This vision of unyielding black pathology is yet another testament to the harmony of antiracist and neoliberal ideologies—and it, too, harks directly back to the origins of the black leadership caste at the dawn of the last century. Washington and Du Bois, together with Garvey and other prominent racial nationalists, envisioned their core constituency as a politically mute black population in need of tutelage from their ruling-class-backed leaders. Touré F. Reed persuasively argues that the mildly updated version of this vision now serves as an essential cornerstone of the new black professional-managerial class politics. Underclass mythology grounds professional-class claims to race leadership, while providing the normative foundation of uplift programs directed toward enhancing self-esteem rather than the material redistribution of wealth and income.
Exhortations to celebrate and demand accolades, career opportunities, and material accumulation for black celebrities and rich people—e.g., box office receipts for black filmmakers or contracts and prestigious appointments for other well-positioned black people—as a racial politics are consistent with the sporadic eruptions of “Buy Black” campaigns since the 1920s and 1930s. Such efforts stood out in stark contrast to more working-class based “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaigns that demanded employment opportunities in establishments serving black neighborhoods. Like “Buy Black” campaigns, which seem to have risen again from the tomb of petit-bourgeois wishful thinking, projections of successes for the rich and famous as generic racial victories depend on a sleight-of-hand that treats benefits for any black person as benefits for all black people. [...]