A Place of Our Own: The Black Bougie Class

I just watched a great documentary called A Place Of Our Own. It’s about the Black families who spent their summer vacations on Oak Bluffs in Martha’s Vineyard and the sense of community that developed from their time there.

If you are unfamiliar with the Black upper-middle class background of Martha’s Vineyard, I will give a brief overview. Basically, as the film states, in the days before integration Black families wanted a place where they could go and experience leisure and also get away from the racism that they faced in their daily lives. Oak Bluffs became the prime place for African-American to spend their leisure time because  during the 1900s-1960s, many other areas in New England were de facto segregated …but Oak Bluffs became a safe haven. It was a place where African-Americans could reside peacefully, purchase waterfront property and enjoys the fruits of life without having to experience everyday racism.

The creator of the film Stanley Nelson chronicles his time growing up in Oak Bluffs and the impact that it had on his life. One of the main themes of the documentary is the sense of community that Oak Bluffs gave to African-Americans.

For example, Mr. Nelson grew up in a predominately white school in New York. Everyday he was faced with being the odd one out in the bunch. In one incident, he describes how a West African girl came to the school and the white children derided her for her west african surname and her hair. Mr. Nelson describes how he joined in on the mockery, but when the little girl looked at him and said, with tears in her eyes, “i thought you of all people would know better,” Nelson felt ashamed.

Nelson said,

“as i got older, i was uncomfortable being one of the few black kids in a sea of white faces, by the time i was a teenager, i started looking at my classmates differently…i knew that no some deep unspoken level, i wasn’t really one of them.”

Oak Bluffs gave Nelson and many other people a place where they could be themselves and not feel ashamed. They were in a place where everyone was Black and for once they fit right in. Every summer her went to experience the leisurely air of Oak Bluffs and built friendships with other African-American children of a similar background. He describes a life of cocktail parties for the adults, beach fun for the children and dancing lessons where he learned how to grind…lol

However, Oak Bluffs wasn’t perfect, like many places in the African-American community, there were colorism issues. One darker-skinned Black woman who grew on the Vineyard described how at dances, she always felt saddened when she wouldn’t be asked to dance. She felt this was largely due to the colorism that permeated the culture at that time. Eventually, her father purchased her a special gift so that she would fit in with the rest of the children at Oak Bluffs…but she felt that her other sisters, who were also dark-skinned, didn’t return to the Vineyard because of their experience with colorism.

At the end of the film, Nelson describes how the sense of community in Oak Bluffs dwindled with the advent of integration. As more areas in Martha’s Vineyard became open to African-Americans, some purchased homes outside of Oak Bluffs…while others stopped coming to Oak Bluffs altogether.

The last portion of the film saddened me because such a vibrant part of African-American culture seemed to be lost due to the desire to assimilate into white society. Racism was the main reason that well-to-do African-Americans poured into Oak Bluffs in the first place and to see that disintegrate was saddening to me.

It reminded me of how I felt growing up in a predominately white neighborhood and school. It was fine to be in that environment as a child, but as I’ve gotten older, it’s become increasingly more unbearable to be the only Black person all the time. I am constantly alone in my neighborhood, which is filled with white families. All of my white friends that I knew from when I was little have moved on and we’ve lost contact. I have to say that as I’ve gotten older, I have wondered why my family and so many other Black families pushed integration on their children so much that it seems like we had to sell our culture out just to go to the best white prep school in town or live in that nice, white suburban house.

If one thing integration did, was drive a wedge between Blacks and separate us…whereas before, we had to create our own spaces because we weren’t welcome anywhere else. That is why I have mixed feelings about integration…but that is another post entirely, which I’ll be doing soon enough.

I have visited Oak Bluffs before, but my family were not the Martha’s Vineyard class back in the day. We were farmers, who lived in the country and fished…it was only later that we became what is considered bougie. Well…my mother’s side was country and my father’s side tried to be bougie, but they weren’t. However, today I definitely feel like I can relate to those who sought out a safe space at Oak Bluffs…I also know how good it feels to be in a place where you can relax and be the norm, its kind of how I felt when I visited Bahia and for once I looked like everyone else and I didn’t stand out.

I wish that we (my generation of African-Americans) had a place to call our own too.

Any way, I really enjoyed the film…it’s heartwarming. It’s hard to find, but you can watch it on stream via amazon for $2.99, I recommend it.

read more about the film here: http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/placeofourown/talkback.html

4 thoughts on “A Place of Our Own: The Black Bougie Class”

  1. WOW great post peanut.Its like you write exactly how i feel.Sometimes i think we should have followed Malcolm X then mlk.Malcolm was all about keeping the culture alive and addressing issues in the black community.I think that is where we went wrong,we didn’t heal amongst ourselves then we were thrust into a white world where to fit in we had to sacrifice our culture.Maybe someday blacks will work together and build a utopia for other successful blacks to move into instead of aspiring to move into a white neighborhood where they will be the odd man out.I was fortunate to be raised in a military family and be around different races of people I wouldn’t change it.I hope for a black neighborhood that is safe,fun,and where successful blacks will want to live and know they’ve made it.I don’t understand how living in an all white neighborhood equals success in the black community.Its like they think a white neighborhood equals safety,prosperity,and cleanliness.I wish i was alive to have seen what black wall street looked like that is the neighborhood i’d want to live in.


  2. i am saddened that in america it seems us blacks are the only ones without a culture.latinos speak their native language,italians own family businesses,asians own family businesses and speak their native language.Other races have their native languages and many have a grandparent that can tell them stories about their homeland.They also have their native last names.Blacks have none of these .i think that is why we are so confused as a people.


  3. @mstoogood4yall: Not all cultures in North America have ties to their communities and languages. Latin@ and Asian folks experience the exact same things that Peanut is talking about in this post. The difference is that they came here by choice and we came here by force, they were able to make the choice of whether or not they wanted to keep their language and culture alive (even if done so under diress) and we were not due to the fact that the ones who brought us here viewed us as animals and heathens.

    This was a very informative post andit was nice to get a less dreary glimpse of Black life during segregation. I’m really sorry to hear that the colorism ruined it for some during an already traumatic period for us.


  4. Excellent post I had totally forgotten about the name of the movie. Intergration has been sited as one of the biggest reasons that instead of leaping ahead blacks are crawling at a slower pace. I wish I could remember the book about who the Church leaders were and basically the gutting of leadership after intergration.
    I wish that I had gone first to another country were I wasn’t the few or only other black person in town. Travelling has been a lot of fun but would have been better if I could just sit down with some other blacks and talked a bit more. Occassionally I had those talks but they are few a far between.

    @FX not all whites came to America by choice the British government rounded up lots of orphans usually Irish and shipped them over seas. Gypsis were also shipped to the Americas usually without there consent for some supposed crime. It usually didn’t end well for those orphans or those Gypsis but that is another story.

    I lived in a black neighborhood and went to mainly white schools. The only thing I have to say about that is other blacks were not as welcolming. I went to camp in summers, 4h, space camp, and other places and then I would have to dodge bikes, fist, glass bottles when I came home.
    I agree that unity and solidarity would have been great as most ethnic groups Italians, Irish, Chinese, etc,.. experience racism when their immigrants first came. First they built communities then they began to push for influence and a lot of the time their prospective country of origin did step in. You can see this all through out history with Jewish people. First the SynogThis would have been difficult for African Americans. Just like the Black mob in New York found themselves splintered off by the Italians. In fact, wish I could remember the title of the book but the last hold out was a black woman head of her own mafia who was the last hold out. Which it doesn’t seem like much but if you look for how much the African community went down after their own mobs were gone it’s eyeopening. Well maybe not eyeopening black mafia lived in the neighborhoods they didn’t want to see so much crap going on the Italians didn’t care pure profit was all they wanted so it was ok to push alcohol and later drugs there.


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