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.


    • Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

      I would say the first key finding is that Black males have been made to feel as if their story…plight…concerns are not valid in comparisons to their female counterparts. Next, the level of frustration in regards to race is much higher than what E. Cose would deem as accurate.

  1. Blaque Swan

    Thanks for the warning, Dr. Fitz. I looked at a bibliography of Cose’s earlier works after hearing him on C-SPAN2 telling of his experiences early in his career. I couldn’t quite understand how he could write THE END OF ANGER.

    I still can’t. Booker and Obama and Deval, I feel, don’t represent the widespread feeling of our generation. The major reason Deval has able to achieve his success is his fortunate acceptance to a private school outside his neighborhood. Surely he has to understand, and be angry about, what happened to his neighborhood friend and would’ve happened to him had he remained in the public schools. And as much as I respect and admire Pres. Obama, had he grown up with a black family, the consequences of his experimenting with drugs would’ve been far more serious than partisan insults.

    Let’s not forget: the unemployment rate for black men with graduate degrees is twice as high as that of white men. Education, useful and important for its own sake, is no panacea. Neither is assimilation, as you mentioned.

    I had hoped that perhaps Cose was just arguing that Gen III has come to doubt the usefulness of anger and mass protest. But to say there’s an end to anger? Cose must’ve drank his cup of kool-aid and mine too, cause I just don’t see it.

    • Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

      I agree with you wholeheartedly. What I found even more interesting is the fact that he did not investigate the decreasing number of Black males who are not attending or graduating high school or college.

  2. mbfromnm

    Cose seems to have succumbed to the pressure in white culture to see everything from an individual level. This assumption supports the “no racism anymore’ movement by ignoring all the systemic/institutional racism that continues to impoverish and imprison black folk. All you have to do is look at the numbers of black men in prison and notice how that resulted from the war on drugs/crime. This in turn, is part of the “frontlash” reaction to civil rights. As Professor Vesla M. Weaver documents, frontlash began when racists politician realized they could no longer win on the issue of segregation so they changed the attack to one on crime. Barry Goldwater began this assault when he stated that those who protest are actually criminally oriented.

    In my town of Amherst, MA which is derisively called ‘the peoples’ republic of Amherst’ we have nothing but liberals, and we also have 16 years of black and Latino students being expelled at rates that range between 2 and 4 times their proportion of the high school student body. My point is that you do not have to feel prejudice to allow the institutional racism to continue grinding very finely.

    The consistent and ubiquitous refusal of mass media to explore the reality of race contributes to Cose’s myopia. I have done diversity training in media companies and the few people of color who have meaningful careers there is mighty slim. These companies also serve large interests who see no purpose in uncovering the racism that exists at all levels of society.

    After 20 years of doing diversity work, I see little difference between the structures that existed then and those that exist today. Black, Latino and Native people (and the poorer, darker east Asians like Cambodians) still are relegated to the bottom of society. The numbers do not distort, even if a small proportion of people from these groups are admitted to the affluent classes. I say this as a white person who spends most of my time with affluent whites who are as blind to the reality of race today as they were when I was a child over 55 years ago.

  3. As a 54 year old Affirmative Action Baby, Dr. Fitzgerald ditto to everything you had to said. Black Generation X and Yer’s are delusional not to get that racism in the US, as well as most other parts of the world, is still alive and well. Your comments hopefully will encourage the Black community to be more in conversation about these realities and to generate strategies to fight back against these “modern versions” of oppression.

    • Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

      Thank you for your comments. I feel that the future will hold a greater division between those Blacks that have and those that do not. In order to be diligent about the dynamics about race, we must confront this future.

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