This year I started teaching a class of Seniors. It had long been a goal, and now I got to do it. I wanted to create as much of a collegiate simulacrum as I could. So I brewed up some lectures and led each week of instruction, discussion and reflection around a prominent theme in literature generally–with specific attention paid to African-American experiences (slightly awkward for a transparently white guy to do for a class full of black kids). And to guide my lecture creation and thematic development, I wanted to peek at some critical analyses of contemporary culture and it’s historical precedents.
That’s where I found Eugene Robinson’s Disintegration. The MSNBC pundit/Washington Post columnist is a highly respected journalist, and a open, frank and engaging speaker on the subject of race in modern society (it was a little disappointing that he didn’t do his own reading of the audiobook I had–I always feel like audio non-fiction is stronger from the scholar than the actor portraying the scholar).
His book takes the position that there is no longer any such thing as “Black America” as we [particularly we former white-students] might think of it based on the Civil Rights section of our American History class (which was the last overtly race-based section most teachers had in their own high school History classrooms). For Robinson, there’s too much diversity within the African-American community to assume that there is any one belief or attitude held amongst all African Americans. Instead there are four different (largely class based) sub groups: the transcendent (uber-wealthy types like Oprah/Jay-Z/Venus and Serena Williams), the mainstream (middle class Americans by any other measurement), the abandoned (the poor, disenfranchised and oft forgotten) and the emergent (mixed-race and recent immigrants who defy class description).
Disintegration is probably best judged as a piece of punditry or a keynote rather than any definitive piece of weighty “scholarship”. Robinson is pondering a possibility, not prescribing any specific or universal vision of race. (The most prescriptive sections–which deal with how to help the abandoned and bridge inequality–are the least engaging.) Robinson excels at offering anecdotes, reflections and historical context so that any member of his audience can understand his point, if only you choose to explore it.