Special to South Florida Times
President Barack Obama’s election in 2008 seemed a milestone in Black American history.
There were African Americans, especially the older ones, who didn’t think they would see a day when a black man would become president of the United States of America. That it happened was bound to affect the African-American community.
Eugene Robinson, an associate editor and columnist for the Washington Post, won a Pulitzer Prize last year for his columns on that historic election. This year, he has published his third book, Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America. In it, he suggests that this change in dynamic had begun a few years before Obama got to the White House and had made his election possible.
Robinson will discuss his book at Miami Book Fair International’s An Evening With Eugene Robinson on Thursday, Nov. 18.
PBS’s Gwen Ifill describes it as: “An important book. Eugene Robinson neatly explodes decades’ worth of lazy generalizations about race in America.”
In Disintegration, Robinson suggests that Black America has splintered off into four groups: Transcendent, Mainstream, Emergent, and the Abandoned.
The Transcendent group are those who, through wealth and power, exceed race.
The Mainstream group are the middle-class African Americans who tend to be educated and live in the suburbs. The Emergent group has two sectors: the African and the Caribbean immigrants who migrate to the United States and the bi-racial children of interracial relationships.
The most significant group for Robinson is the Abandoned, African Americans living in poverty who have no hope of bettering their lives.
“People talk so little about poverty these days. Yet it’s still there. We haven’t solved the problem,” Robinson said in a phone interview. “And it’s become a problem of multi-generational poverty and dysfunction. I find it very frustrating that it’s not realistic to expect people to climb out of it the way we were taught to do in the past.”
Robinson was born in 1955, in segregated Orangeburg, South Carolina. He may not have been subjected to harsh racism but he always felt it growing up. Despite his
passion for writing about domestic politics, he also writes about race.
His first two books, Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race and Last Dance in Havana: The Final Days of Fidel and the Start of the New Cuban Revolution, are about race in Brazil and Cuba, respectively. They were born out of his travels as a foreign correspondent for The Post.
“If you’re going to talk about African Americans today, you have to acknowledge that there are a lot of black people doing pretty well and a lot of black people who aren’t doing well at all. The situation just isn’t the same anymore,” Robinson said in the interview.
In his book, Robinson discusses the time when there were opportunities for advancement for African Americans. With outsourcing, those jobs have dwindled, leaving a large group of people who would ordinarily pull themselves out of poverty with no opportunities to do so.
In the interview, Robinson also discussed the recent mid-term elections in which the GOP won control of the U.S. House of Representatives and severely cut into the Democrats’ majority in the U.S. Senate.
“My prediction is that both the White House and the Republican Party will decide that it’s in their interest to find ways to get some things accomplished,” he said, going against the conventional wisdom that the split in Congress will lead to even more gridlock in Washington.
“I assume that people will be surprised,” Robinson said of his prediction. “There will be more progress on legislation.”
If the Republicans decide to implement their threat to block all legislative initiatives proposed by Democrats, they will hurt themselves more than they will hurt Obama, said Robinson, a fierce supporter of the President. His main point is that Republicans and Democrats should be able to come together to fix America’s problems.
At a time when journalists seem to be a dying breed, Robinson revels in his role as a columnist.
“I think I have the best job in America,” he said. “I am really grateful for the opportunities to say what’s on my mind. I feel gratified because I work hard. I’m fortunate that people respond to the work that I put in and they find it worthwhile.”
Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com.