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The Desired Unsung: Black Middle-Class Men and Intimate Relationships

  • Author(s): Hightower, Joy L.
  • Advisor(s): Ray, Raka
  • et al.
Abstract

Popular discourses about the crises of Black family, marriage, and economic stability are refracted through the failure of low-income Black men. But, the academic discussion is also tinged by the “taint of the ghetto,” in which sociologists have tended to analyze the diverse experiences of Black relationships through a reductionist frame based on poverty and family disorganization. Black middle-class (BMC) men also carry the weight of these class-specific narratives (e.g., the absentee father, philanderer, drug dealer, or gang member)—not just because there is a dearth of knowledge about BMC heterosexual relationships but because everyone else—from single mothers, never married women, social commentators, and pundits—are speaking for Black men, except themselves.

Based on in-depth interviews, this dissertation seeks to enrich the debate surrounding Black relationships by including the perspectives of BMC men. It asks one overarching question that is often debated, yet never directly asked of the BMC men in question: How do heterosexual BMC men perceive and negotiate their relationships against the backdrop of dominant narratives that foreground their alleged failure? I find that within-class differences, specifically, the trajectory of BMC men’s social mobility patterns, timing of exposure to predominately white social environments, and racialized dating experiences are the three factors necessary to understand how BMC men experience intimate relationships.

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