November 30, 2021

With rising costs of living, steadily increasing debt, and stagnant wages, middle class Americans may find themselves living paycheck to paycheck. But is there even a Black middle class? Imari Smith, a doctoral student in Duke University’s Joint Program in Sociology and Public Policy, argues that the Black middle class is a “subaltern middle class”, just one tier of a marginalized group. The Black middle class has never reaped the benefits of their middle class status and continue to be subjected to the same harms faced by Black Americans of lower economic status.

Topics Covered: 

  • Defining middle class and wealth
  • The hollowing of the middle class
  • Why household debt continues to rise
  • Defining the “subaltern middle class”
  • How middle class status insulates from adversity
  • Barriers Black families face in accumulating wealth
  • Closing the wealth gap
  • Building Black Americans’ assets and wealth
  • Identifying who should benefit from reparations


  • “Income makes it easier to insulate yourself from financial strains, but positive wealth makes it even easier to accommodate financial strain.”
  • “When middle class status is connected to income, that middle class status has to be rebuilt every generation.”
  • “Racism is so pervasive in that it affects us in every aspect of life.”
  • “The effects and the harms inflicted on us as a subaltern group is really pervasive across class.”
  • “The best way to increase wealth for Black people is to reduce the barriers to asset building for Black people.”