Assessing Black Progress: Has Ellis Cose Bought into the White Framing of Post-Racism?

Ellis Cose’s latest book, The End of Anger: A New Generation’s Take on Race & Rage (2011)investigates why Blacks today feel so optimistic about their place within the United States.

Optimistic? I myself did not get that memo. I was unaware of my generation and those younger than me were a part of what Cose’s calls the “rising generations” of Blacks who see no barriers to their economic and social progress within the U.S.

Now before I begin, I must note that I have always been a fan of Cose’s work. From his articles in Newsweek to The Envy of the World: On Being a Black Man in America (2003), I have followed his writings. I enjoyed his critical and controversial exploration into the domains of race, class, and gender.

But it is apparent from simply reading the introduction that Cose’s ideologies in regards to race have a bit shifted. While reading the book I began to reflect on said generation—my generation. Usually within any writings, songs, or films that claim to depict or expose me (ex. race, class, gender, generation) or my struggles, I find myself looking for that “Ah-Ha” moment where I identify with the sentiment or messages being sent.

Reading The End of Anger, that moment escaped me. Specifically, in terms of his elaborations of interviews with academically acclaimed Black males and their positive feelings that the power of racism was withering and dying—I could not identify. When he talked of the power of education as a silver bullet to killing the monster that for generations has guarded the walls of endless possibilities—I could not identify. In fact, I could not identify with any major themes within his book.

As I am writing my second book on the perspective of Black males on race and social control in public and higher education, I have completed a number of interviews and roundtable discussion with Black males within my generation. Within the narratives and sentiments of not only educated, but also high school dropouts, the power of their words indicate that race is as powerful today as it was for their parents. In fact, they have indicated the increasing struggle that is particular for Black males. Regardless of their socioeconomic status, education background, and sexual orientation, the one thing that they share is not optimism, but pessimism.

Reading this book caused my little red pen to go dry from underlining and asking “why” after Cose’s sections that made me crazy. He begins by discussing the social and psychological ramifications of President Barrack Obama being elected as the first Black president of the United States. He asserts that the election symbolized a changing of the guard. Simply put, color has become “less and less of a burden” and that America is a generation away from true racial equality. I am not sure as to why the achievement gap within public education, the low graduation rates of Latino and Black males, and the ever-increasing population of inmates at correctional facilities across the country were not taken into account when devising his overall thesis. Regardless, he specifically plots the change within the overall Black perspective on racial barriers through dividing generations and discussing their significance to this change.

First, “Generation I,” know as the Fighters were born between 1925 and 1945. Those individuals shared a sense of “lost possibilities and unfulfilled potential” due to the barriers of Jim Crow. “Generation II,” The Dreamers, were born between 1945 and 1969. They in turn were the children of the riots and first generation allowed into places normally only occupied by Whites (universities, companies, and etc.). Finally, “Generation III,” The Believers were born between 1970 and 1995. They have faith in the power to overcome any obstacle prejudice might set. Further, the average Black today sees individual traits as the cause of social issues facing people of color instead of looking to systems like education, government, and the criminal justice system as points of obstruction. An interviewee noted

the biggest challenge is to adapt yourself to the norm. If you’re willing to talk like a white guy, if you’re willing to completely assimilate, you will be successful (p. 131).

I ask, at what cost? Also, wasn’t this strategy used by many in the past only in the end to be facing the door of discrimination or racism?

Throughout the book he refers heavily to the words of the supposed “believers.” He touts the interviews of famous middle class, wealthy, and politically powerful Blacks as evidence of the coming of racial utopia. The discrimination, bigotry, and systems of oppression that affected my parents, and their parents before them are simply a smudge placed upon the pages of history. Through his interviews and surveys with high-powered and well-educated Blacks, he states that educational attainments have become the great equalizer in the area of employment and future employment attainment. My generation and those that are coming will encounter no racial barriers as long as they are educated and “work hard enough.” The lack of scientific investigation used to decipher the 500 surveys and countless discussions is evident. In fact, he discusses that he is no social scientist.

But regardless, Cose’s strongly stands his ground while declaring that his examination gives credit to the notion that race within the 21st century has almost become completely translucent and irrelevant. Interestingly, he did not critically investigate the sense of optimism among those less educated or among those who have had encounters with the criminal justice system to the degree he performed with well off Blacks. Overall, those he did give reference to noted the same sense of euphoria that was seen among educated Blacks. Through this section, Cose shoddily attempted to make the argument that regardless of class and education the positive optimism was universal.

Overall, I feel that Cose missed an opportunity to discuss a major point that is very disturbing—the growing Black divide. Throughout his book he illustrated very well that there exists a different perspective on the effects of race and class between middle to upper class Blacks and lower socioeconomic Blacks. Instead of stressing that there is an overall end of anger, Cose should have focused on a true investigation to see if this was prevalent among those not so rich or educated. But it is apparent that the race-neutral Kool-Aid many drank after the inauguration of President Obama was also given to Cose. And during his loss with reality in terms of the power of race and class, he produced The End of Anger: A New Generation’s Take on Race & Rage.

As a Black man looking to one day help bring children into this world, I am more on the cautious side in regards to the status of race. While working in the academy or public education, I bear witness to the power and fortitude of racism and oppression. I wish I could identify with the vision of the country that Cose feels is coming. I truly do. But the evidence that engulfs me everyday tells me otherwise.