BGLOs); involvement in each of these institutions also included regular community service that was undergirded by a commitment to racial uplift (Higginbotham 1994; Gaines 2012; Hughey and Hernandez 2013; Allen 2019). The Black middle class during this time were often leaders in organizations, such as the National Urban League and NAACP (both founded in 1910), that were dedicated to bringing opportunities to segregated Black communities with participation in social change and voting rights, and encouraging political involvement (Frazier 1957; Reed 2009). Their commitment to civic life was chronicled throughout the twentieth century, making the significance of voting, volunteering, and organizational membership apparent as a cornerstone of the everyday life of the Black middle class.
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the focus of the Black middle class was on their experiences through boundary and identity maintenance that are influenced by labor markets, neighborhoods, income and wealth inequality, and politics. Some scholars claimed that the Black middle class left working-class and poor Black individuals following the gains of the civil rights movement (Wilson 2012). Other scholarship contended that the Black middle class continued to be tied to working-class and poor Black people because they lived near them, had a higher likelihood of family members who were within those classes, and in turn would help that population (Pattillo-McCoy 1999; Benjamin 2005).
Several of the early twenty-first-century works on the Black middle class built upon Du Bois’s (1903) framework from over a century prior that outlined the experiences and responsibilities of the Talented Tenth (Pattillo-McCoy 1999; Pattillo 2007; Landry and Marsh 2011; Lacy 2007). This research includes explorations on how the Black middle class see themselves in relation to other Black people. They generally are linked to the struggles of their working-class and poor counterparts due to their race and therefore feel constrained in opportunities as well as obliged to help (Dawson 1995). As research begins to further explore the varied dynamics of the Black middle class’s involvement in helping others and their civic life, more research must be told from their perspectives. While Black middle class scholarship must further explore these experiences, other areas of research must explicitly acknowledge the unique positions of the Black middle class. Research shares narratives on volunteers’ and activists’ involvement, but it does not explicitly center the experiences of the Black middle class nor does it look at the totality of these experiences (Robnett 2000; Walker 2008; Ray and Rosow 2012; Eliasoph 2011). In this article, I begin to center the civic engagement narratives of the Black middle class.
METHODS AND DATA
I collected the data for this article using twenty in-depth interviews with members of the Black middle class. Interviews took place in 2016, 2017, and 2019. The in-depth interviews are part of a larger ethnographic dataset that includes participant observation from January 2016 to August 2019 at 140 National Urban League events as well as archival sources of the organization. This line of inquiry allowed for a fuller view of interviewees’ lives as part of a social movement community dedicated to fighting racial inequality.
My observations were focused on attending events hosted by National Urban League affiliates and their voluntary auxiliary National Urban League Young Professional chapters. These observations were supplemented by informal conversations with attendees at the event—members, nonmembers, and interviewees alike. The subjects in the conversations primarily focused on what brought them to the events and their personal experiences with getting involved. These events were conducted in public spaces, such as National Urban League offices, libraries, community centers, and government buildings. During the time in the field, I recorded notes via a notes application on my phone, tablet, or available note paper so as not to bring attention to my data collection. The majority of the events were open to the public and broadcasted live, and the data also includes transcriptions of the recordings of these events to add additional layers of data. The variety of data used allows for me to triangulate the information presented and inform the in-depth interviews.
The interviews took place in a room within a community building and lasted between 90 and 120 minutes. Interviews were transcribed and the content systemically analyzed using MaxQDA, a qualitative data analysis program. The interviewees were identified through purposeful sample designed to specifically target individuals in the broader sphere of the social movement community; additionally, interviewees were located through snowball sampling based on their involvement in politics and volunteering. I based their Black middle-class status off of their education and occupations. Considering many Black people have a strained relationship with identifying as middle class due to historical differences in income, wealth, education, and racialized class identity that are not constrained to the United States (Bourdieu 1986 ; Grusky and Weeden 2008; Hout 2008; Oliver and Shapiro 2006; Lacy 2007; Lacy and Harris 2008; Pattillo 2007; Khunou 2015; Krige 2015), I acknowledge that many members may feel apprehensive about that title. Of the twenty interviewees, only six considered and/or acknowledged themselves a part of the Black middle class. Nineteen interviewees had at minimum a bachelor’s degree (with thirteen of the nineteen having at minimum a professional degree—MPA, MBA, JD); one interviewee had a professional certification. All twenty interviewees worked in professional occupations, including nonprofit, business, and government. Interviewees ranged from ages 25 to 50. Within the sample, there was a range in the level of involvement in social and political activism, from an after-work activity to a part of an occupation. Some interviewees were highly involved in National Urban League activities (including serving on the board), while others had never been members and only attended several events. In this article I highlight (1) methods of civic engagement that interviewees highlight; (2) their responses to this involvement; and (3) how they frame their understanding of their history of involvement.
Summary of Methods of Involvement
As mentioned above, the major avenues by which individuals are civically engaged are through voting, volunteering, and joining voluntary organizations (Putnam 1999). While scholarship often divides understandings of involvement through voting, volunteering, and social groups, I was able to have respondents talk about each of these activities together. They often were involved in all three. I told interviewees that we would generally discuss their civic engagement and involvement and asked targeted questions related to voting, volunteering, and organizational membership in order to get a fuller picture.
With 51.4 percent of eligible Black voters voting in the 2018 election, I asked interviewees about their voting behaviors (Pew Research Center 2019). I specifically asked respondents, “Did you vote in the 2018 election?” “Did you vote in the 2016 election?” and “Politically, what was your household like growing up?” None of the interviewees hesitated when asked about voting. Particularly voting would elicit longer explanations of behaviors of each of the interviewees. One interviewee, Elle (age 29) stated enthusiastically:
I vote in all the elections…. Obama was the first president that I could vote for…. But I always saw voting like my mom, my dad, they were very intentional about whenever there was an election or whenever they voted they took us to the voting booth. And we got to pull the lever when they had levers back in the day, … voting is important to us.
Voting was something that Elle remembered doing routinely from an early age. She noted that it was not only her, but her entire family who voted, making it a familial affair. This theme of parents or grandparents taking the interviewees to see the process of voting was part of their history of civic engagement throughout their lives. Voting as a family was consistent despite variations in origin class identity. While I classify the interviewees as currently Black middle class, their parents and grandparents had varied educational and occupational backgrounds.
Not only was voting part of the interviewees’ narrative; they also had a deep understanding of what the legacy of disenfranchisement had done. Benjamin (age 33) was particularly expressive after being asked, “Why do you vote every election?”:
I know too many people personally, who have struggled without the right to vote. My family is [originally] from [the South], my grandmother was born in the 1930s. Yeah, like for me to not vote would be a slap in her face as someone who couldn’t vote when she turned 18. Even though we lived in the North, she didn’t have the opportunity to vote because Voting Rights Act didn’t exist at that point. Like my great-great-grandmother, who lived to be 100 was still in the deep South during that time. So, I’m not sure when she actually had the opportunity to vote because she died in ’94. And I don’t know, but it’s one of those things where it’s like, I know personal history, like my aunts and uncles or great-aunts and great-uncles rather, did not have the opportunity so it would be asinine of me to not use my privilege. That and it gives me the right to complain because if you don’t vote, then shut the hell up. Because then you are literally a part of the problem because you didn’t, you didn’t say what you wanted…. So, like for me, yes, I’ve voted in every single election since I turned 18.
Benjamin discussed the historical importance of voting as well as the continued importance of individuals to go out and vote. Essentially, he felt as though it was the duty of all citizens, but particularly Black citizens, to vote in every election and to hold their representatives responsible. Part of his voting narrative was steeped in a duty based on a legacy of disenfranchisement. For him, even though Black people could not widely vote without barriers prior to the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, they can now and should make it a point to fully participate as a citizen. Benjamin’s responses were standard; none of the respondents mentioned reservations about voting. Each of them stated that they understood the duty to vote. None of the respondents stated that they had missed an election themselves. Through the conversations, I interpreted this as reinforcing the belief that local elections directly influence their everyday life and therefore should be taken seriously.
In addition to voting, some people discussed volunteering prior to and during election days to get as many people as possible registered to vote. When discussing their households growing up, many mentioned getting involved beyond voting in the polls. Some family members had run for office themselves. Jaleila (age 48) specifically discussed how her family not only voted, but also volunteered to work the polls.
“Politically active? Very. I’d say within my nuclear family, but my extended family, they were very politically active to this day. My family, they work the polls, and so they have a particular polling place, where everyone lives, and they’ve lived there for generations. So, from my great-aunt, to my cousins, and their children, they all work this particular polling place. So, we grew up knowing like, you have to vote, you have to be politically active. There’s no way around it.”
Jaleila discussed how her family, like Elle and Benjamin’s, encouraged her to vote, often showing her the procedures of voting to demystify the process. The participation in this particular polling place represented a commitment to this civic endeavor and to this specific community that her family lived in for generations. Undeniably, this Black family is invested within their own community. Additionally, Jaleila’s family bridged the voting measure of civic engagement with a second measure, volunteering.
A second form of involvement I asked individuals about was volunteering, despite scholarship on formal volunteering stating that Black people’s involvement is limited (Wilson 2000; Musick et al. 2000). All respondents were active volunteers and often had some form of narrative explaining their commitments throughout their lives. In discussing their general experiences, I specifically asked interviewees what their first memory of volunteering was. Benjamin noted that he was not involved in volunteering until college:
Naw, that was not a thing that was really a big thing in our household, like volunteering was not really… we were so ingrained to just try to survive and go day to day my grandmother raised me after my mom passed. And so, she’s making $10 an hour. Like, we don’t have time to go volunteer. And in the time that I could have been volunteering, I was spending time with my aunts and stuff, because that’s who was watching me so my grandmother could work. But no volunteer wasn’t a thing until I got to college. And then it started to become somewhat of thing. And then after college when became a big thing to the point now where on Thanksgiving, me and my sister typically go and volunteer on Thanksgiving.
While Benjamin mentioned that his family members did not have the time to formally volunteer because they were focused on surviving everyday life, I noted that his aunts volunteered their time to watch him and his sister. Informal voluntary behaviors also help to ensure a functioning society and therefore the use of interviews, like this one, allow for researchers to get a full picture of the type of unpaid labor that individuals do regularly. This example of voluntarism would not have been able to be discussed without the broader conversation of all civic behaviors throughout the course of the interview.
Regardless of a low volunteer rate as a child, Benjamin followed up by telling how volunteering is now a part of his and his sister’s lives. All other respondents had stories of volunteering during their childhood, including volunteering at church, reading to other students at elementary schools, and participating in teen organizations that have a mission of service (e.g., Jack and Jill and National Urban League Youth Leadership Programs). C. C. (age 32) was one of many interviewees who considered volunteering as something routine, almost as though you do not realize how much you are doing. In particular, he mentioned not realizing the amount of volunteer work he conducted until he started preparing for college applications:
So, it’s funny, right? So, when you’re doing college applications, one of the things that at the time was en vogue to do was to put all your service hours and all your volunteer work, right? And I’m, like, dang, I hardly ever volunteer. I was thinking that, right. And I talked to my mom about it, and she’s like, “You sure about that? You don’t volunteer?” And we started going back and thinking about all the work we’ve done for the church and I ended up having, like, I think of doing maybe like, 300 hours a year of volunteer work. And, like, we never thought about it, but that was the reality.
C. C. mentioned conducting service regularly with his family, including through some church involvement. Exemplified through this story is the way that helping others is so routine as part of Black middle-class families that individuals may not always accurately share how much they get involved unless they spend time actively outlining their work.
While the above was a story of C. C.’s teenage years, many respondents continued this story of working and volunteering as an ingrained part of their adult lives. Elle explained volunteering as almost a part-time job:
“I probably (volunteer) 20 hours a week… it’s like, you know, you have your five to nine. So, you have like your nine to five (job) and then you have your five to nine…. Once I started documenting my hours, I was like this is too much, this is a part-time job. Without any benefits (laughing).”
This sentiment of volunteering during their nonworking hours of five to nine was also echoed by Michaela (age 35). While Michaela is married with children, Elle lives as a single woman. Despite these familial structure and lifestyle differences, volunteering maintains a core part of their lives. Regardless of other commitments, all respondents found time throughout the week to commit to unpaid labor. Elle added to her description of her five to nine that, “Some people go home to their kids, I have my nonprofits.” These volunteer activities keep them busy, but importantly Elle notes how volunteering is often connected through some form of organizational lens.
The organizational civic involvement of the Black middle class is inclusive of BGLOs, NAACP, the church, and less commonly discussed memberships in organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the YMCA, the YWCA, and the National Urban League. This organizational involvement mentioned by these interviewees highlights the importance of looking beyond the macro and micro levels of civic engagement; rather there is a need for organizational research that observes the meso level of civic engagement (Staggenborg 2002; Bell 2014). Additionally, the activities of these interviewees in organizations like the National Urban League and BGLOs move beyond the White-centric organizations featured in Putnam’s Bowling Alone (1999). Benjamin mentioned the root of his family’s increased volunteering as organizational related:
Now volunteering is the thing we do, and that’s because [my sister and I] are both Greek affiliated, and so like, we understand the meaning of service and what that means I get it clearly because of the service organizations I’ve been a part of. And so, it’s really a combination of things where that’s not been, it wasn’t a part of my life.
Benjamin mentioned how these organizations comprised of predominantly Black and professional individuals show the meaning of service. Many interviewees mentioned the importance of the National Urban League as part of their involvement. Longstanding predominantly Black civic organizations serve as a conduit by which the Black middle class are able to get involved. The structure of the organization allows for the respondents to become members, rather than having to seek out or recreate their own spaces. Amanda (age 32) mentioned she joined the National Urban League Young Professionals because “It’s young Black people in the region who like doing community service.” Another interviewee, Michaela, also mentioned the way that the National Urban League pulled her in, even having her change careers from business to nonprofit work:
I spent a lot of my five to nine time doing volunteer work, and the Urban League was a huge part of that. When I came back to [this city], I was trying to figure out how to do more of what I love doing. So, the Urban League kind of bit me with that whole nonprofit bug. So, it’s like, how do I do more to help women and children that more specifically, are African American.
Michaela, like the other respondents, highlighted the importance of organizations in helping them develop an identity around volunteering. While they might have already had a proclivity to volunteer, organizational networks helped them to figure out what they like to do and how to stay involved while balancing young adulthood, early careers, and families. A powerful point as part of the civic engagement activities of voting, volunteering, and joining organizations was the interviewees’ responses to their involvement.
Summary of Responses to Involvement
For many of the interviewees, their civic engagement brought them joy in addition to finding friends, partners, and a purpose. After reflecting on their participation, the respondents highlighted a moral obligation to participate in civic engagement. This moral obligation emerged from their familial background and their own racialized and classed identities. I consider the moral obligation as “It’s what you’re supposed to do”—a phrase that rarely came up through the explicit interviews, but was, however, a constant phrase throughout the broader ethnographic fieldwork. Below, I further discuss points made by the interviewees that focus on family and their racialized and classed identity.
As briefly discussed above, many respondents discussed how their involvement with their community was primarily focused on familial tradition. Amanda stated:
As a Black woman or a Black girl who became a Black woman, you know, Blackness has always been something that has been appreciated, elevated and celebrated in my family.… So, you know, I remember, like my mom having a, ‘you have two strikes against you conversation,’ you have one Black and one woman like, you gotta, like, do, you know, twice as good and people are still asked questions about you, whether or not you’re qualified. My dad’s family was very involved with the civil rights movement. My grandma spent eight days in jail protesting segregation in [the South], my granddad was arrested. And, you know, he also was instrumental in the community to make the MLK national holiday. So, like, I mean, these are things like that, I just grew up knowing, like, in terms of our involvement, and my, what the responsibility was, you know, for us as Black people to really, you know, continue and carry on this legacy.
Like Benjamin earlier in discussion of voting and C. C.’s discussion concerning volunteering, Amanda brought forth the importance of her mother’s conversations and broader family history in laying the foundation for her volunteering behaviors. She sensed that because her family has sacrificed through participation in racial equality demonstrations, going so far as being imprisoned for rights, that she too should do everything in her power to fight for racial equality. Her mother did not particularly tell her, “It is your responsibility to go volunteer,” but the conversations around her race were essential. Amanda’s story additionally highlights how the legacy of racial inequality influences the relationships and activities of contemporary Black people, including the Black middle class. Furthermore, it brings forth attention to the moral obligation that goes beyond family and into racialized and classed identities.
Amanda elaborated many of her answers by discussing the moral obligation, but particularly in comparison to non-Black individuals. When discussing her reasons for voting that go beyond the responsibility of supporting a familial history, she stated:
I just think that, you know, our… I think back to that moral obligation that we feel to really just be in our communities and help and support, especially when we have, you know, achieved I think, for the White people, I mean, it’s a privilege to not have to, like… you can just go home and live in your suburbs or whatever, with your family, and just keep it moving. And, like, if you want to come into the city, and do you know, this civic engagement or change the world type stuff you can, but like, it’s not really a moral imperative for you, it’s more like a hobby.
I found this discussion particularly interesting because Amanda juxtaposed her experiences with those of her White counterparts after discussing her experiences on racially mixed nonprofit boards. For her, the commitment to the communities that the board served were not simply something to do in her free time, but part of a broader commitment to those in marginalized communities.
Other interviewees did not discuss their commitment to equality in comparison to their White counterparts in the same way; they instead focused on the privilege of helping other people. C. C., for example, emphasized his own privileges as part of his moral obligation:
So, growing up … one of the kind of key refrains we heard growing up was to whom much is given much is expected and so we heard that all the time and so service is kind of you know a huge part of this how we grew up.
As stated above, many of the respondents did not consider themselves Black middle class, but they did acknowledge how their classed experiences, based on education, occupations, and opportunities, had afforded them opportunities to help others. Among all the respondents, their privileges meant lifelong commitments to civic engagement, with special interest in helping Black communities challenge persistent forms of inequalities.
This article builds upon a conversation on two major avenues moving forward (Robinson 2019): the broadened understanding of civic engagement that centers non-White identities and the construction of Black middle-class identities that can influence our global understanding of the Black middle class.
Above, I outlined all three agreed-upon civic engagement behaviors—voting, volunteering, and organizational membership—in one article. While not often discussed collectively, bringing all three elements together using one set of individuals rather than multiple data sources allows for a nuanced picture of how individuals manage civic engagement throughout their lives. Additionally, by not isolating one civic participation area, we are able to infer broader latent beliefs surrounding this involvement. Notably, my interviewees’ commitment to civic engagement is not solely done on the individual level, but through a community of individuals. They not only vote themselves, but they are part of a collective identity that is committed to sharing the significance of voting. This importance of voting is merely one observed factor of a civic engagement community that also influences their voting behaviors and organizational memberships. All activities are conducted through and in support of a broader population. For the respondents, their organizational memberships are not arbitrary but carefully chosen to support their volunteering and community service. While these interviews are not generalizable, I conclude with a theoretical contribution that mirrors E. Franklin Frazier half a century ago: the Black middle class has a commitment to civic engagement (Frazier 1957). Furthermore, their racialized and classed identity are core components to influencing this commitment to a full civic engagement identity.
My second concluding point broadly infers the challenges in understanding this particular group of people. All components of a Black middle class identity are difficult to discern as people enter their racialized and classed identities through various entry points themselves. As briefly stated, the majority of the respondents did not voluntarily mention being Black middle class. When asked whether they considered themselves a part of the Black middle class, they often rejected the notion that they were part of an elitist group and leaned on their racial identity. The difficulty in discerning classed identities is in part difficult due to whether they were upwardly mobile or inherited this classed identity. Regardless, their current classed positions have undeniable similarities based on a variety of factors, including occupations, education, and commitment to civic engagement. While not the particular focus of this article, religious identity was also an important part of the interviewees’ moral obligation narratives, which are explored in expanding research on the subject of doing religion (Allen 2019).
The difficulty in discerning a Black middle-class identity construction is apparent in global scholarship as Black people from different national social locations with privilege further explore what their enhanced opportunities mean. This identity cannot simply be discerned through hard numbers but must expand to similarities in commitments, responsibilities, and the access to social capital that their identity affords them (African Development Bank 2011; Khunou 2015; Krige 2015). Similar to my interviewees’ responses concerning responsibilities due to their privileges, scholars find that investments in civic and political life rise as affluence rises for Black people within the African country context (Garcia-Rivero, Toit, and Kotze 2003; African Development Bank 2011; Southall 2014; Wale 2013). Inherent in the investment in civic life, though not explicitly discussed, is a complicated relationship with less privileged Black people. While some of the commitments to civic engagement are due to a racialized identity, respondents inherently are creating a set of boundaries from “other” Black people (Onyebuchi Eze 2011; Krige 2015). This furthermore suggests the importance of “studying up” rather than focusing solely on those least fortunate when understanding the various intersections between identities and activities (Lacy 2019).
Through this article I have had the privilege of sharing narratives of the Black middle class, but particularly a narrative that is centered on everyday forms of participatory democracy. While this article focuses on the Black middle class in American society, the racialized and classed identity that emerged in response to a sociohistorical phenomenon is mirrored in other countries that have a history of institutionalized racism. As countries continue to deal with the legacies of violence that were perpetuated on the entire Black community, the experiences of the Black middle class will continue to have an undercurrent of a legacy of commitment to social justice. The shared identities that have developed as a result of these racist and capitalist democracies that give few opportunities to non-White people will continue to produce avenues for discussion of a shared experience for the global Black middle class.
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 Civic engagement is broadly defined as voluntary activity focused on helping others in support of political, social, and community gains. These activities include joining social groups, voting, and formal volunteering (Putnam 1999; McLean et al. 2002; Skocpol and Fiorina 2004; Zukin et al. 2006; Robinson 2019).
 Social movement communities are comprised of individuals, a collective identity, movement centers, social movement organizations, institutional supporters, and a broader movement goal (Staggenborg 1998).
 While I know that there has been discussion concerning the naming of individuals and places for transparency (Reyes 2018), I have chosen to follow the convention to give each of my respondents pseudonyms at this time and shared this decision with them during interviews.
Candice C. Robinson, University of Pittsburgh