Over the last twenty-five years, African Americans have been slowly dividing into three socioeconomic groups: one that is low-income, another with modest means, and a growing segment that is very affluent. Divisions in the attitudes and values of African Americans are growing along class lines. These divisions were highlighted in a 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Blacks See Growing Values Gap Between Poor and Middle-class. The researchers documented the attitudes of African Americans on a range of issues. By a ratio of two-to-one, the respondents said the values of poor and middle-class blacks had grown more dissimilar over the past decade. Twenty-three percent of the respondents said middle-class and poor blacks share a lot of values in common. 42% said they had some values in common; 22% said they share only a little in common, and 9% said they shared almost no values. On the question of racial identity a significant minority, 37% said that blacks should no longer be seen as a single race. Only a slim majority, 53%, reported that it is still appropriate to view blacks as single race.

The diversity among African Americans' attitudes toward interaction with whites is illustrated in Professor Elijah Anderson's book, The Cosmopolitan Canopy. Anderson explained how individuals with different racial, gender, and ethnic backgrounds interact in public spaces. In the course of his analysis, Anderson describes the orientations of two groups of African Americans: ethnocentrics and cosmopolitans. Ethnocentrics view cross-racial contacts with deep suspicion. They consider most whites to be racist and remain vigilant for evidence of racial slights and other forms of discrimination. Ethnocentrics are defined by loyalty to their own group. They do not socialize with whites. Their attitudes are associated with working and lower-class blacks and are produced by years of social isolation in segregated neighborhoods.

Blacks with a cosmopolitan perspective tend to be more educated than ethnocentrics. They are usually middle to upper-middle-class. Cosmopolitans are more generous in their interpretations of the actions of whites and acknowledge the progress made in race relations. They are more accepting of people who are different from themselves. They are willing to give whites the benefit of the doubt in their interactions with them. They tend to live in integrated neighborhoods and socialize comfortably in black and white circles.

In a commentary on the differences among blacks, Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America, Eugene Robinson divided African Americans into four subgroups. One group is the Transcendent Elite, a small group of African Americans that reside in a world of wealth, power and influence. Examples of this group include the Obamas, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé, Kobe Bryant, and Vernon Jordan. Another group, the Mainstream Middle-class, represents the majority of black Americans who own their homes, are gainfully employed in a range of occupations, and live what some might consider the American Dream. There is another group, The Emergents, consisting of mixed-race families and recent immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. Finally, there is The Abandoned, a large and growing underclass of impoverished, racially isolated families concentrated in America's inner cities. These four groups are geographically dispersed. They have different interests, competing claims, and little reason to identify with one another.

Today's black middle-class occupies an awkward position between poor and working class blacks and the white middle-class. Upper-middle-class African Americans' material success sets them apart from the rest of the black community. They can be recognized by their bearing, grooming, and dress. They purchase the best they can afford in homes, cars, clothes, and furnishings. The vast majority of this group takes pains to present themselves as respectable individuals. They maintain cultural and class distinction between themselves and other blacks although they occasionally visit the hood to purchase soul food or to visit an acquaintance.

Middle-class blacks take careful note of welcome signs in integrated social settings. They gravitate to restaurants and nightclubs where upscale blacks tend to congregate to relieve the stress they experience at work and in other integrated settings. They work hard to avoid being confused with their lower-class counterparts. Middle-class blacks are aware of how society views poorer members of their race, and they privately share some of those sentiments. Unlike the urban underclass, the black middle-class lives in a world filled with options. They are not restricted in the ways their forbears were by segregation. They are members of not just a race, but also an affluent, economic class. This Article is focused largely on the conditions of the group Robinson identified as the Mainstream Middle-class, the group with incomes above the poverty and working poor levels and below levels of the wealthy entertainers, athletes and entrepreneurs that constitute the Transcendent Elite.