On Being Black and Middle Class by Shelby Steele

Logos: On page 698, Steele dedicates an entire paragraph to logos. He brings to the attention of the reader that “class and race are both similar in some ways and also naturally opposed.” Steele explains that it’s all in how class and race are defined. It only becomes a double bind when when they’re defined in antagonistic terms, “So that one must be repressed to appease the other.” In this paragraph, Steele is using simple logic to explain how we should look at class and race and therefore, this part of the essay has strong logos.

Ethos: On page 702, Steele addresses one very common stereotype of blacks and that is the idea that they don’t use proper grammar. He tells a story of when he was in graduate school and a white professor told him he wasn’t “really black” because he wasn’t “disadvantaged.” This immediately gives the essay ethos. The essay gains credibility because the story being told is of Steele’s personal experience as a black, middle class college student. Steele continues to support what being “black enough” means to the disillusioned public. He adds another story of when a black student complimented his “proper” English but didn’t really know if he wanted to talk like that. The reason was because “Because then I wouldn’t be black no more,” and as a result, Steele’s point of being “black enough” is even stronger.

Pathos: In another paragraph, Steele evokes a great amount of emotion from the readers, therefore giving the essay pathos. Steele spends a good portion of the essay explaining the story of Emmett Till. Till’s story is a very emotion thing to read about, even for those who have heard the story numerous times before. Steele uses words like, “grotesquely mutilated” when describing how Till was murdered and it is because of strong descriptive words like those that the story being told is so much more emotional.
–Grace Dearing

1.  Strong juxtaposition is used by Steele  even before his essay begins. The title, On Being Black and Middle Class, tells the reader right away what the subject will be. This presents a confusing and complex idea that one can be defined by race and economic class together. Steele is conflicted with the biggest parts of his contrasting identity and relates examples to readers about isues with cultural views about people that are both black and middle class.  This enhances the theme that he feels an internal conflict at odds with himself, while simultaneously in an external conflict at odds with stankards surrounding him.

2. Steele uses several examples of allusion including his Malcolm X quote, mention of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideals, Outsider, and  key racial discrimination events.  These reference culture and stimulate ideas for readers with only a few words and helps us understand Steele’s values by what and whom he references.

3. The essay’s audience is not only meant to include those affected by racial and/or class stereotypes, but those who perpetuate and create limits such as these on people. Steele uses his own and others’ victimization to speak personally to the topic and persuade readers to agree with his take on the issues with living a dual identity.

–Sophie Needham

The intention of this essay is to educate readers about life as a middle-class black man. Author Shelby Steele associates with both middle class citizens and black citizens, but for some, it’s not so easy. He explains that being a middle-class black was often a “contradiction in terms” because in order to be a “real black”, he was expected to abandon his American values (fidelity, hard work, sacrifice, etc.). However, he shows throughout the essay that it’s possible to separate class from race.

1) Steele was able to keep me on my toes because of the way he arranged the essay. He opened the essay by completely laying down his opinion of middle-class blacks. However, he makes it clear that his opinions have changed a lot over the years (Paragraph 2). This made me want to know when and why his outlook on blacks changed, and it motivated me to keep reading. From then on, the essay is relatively in chronological order. Because this story is so personal about the author’s life, this type of arrangement was perfect. He outlined his general opinion of blacks to intrigue readers and then he went back in time to explain how his opinion evolved.

2) Throughout the essay, the trope “Sam” is used to personify white racists’ stereotype of blacks. The purpose of Sam was to embody what Steele wanted to not be like. Steele says: “‘Sam likes to have [children] but not to raise them.’ On money: ‘Sam drinks it up and pisses it out.’ On fidelity: ‘Sam has to have two or three women.’ And so on. Sam’s persona amounted to a negative instruction manual in class identity.” I think Sam is crucial to the essay because it allows readers to understand why Steele is so conflicted. His whole childhood, Steele was taught that Sam was something to avoid. However, once Steele got older, other blacks told him that if he didn’t act like Sam, he wasn’t a “real” black. Because of that, Steele struggled with knowing who to identify with.

3) While our class was discussing how Sam-like stereotypes affect society, my immediate thought was of Regina George from Mean Girls. She’s one of the most famous white, popular girl stereotypes and even though everyone loves to make fun of her, many young girls believe that in order to be liked and respected in high school, one has to behave like her. It creates a disconnect between the values we learn from our parents and the values we think we need to gain friends. Although the Regina George stereotype isn’t as profound as Sam, it helped me relate the 21st Century to the stereotypes of the 1960s.

–Lauren Wetsch

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