THIS BOOK IS, PRIMARILY, THE RESULT OF THREE YEARS OF RESEARCH INTO the tenor and impact of socioeconomic difference among urban black professionals in the United States. It includes historical and statistical data, but the bulk of this presentation is based on information I obtained as an interviewer and participant-observer of African Americans living and working in Central and West Harlem. I began anthropological field research in 1993 and, after leaving New York in 1996, continued to visit Harlem and conduct phone interviews between the late 1990s and the spring of 2003. I queried residents about their work, family life and history, hobbies, reasons for living in Harlem, and views about class, among related topics.
My aim for this ethnography was to explore how their position as college-educated professionals combined with race to shape material state, identity, work, and experiences with kin and community. In addition to examining how black professional Harlemites interpret, act out, and occupy their position in relation to power, kin, community, and co-workers, this study had four additional and overlapping areas of inquiry or concern.
The first addition to this investigation is the study of social change. The examination of past patterns makes three contributions to this book. This focus highlights generational differences that set apart the experiences and perspectives of elders from their younger family members, and this affects kin relations. Second, change continuously impacts the social environment through technological innovations, immigration, legislative and other political developments and fluctuating trends, and these processes characterize the ethnographic present in pivotal ways. Last, racism has been a consistent force that connects African Americans to past events and conditions. This study is informed by the persistence of racial inequality in varied aspects of black life in the United States.