cover image Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class

Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class

Lawrence Otis Graham. HarperCollins Publishers, $25 (418pp) ISBN 978-0-06-018352-3

Graham, an African-American attorney, went undercover as a busboy at an all-white Connecticut country club and wrote about the experience first in New York magazine and then in Member of the Club, his 1996 book of essays. Now, he switches his attention from the white to the black elite. Graham spent six years researching the history of the African-American upper crust and this book is both a thorough work of social history and a thoughtful appraisal of his own place in the black social hierarchy. Graham makes clear that the black elite has always been strongly shaped by the peculiarly intertwined American preoccupations with color and class, noting that, in the past, most members of the black elite felt they were ""superior to other blacks--and to most whites."" Stressing the importance of surrounding themselves with ""like-minded people,"" the black elite enrolled their children in certain social clubs, which were training grounds for the social graces and created the foundation of a black old-boy network. Graham stops short of offering an apology for behavior that is hard to characterize as anything other than snobbish (he himself had a nose job when he was 26 so that he would have a less ""Negroid"" look). But he does bemoan a dwindling interest in tradition, and he suggests that it wasn't such a bad thing to grow up in the 1960s and '70s without the ""sense of anger and dissatisfaction the rest of black America"" expressed in those years. Graham has produced a book that casts an unblinking eye on America's black elite, cataloguing its achievements while critically analyzing its shortcomings. It is a must read for anyone interested in African-American history and the impact of ideas about social class on our society. 16 pages of photos. BOMC main selection; first serial to U.S. News and World Report; author tour. (Feb.) FYI: The ABC News program 20/20 is producing a television segment based on the book.