Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson's cleverly titled new book Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America dissects how African-Americans evolved from being a fairly cohesive, similarly minded group before the civil rights movement into four distinct groups today. He gives new labels to the African-American groups that have evolved in the past 50 years.
• A "Mainstream" middle-class majority with a full ownership stake in American society.
• A large "Abandoned" minority with less hope of escaping poverty and dysfunction than at any time since Reconstruction's end.
• A small "Transcendent" elite with such enormous wealth, power and influence that even white people have to genuflect (yes, that would include Oprah).
• Two newly "Emergent" groups — individuals of mixed-race heritage and communities of recent black immigrants — that, Robinson says, "make us wonder what 'black' is even supposed to mean."
Combining history, census data and a lot of reporting, Robinson explores the four black Americas of today. Robinson, who won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, sees the disintegration of "Black America" as mostly positive. The members of all but one of his named groups have seen their lives advance, even as class divides have arisen in the African-American community. But the losers of disintegration are the Abandoned — inner-city dwellers, mostly, and residents of the rural South.
Robinson doesn't believe, as some have suggested, that the election of an African-American president means the United States has become a postracial nation. But he does think, taking the long view, "that a couple of generations down the line" we may be there.
What will help is the Emergent group, which is increasing the numbers of biracial births every year. Robinson predicts an unprecedented number of interracial marriages and the largest cohort of interracial children in U.S. history. "I have seen the future, and it is beige," he writes.