Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America
by Eugene Robinson
As a professor of African American history, I often remind my students that the black community is not monolithic, nor is there any one black experience. There is no one voice speaking for all of black America–this idea is the creation of white America–just as there is no longer such a thing as an all encompassing state of black America, the Urban League’s annual report notwithstanding. Indeed, African Americans are as diverse as any other race. According to the Pulitzer Prize winning Robinson, “Black America, as we knew it, is history,” done in by integration, suburbanization, Reaganomics and the global economy. Instead, Robinson reports that there are now four distinct black communities.

The first is the middle class majority who were ready and able to take advantage of the gains wrought by the civil rights movement and affirmative action. The second group are those Robinson calls the Abandoned–the twenty-five percent of black Americans trapped in crushing poverty, poor schools, dismal neighborhoods and familial dysfunction. An oligarchy of uber-rich blacks who are so successful that even white people sit up and take notice is the third group; Robinson calls them the Transcendent elite. Finally, recent black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa and multi-racial blacks make up the fourth group labeled the Emergents. According to Robinson, the groups are demographically, psychologically and geographically distinct, hold vastly different mind sets and lead mostly separate lives.

In Disintegration, Robinson also explains how the black community arrived at this point, taking the reader on a journey from Jim Crow to the Great Migration to the civil rights movement. A commonality of each of these eras was that even wealthy blacks were restricted as to where they could live, work, attend school and church. That fact alone created a unity in the black community that helped it traverse the racial minefield of America. Black neighborhoods with their mix of income and education levels created a nurturing haven for numerous generations of black children. They were places where black children could dream and do and be. It is ironic that the fight for racial equality would be one of the elements that helped fracture that community.

Robinson looks at a social change in American society that few authors and pundits have acknowledged or explored: interracial marriages. Well into the middle of the twentieth century, marriages between blacks and whites were illegal, and not only in the South. The anti-miscegenation laws were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Loving v Virginia (1967); the attitudes that spawned them were sent teetering by the tremendous social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s, including rock ‘n roll, the Pill, Freedom Summer, the Summer of Love, the Vietnam war and Watergate. The explosion in interracial marriages has produced millions of biracial children who have challenged us to rethink America’s one-drop rule and what it means to be black.

In Disintegration Robinson skillfully weaves history, demographics and social forces together, presenting us with an important study of race and class in America, and he does so in a thoughtful and accessible manner. In the process he shatters many myths and generalizations about blacks–myths that have been held by Americans of all races.


Dr. Marilyn K. Howard earned a BA in criminal Justice from Ohio Dominican College; an MA in political science from The Ohio State University (Thesis: The Entrance of Black Voters Into the Mississippi Electorate) and her PhD in American history from The Ohio State University (Dissertation: Black Lynching in the Promised Land: Mob Violence in Ohio 1876 - 1916). She was an associate professor in the Social Sciences department at Columbus State Community College, where she now holds the same position in the Department of Humanities. Dr. Howard has twice received the Distinguished Teaching Award from Columbus State, and was twice recognized as an outstanding staff member by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. She was also named a top educator by Ohio magazine. Dr. Howard has served as an editor of the Southern Historian, a freelance book critic for the Columbus Dispatch and Ohioana Library. She has published essays in a number of anthologies, including the Encyclopedia of Racial Violence in America and the Encyclopedia of Jim Crow. She continues to conduct research on the lynching of black men by white mobs in Ohio.