Host, Juan Gonzalez:
Thank you, Ellis Cose, my former colleague at the New York Daily News, for this wonderful book. For those who do not know him, Ellis has long been one of our era’s most insightful and original chroniclers of the evolution of race relations in America. His latest book, The End of Anger: A New Generation’s Take on Race and Rage, tackles the widespread notion that Barack Obama’s ascension to the presidency signaled the start of a post-racial period in our nation’s history.
Something has indeed changed in race relations, Ellis concludes. There is less anger and rage, more hope and faith toward the future among African Americans of all income levels than there has ever been; more willingness by most white Americans to regard their fellow black citizens on an equal footing. This is especially true among the younger generations within both groups.
But those optimistic perceptions are colliding against the facts on the ground: increasing economic inequality and a rapidly growing wealth gap, between rich and poor as well between black and white. So while life is certainly incomparably better today for what W.E.B. Dubois labeled the “talented tenth” in the black community, the profound problems faced by the black poor and the black working class have gotten worse. Leaders of both major political parties seem intent on ignoring the deep anger among Americans over the growing class divide.
Ellis bases his conclusions on large in-depth surveys of two groups – one of black Harvard MBA’s and the other of graduates of a program that for nearly 40 years has been providing elite educational opportunities to people of color. He supplements the survey with in-depth personal interviews he has conducted with an astonishing number of African Americans in politics, academia, and the business world. As the consummate journalist that he is, Ellis uses those poignant interviews to sketch a cohesive portrait of the various strands of the contemporary black experience.
His most important thesis, it seems to me, is in delineating the sharp contrast in outlook toward race relations between three major generational groups in the black community. He calls those groups the Fighters (those born before 1944), the Dreamers (those born between 1945 and 1979), and the Believers (those born between 1970 and 1995); while he categorizes their counterparts among white Americans as the Hostiles, the Neutrals, and the Allies.
He makes a convincing case that generational differences are far more important in determining views of race than we realize. But since his in-depth interviews were conducted largely among educated, professional blacks (he does include a small group of ex-prison inmates), it is not quite clear that similar generational divides hold true for the entire black community or for white Americans.
Nonetheless, his exquisite vignettes and his eloquent accounts of the lives and thoughts of so many African Americans who overcame racial discrimination and became success stories truly inspires hope for the nation we are becoming.