In order to understand Black conservatism, it is important to understand the character of the Black bourgeoisie. Developing as it did within the context of white cultural oppression, it is not surprising that the values identified by Black conservative intellectuals such as Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell as "traditional American values" are hallmarks of both American conservative mythology and Black bourgeois mythology. The ethic of "individual initiative" and "strong families" are values intimately related to the stereotypes that locate Black poverty in the misbehavior of those Blacks who do not make progress.
Black bourgeois mythology is a powerful theme in the African American community, one that exists on two layers. First, like the conservative Horatio Alger myth, Black bourgeois mythology asserts that values and behavior determine economic success. Second, the myth maintains that middle-class African Americans are different from other African Americans. The development of the Black bourgeoisie is rooted in its apartness from the Black mass majority.
Prior to desegregation, African Americans of all socioeconomic groups lived in the same segregated communities. The economic and political position of the Black bourgeoisie depended on the business and political support of poorer Blacks living under segregated circumstances. Nonetheless, most of the Black bourgeoisie historically has seen itself (even when white America has not) as different from the Black masses, in attitude and behavior as well as in economic success.
Histories of the socio-cultural development of the Black middle class emphasize the pivotal role played by schooling for newly freed slaves, schooling which often would make them members of an incipient Black bourgeoisie in the immediate post-Civil War era. Initially, most of this schooling was carried out by white missionaries and abolitionists from the north, and later by Black graduates of their schools. These white instructors were intent on imparting the Puritan work ethic and morality prevalent in white schools of the day. Thus, among other things, the schooling emphasized "proper" sexual behavior. Schools demanded that students be chaste, especially the girls, and all students were expected to marry and live "conventional" family lives.
The emphasis on "moral" sexual behavior had special significance in the case of Black students. White northern teachers emphasized it because, using paternalis-