For this project I am reading the burgeoning publication of essays that tackle black middle-classness and related aspects such as masculinities, femininities and race – indeed, intersections of these. The authors themselves are trying to “work out” their own middle-classness, with which they have a conflicted relationship. There also appears to be a “candid” turn in this writing, where some writers such as Lerato Tshabalala for example, in The Way I see It: the musings of a black woman in the rainbow nation, are tired of political correctness regarding the “personal shortcomings” of the black middle class. I am bringing a literary/cultural studies approach to reading some forms of black South African middle-classness. The essays, written by blacks who self-identify as middle class, project the human subject doing and reflecting on middle-classness. There is an immediacy and depth in this form of ‘self-writing’ as we read for both intended and unintended meanings, of the sort we do not get for instance, in Social Science approaches. It is as if slices of black middle-class lives have been proffered – nervously: nervously because the essays explore various anxieties occasioned by being part of the black middle class.
This project forms part of the project The new middle class in Africa in comparative perspective, convened by Debora James (London School of Economics).