The term Black America is utilized to describe the people of African descent living in the United States. It also connotes shared history and fate, and is often invoked as those within the community call for solutions to the particular challenges faced by this group. From CNN’s Black in America series to the informal conversations held on street corners, the concerns of African Americans are grappled with constantly. However, some would argue that the term is monolithic, and no longer delineates accurately the diversity and complexity of this group of Americans. Washington Post columnist Eugene H. Robinson is one who believes such, and took to addressing the issue at length.
In the book Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America, Robinson posits that there are now four Black Americas. African-Americans are comprised of the Mainstream, the Abandoned, the Transcendent, and the Emergent. In short, the Mainstream represents the Black middle class while the Abandoned are the Black poor/underclass. The last two, the Transcendent are the Black elite while the Emergent entails two groups: those of bi-racial heritage and Black immigrants. The author notes that these different groups have differing concerns and often competing ones as well. Because of integration and affirmative action, he argues that we have to view African-Americans in a less lumped together way. Robinson makes his case by giving the reader a view into the different segments of Black American society, touching on the issues of class in various ways. From describing the powerful players of Washington D.C. to the crisis zone he witnessed as a journalist on the scene after Hurricane Katrina, Robinson gives his insight on the concerns of Black America from different angles.
As the book proceeds and his premise is unfurled, Robinson approaches the different sub-groups of Black America on their terms, and does not see any as more legitimate or “real” than the other. Far from being a bootstrap ideologist, he utilizes the work of William Julius Wilson to point out the vanishing opportunities for gainful employment in urban areas. He avoids the tendency of far too many Black political writers to proceed in a blamefest when it comes to the obstacles faced by the Black and impoverished. In fact, he calls for a “ Marshall Plan for the Abandoned” to deal with the crisis of joblessness in the urban areas. In addition to this, he also dispels a regularly repeated statistic about young African-American men: the prison to college ratio.
Ultimately, Eugene Robinson’s book challenges us to see the components of Black America in all our complexity, and urges that we move forward by dealing with our differences. It is not an easy thing to ask that we continue to deal with issues of class, culture and race within the Black community, but it is necessary. This book is a step in the right direction, and a good place to begin this intra-group dialogue.
Marc W. Polite
Spokesperson for the Abandoned
P.S. Come out to a discussion of this book at Hueman Bookstore on Monday, January 31st ,6pm. We will be discussing it much further in depth.