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Thoughtful and well-written treatise on the state of Black America.

  • Dec 10, 2011
Central to the thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was his vision of what he referred to as the "Beloved Community" which was essentially "a completely integrated society, a community of love and justice wherein brotherhood would be an actuality in all of social life." It seems to me that somewhere along the long the line the priorities of Black America changed dramatically. I suspect it began on college campuses in the early 1970's. Suddenly the concept of "multiculturalism" trumped Dr. King's dream of an integrated America. And in my view this has torn the country apart. Since that time I have struggled to understand why "integration" was no longer enough. So when I came across Eugene Robinson's book "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" I thought I might find some of the answers I was seeking. While Eugene Robinson did not specifically address the issues I was primarily interested in I found his book to be a real eye-opener. For this middle-aged white guy it was a real education on the issues and conflicts confronting Black Americans today.

When Eugene Robinson was growing up in the 1960's he harbored no doubts about his identity. He was a Black man in America. According to Robinson in those days "there were agreed-upon 'black leaders,' there was a clear 'black agenda,' and we could talk confidently about 'the state of black America'. But over the course of the past couple of decades what most of us still nonchalantly refer to as "Black America" has undergone stunning changes. Suddenly many of the assumptions most folks have are simply no longer valid.

The central theme of "Disintegration" is that there is no longer a monolithic "Black America". The way Eugene Robinson sees it there are now four separate and distinct coteries of black folk in America. The group that he refers to as "The Abandoned" reside in some of the poorest neighborhoods in our nation's largest urban areas. The desperate plight of these people has only been exacerbated in recent years by the fragile economy and the flight of businesses from the inner cities to the suburbs and beyond. Furthermore, these people are often the victims of "gentrification" whereby wealthier people acquire or rent property in low income and working class communities. Increased rents force many of these folks to move and more often than not they find themselves in a far more desperate situation than the one they left. This is absolutely heartbreaking and has proven to be an almost impossible nut to crack for those charged with trying to assist these people.  These days more and more Black Americans count themselves as part of "The Mainstream".  These are middle-class people with good-paying jobs, a house in suburbia and a nice car.  But how much in common do they have with "The Abandoned"?  Then there are "The Transcendent" who an wield enormous amount of influence in our society.  Count among this group people like Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, LeBron James and Colin Powell to name but a few.  The people travel in vastly different circles than the rest of the people in Black America.  FInally, and most interesting to me, Eugene Robinson introduces us to what he calls "The Emergent" Black America.  I really had no idea how many black people have been coming here from places like Ethiopia, Nigeria and the Carribean in recent years.  Robinson points out that the immigrants from Africa are the best-educated people coming to America these days.  They are extremely successful and many of them own their own businesses.  Again, although they are black what do they have in common with "The Abandoned"?  Finally, Robinson talks about another segment of "The Emergent" which is growing by leaps and bounds in America today.  In 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriages in America.  Over the years the practice has become more and more accepted resulting in ever larger numbers of multi-racial children.  Do these people see themselves as black or as something else entirely?  I found this to be absolutely fascinating.

So there you have it.  While "Disintegration:  The Splintering of Black America" did not provide me with the specific answers I had been looking for I nonetheless got a whole lot more than I bargained for.  Eugene Robinson has given his readers a window into the realities and conflicts Black America is struggling with these days and offers some realistic suggestions to help bridge some of the gaps.  This is an exceptionally well-written and informative book.   Very highly recommended!

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review by . October 07, 2010
I read Eugene Robinson's DISINTEGRATION mainly out of curiosity, because though I find him to be a brilliant mind---I don't normally agree with his politics. After finishing it I have to say that it is probably one of the most thoughtful books I have read this year.    DISINTEGRATION takes a hard look at how blacks have evolved as a people in the United States, and is not without it critiques of the hardships some have brought on themselves. The book reminds you of what so many …
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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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.
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ISBN-10: 0385526547
ISBN-13: 978-0385526548
Author: Eugene Robinson
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Doubleday
Date Published: October 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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