Going Up for the Oppressed: The Career Mobility of Black Women Community Workers


Department of Sociology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215.


This study explores the professional careers of 23 black women who had achieved public recognition and acclaim for their involvement in organizations and programs aimed at social change in an urban black community. The women's career orientations and patterns of occupational mobility were organized around the goals of community work—empowerment of the black community and change in the quality of individual and group life and in the larger social structure. “Going up for the oppressed” or occupational and professional mobility on behalf of the community comprised three activities: (1) focused education involving innovative use of dominant culture educational institutions for black community interests and aggressive self-education in matters concerning the community and its problems; (2) a dialectical career involving increased levels of authority, prestige, and job opportunities along with increased levels of political consciousness, social criticism, and conflict with the dominant culture; and (3) strategies to maintain commitment and ties to the community, its people, and their interests. Such an unusual career orientation highlights the conflict between dominant culture professionalism and the goals of black communities for social change, and the need for individual professionals to reorganize their criteria for success if they are to remain committed to the goals of community work. The research highlights the difficulties in predicting the behavior of members of the black middle class with reference to the combined effects of race consciousness and class consciousness or “nation-class” consciousness.