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Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America Paperback – October 4, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Based on his years of reporting and observation of changes in black America, journalist Robinson finds that the black community has evolved to the point where it has disintegrated into distinct sectors: the mainstreamers, or black middle-class majority, who have made tremendous but often understated progress; the abandoned minority with little hope of escaping poverty; transcendental elites of such wealth and power that whites can’t deny; and an emergent group of biracial blacks and recent black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean who are challenging an essentially native black American experience. In the age of Obama, Robinson notes the advancement of the black elites, with wealth and power, into “full ownership stake” in the U.S., distancing them economically from the middle and lower classes. The emergent group identifies with a different notion of the black experience, making them ideologically and politically unreliable. All are in strong contrast to the abandoned, who are at the center of the black disintegration. Readers don’t have to agree with Robinson’s observations to appreciate the undeniable differences within black America and to maybe want further analysis. --Vernon Ford --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767929969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767929967
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #395,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

122 of 128 people found the following review helpful By Mark Sumner on October 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Robinson's book details the way in which Civil Rights lifted the cap on income and opportunities for a few in the black community, but the rest of the community paid a price in a loss of cohesive, whole neighborhoods. Perversely, the result is that while the number of blacks in the middle and upper classes increased sharply, those percentages represent only a small part of the overall population. And as those "stars" left the community, the opportunities for those left behind -- Robinson's "abandoned class" -- may have actually diminished.

This is not a book that pines for the "good old days." Robinson is frank about the grim truth of life in black America before Civil Rights. However, he recognizes that the passage of Civil Rights legislation was a step, not the completion of a journey, and that no matter how bright this goal, there were still dark and unintended consequences.

While Robinson's book is focused on the black community, the effects he notes are happening across racial divides. The increasingly polar communities he describes are applicable to America as a whole as the gap between rich and poor has widened ever more sharply over the last three decades. The resulting stagnation and isolation of the abandoned class and the constant celebration of the accomplished class is something that's affecting all of America, not just black America. These effects are illustrated most fully in the black community, where the limits of Jim Crow laws kept the gap between rich and poor very small for the better part of a century, but the same forces of income and educational inequality don't just threaten to shatter -- they are shattering -- the nation as a whole.
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67 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Cyrus Webb TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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 have fought for and even given their lives to achieve, while some just seem to squander the civil rights they have at their disposal.

No wonder Robinson's writings are so respected. Whatever your political persuasion, you will find something in the book you will not only agree with but find yourself sharing with others. I know I did. As a Conservative, I try to approach book on the topic of race with an open mind. In this case, I am a better person because I did.

Kudos to Robinson for delivering an honest portrayal of black America that is sure to be a discussion piece for some time to come.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By D. Howard on November 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Normally I'm one who doesn't like too many statistics in a book because I feel over-reliance on that bogs a book down, but I felt this one needed more statistics. Eugene Robinson relied too much on personal anecdotes, and while I love reading those I felt a book of this nature needed more facts. I also felt he recycled some material from his Washington Post column for this book. A chapter near the end which mentions a shooting/murder in Southeast DC over a cheap bracelet was also one of his Post columns.

He puts black people in four categories: Mainstream, Emergent, Transcendent, and Abandoned, but I think to combine two different groups of people (biracial black people and immigrants) in the Emergent group downplays the differing trials and tribulations both groups go through.

The black community is definitely divided by the haves and have nots, and it would be nice for us to all come together, but Robinson doesn't give many answers here. The ones he gives are idealistic.

This book was a start in the right direction, but it was a thin outline that needed more fleshing out.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Eva on December 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Eugene Robinson has written an insightful analysis of how the "Black community" in American has splintered into 4 different strata based on economic, educational, cultural and ethnic differences. Where once the chains of slavery and segregation bound Blacks together, most of those chains have been broken or at least weakened, after decades of integration and broader opportunity. Robinson's book is an easy read, but it provides food for thought. Is there still a "Black Experience" the way we once used the term? I've seen many of the changes in my own family. I'm an African American who was very race conscious in my youth. I'm married to an African who is a naturalized citizen. We are both college educated professionals. Our college educated adult children view race and culture in a very different way. They are aware of racial differences but not defined by them. I highly recommend this book as the basis for a discussion about the good, and maybe not so good, results of fulfilling the dream of a color-blind society. We aren't there yet, but the times they are definitely a-changing. But have we lost something of our identity along the way?
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