New Fiction, Old Reality: It’s Time We Pay Attention to the Pandemic Struggles of Black Women

Fox’s Our Kind of People makes audiences rethink their perception of Black workers, drawing attention to problems that the government has long tried to ignore.

our-kind-of-people-black-women-covid-jobs-congress-build-back-better
Our Kind of People is a perfectly-timed undertaking given marginalized people’s hardships, especially those of Black women, in our seemingly unending COVID-19 pandemic. (Brownie Harris/Fox)

Since it is irresponsible to ignore national politics right now, can we talk politics and favorite TV shows, please? Memories of Lawrence Otis Graham’s Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class (1999), and the Introduction to Africana Studies college course in which I was introduced to it, came rushing back to me when I learned of a new TV series based on it, Our Kind of People, currently airing on Fox.

Now, as a college professor, I am loving how this TV series that is supposed to feature an elite Black community actually turns stereotypes and misinformation about working-class people on their heads. It is a perfectly-timed undertaking given marginalized people’s hardships, especially those of Black women, in our seemingly unending COVID-19 pandemic. 

Urging a re-imagining of the lived experiences of disregarded wage-earners—which is what Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposal aims to do—is what I claim this TV series touches on by centering classism. Economic and social justice, whether in fiction or reality, belong at the center of our national attention right now—rightfully so.  

Our elected officials are gearing up for more gridlock concerning Biden’s social spending plan after finally passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and the House passing the Build Back Better Act. Yet even as politicians make claims that they will not leave behind marginalized communities, many Black women are suffering now.

Instead of shaming and demonizing people in less fortunate circumstances, Yaya DaCosta’s character in Our Kind of People, Angela Vaughn, places the blame squarely where it belongs—on systemic inequalities, which the pandemic has highlighted.  

On Our Kind of People, DaCosta’s character Angela—a single mom from a working-class background trying to make her way into the Oak Bluffs community on Martha’s Vineyard where her well-to-do distant family members reign—defends the “ghetto” after Leah Franklin (Nadine Ellis), uses the term degradingly. Angela states, “A ghetto is a neighborhood where oppressive systems work to disenfranchise and impoverish Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples.” Beyond housing discrimination, such oppressive systems are at work even through pandemic-driven policies that are supposedly aimed at rectifying inequalities.   

A ghetto is a neighborhood where oppressive systems work to disenfranchise and impoverish Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples.

The minimal unemployment rate changes for Black women in the October jobs report evince that the barriers that existed before the pandemic, including economic inequality, continue to fuel disproportionate impacts. Black women have not been able to bounce back from their steep unemployment loss that the pandemic generated in 2020.

The “double gap“—a term economist Michelle Holder uses to emphasize gender and racial wage gaps—takes on multi-dimensions when it comes to Black working-class women. Even though the unemployment rate dropped across racial groups this year, Black women, including those with a college degree, have yet to recover, thus continuing their income and wealth gaps. Of course, Black women frontline workers, who deserve our honor, are the hardest hit. Janelle Jones, chief economist at the U.S Department of Labor, says it took Black women to 2018, about a decade, to recover from Great Recession employment losses, and now many of those gains have been lost.  

It took Black women to 2018, about a decade, to recover from Great Recession employment losses, and now many of those gains have been lost.  

The disheartening unemployment rate for Black women should be creating a sense of urgency, highlighting the need for long-lasting reform that will not be easily reverted once the political party in charge changes. All too often, the bickering and infighting continue even after a bill’s passage, as our nation is currently witnessing.  

I want our elected officials to act in earnest concerning real people’s real suffering and speed up the process of creating sustainable avenues to a just standard of living for those in need of assistance, whether it is with housing arrangements, childcare assistance, food subsidies or loan debt. The unemployment rate for Black Americans is simply too high

our-kind-of-people-black-women-covid-jobs-congress-build-back-better
Raymond Dupont, played by Morris Chesnutt. (Fox)

Our Kind of People, created by Karin Gist of Star and Grey’s Anatomy and produced by Lee Daniels and Lawrence Otis Graham, who unexpectedly died in February, obliterates the stereotype that all Black people are poor. The show’s character Raymond Dupont, played by Morris Chesnutt, reminds viewers in the second episode that an elite community of Black people existed long before the Obamas entered the White House. The show also spurs thought-provoking conversations that resonate with many families still trying to keep their heads above water and out from under getting hassled and hustled.

Black women-owned businesses, which earn less revenue than other women-owned businesses, were among the almost half of Black-owned businesses that permanently closed during the pandemic, and many did not receive Paycheck Protection Program loans under the CARES Act.

With this new pending legislation, our political leaders need to get it done now and get it done right this time around. Congress needs to take a hard look in the mirror when asking who is really responsible for delaying economic liberty and justice for all.  

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

Up next:

About

Robin Brooks is an assistant professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of the forthcoming book Class Interruptions: Inequality and Division in African Diasporic Women’s Fiction to be published with UNC Press in December 2021.