Synopses & Reviews
Instead of one black America, today there are four.
“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.” —from Disintegration
The African American population in the United States has always been seen as a single entity: a “Black America” with unified interests and needs. In his groundbreaking book, Disintegration, Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Eugene Robinson argues that over decades of desegregation, affirmative action, and immigration, the concept of Black America has shattered. Instead of one black America, now there are four:
• a Mainstream middle-class majority with a full ownership stake in American society;
• a large, Abandoned minority with less hope of escaping poverty and dysfunction than at any time since Reconstruction’s crushing end;
• a small Transcendent elite with such enormous wealth, power, and influence that even white folks have to genuflect;
• and two newly Emergent groups—individuals of mixed-race heritage and communities of recent black immigrants—that make us wonder what “black” is even supposed to mean.
Robinson shows that the four black Americas are increasingly distinct, separated by demography, geography, and psychology. They have different profiles, different mindsets, different hopes, fears, and dreams. What’s more, these groups have become so distinct that they view each other with mistrust and apprehension. And yet all are reluctant to acknowledge division.
Disintegration offers a new paradigm for understanding race in America, with implications both hopeful and dispiriting. It shines necessary light on debates about affirmative action, racial identity, and the ultimate question of whether the black community will endure.
"In this clear-eyed and compassionate study, Robinson (Coal to Cream), Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Washington Post, marshals persuasive evidence that the African-American population has splintered into four distinct and increasingly disconnected entities: a small elite with enormous influence, a mainstream middle-class majority, a newly emergent group of recent immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, and an abandoned minority 'with less hope of escaping poverty than at any time since Reconstruction's end.' Drawing on census records, polling data, sociological studies, and his own experiences growing up in a segregated South Carolina college town during the 1950s, Robinson explores 140 years of black history in America, focusing on how the civil rights movement, desegregation, and affirmative action contributed to the fragmentation. Of particular interest is the discussion of how immigrants from Africa, the 'best-educated group coming to live in the United States,' are changing what being black means. Robinson notes that despite the enormous strides African-Americans have made in the past 40 years, the problems of poor blacks remain more intractable than ever, though his solution--'a domestic Marshall Plan aimed at black America'--seems implausible in this era of cash-strapped state and local governments. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"This book is Eugene Robinson's two cents on the dissolution of the old-school black identity, an identity largely based on grievance. The choicest passage comes four pages in: "Ever wonder why black elected officials spend so much time talking about purely symbolic 'issues,' like an official apology for slavery? Or why they never miss a chance to denounce a racial outburst from a rehab-bound celebrity? It's because symbolism, history, and old-fashioned racism are about the only things they can be sure their African American constituents still have in common." The question is whether these things alone can undergird a true "community" in 2010. And Robinson's answer is ultimately more interesting anthropologically than philosophically."
John McWhorter, The New Republic
(Read the entire New Republic review
From Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist and commentator Eugene Robinson comes a paradigm-shifting book about race in America.
The African American population in the United States has always been seen as a single entity: a “Black America” with unified interests and needs. In his groundbreaking book Disintegration, longtime Washington Post journalist Eugene Robinson argues that, through decades of desegregation, affirmative action, and immigration, the concept of Black America has shattered. Now, instead of one, there are four distinct groups: a Mainstream middle-class majority with a solid stake in society; a large Abandoned minority with less hope than ever of escaping poverty; a small Transcendent elite, whose enormous wealth and power makes even whites genuflect; and newly Emergent groups of mixed-race individuals and recent black immigrants who question what “black” even means.
Using historical research, reporting, census data, and polling, Robinson shows how these groups have become so distinct that they view each other with mistrust and apprehension. And yet all are reluctant to acknowledge division. Disintegration shines light on crucial debates about affirmative action, the importance of race versus social class, and the ultimate questions of whether and in what form racism and the black community endure.
From Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and commentator Robinson comes a paradigm-shifting book about race in America. He argues that, through decades of desegregation, affirmative action, and immigration, the concept of Black America has shattered. Now, instead of one, there are four distinct groups.
About the Author
EUGENE ROBINSON joined the Washington Post in 1980, where he has served as London bureau chief, foreign editor, and, currently, associate editor and columnist. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and in 2009, Robinson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary. Disintegration is his third book.