[COLUMN] Do Better, Be Better:<br />
The Art of Class

Embarrassed. That’s the only word that can describe my response when I watched a recent episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta (RHOA). The show is my pleasure — sans the guilt. I am woman enough to admit I love watching these ladies.

Each Sunday night they render me suffering from any array of afflictions, from the ever so painful wardrobe envy to bouts of feeling under accomplished when I look at the great things the show’s entrepreneurs, Kandi Burruss and Phaedra Parks, have done.  Still, while watching the episodes chronicling the ladies’ trip to South Africa I could feel my face get warm — my heart rate even increased periodically!

Why? These ladies, from sass and slash queen NeNe Leakes, to the business savvy Parks, represent what many feel is the epitome of Black and female. And our favorite sisters visited the motherland without picking up a book, pamphlet or any sort of literature about the region, its practices, cultural norms or indigenous creatures — or it at least it seemed that way. From insensitive statements about the local spiritual practices to downright ignorant commentary about the lack of tigers on a safari, it was clear that the gals, though excited about going to South Africa, hadn’t done much research. And our great editors at Bravo made sure to highlight it.

As African Americans strive to close the socio-economic gaps between our communities and those of our cohort groups (Whites, Hispanics and Asians), we must remember that doing and being better isn’t just about earning more money. It’s about the way we behave, lifestyle priorities and the level of exposure and education we afford to families and ourselves. What good is it to travel abroad when you know nothing about the people? Ultimately, you end up resorting to stereotypes to support experiences (ex. Sheree Whitfield’s comment that South Africans were simply happy with less).

Recently, my girlfriend and I discussed the importance of not just earning more money, but embracing the lifestyle of being middle, or upper middle, class. Just in case you’re wondering, anyone who must work to live — regardless of how much you have in the bank — is not rich or wealthy. Being middle class, at least to me, is about creating a qualitative standard of living. And that doesn’t just translate to having “things”. It is also about maintaining an outlook on life that values various experiences and exposure.

It’s sad to watch professional women go overseas and poke fun at the cultural practices of the natives. In fact, if the RHOA weren’t Black, we’d rage against the Bravo machine. It’s disheartening to see empowered women venture across the world and know little about the natural habitat, or creatures. Most important, it’s disappointing to view Black women talk about being “rich” without fully embracing all that accompanies an elevated social class — from proper grammar to social etiquette.

Let's truly do better and be better, people! That requires more than money. It demands good manners (i.e. treating others with tasteful respect even if we don’t embrace their beliefs) and serious effort. Let's show the world what "classy" really means.