Book: Disintegration (Eugene Robinson)

The New York Times Book Review had a piece on Eugene Robinson’s new book “Distintegration: the Splintering of Black America.” The review noted how Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Washington Post–and an African American–divides the African American population into four groups. Coming from a first-class thinker like Robinson, I found this categorizing very interesting.

1. The Transcendent Elite. These are blacks who are famous or wealthy or highly accomplished, and for whom their skin color just isn’t an issue. A lot of them go by one name: Oprah, Kobe, Labron, Tiger, Jay-Zee, Beyonce, etc. Then there are academics like Henry Louis Gates, and writers like Eugene Robinson, and political figures like Al Sharpton and Colin Powell. They function in a world of wealth and power and, as the review says, “do not belong to the black community.”

2. The Mainstream Middle Class. This group represents the majority of black Americans today. They own homes, work professional jobs, and have a full stake in the American Dream.

3. The Emergents. These are mixed-race families and black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. They obscure our whole image of what it means to be African American. (Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Colin Powell would be members of this group, in addition to being part of the Transcendent Elite.)

4. The Abandoned. This is the large underclass who are concentrated in cities and poor Southern rural areas. Their numbers keep increasing.

Robinson writes, ““There was a time when there were agreed-upon ‘black leaders,’ when there was a clear ‘black agenda,’ when we could talk confidently about ‘the state of black America’—but not anymore.”

Robinson says these four groups have little in common and don’t interact much. They have different mindsets, different aspirations, and different lifestyles. As a result, it’s wrong to talk about a “black leader” or “black agenda,” because the dynamics between the four groups are too complicated. We often view the black population as a single entity, especially in political terms (as we do the Hispanic population), but that’s just not the case.

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