Two surveys reveal that among high-achieving African-Americans, there is a new feeling of hope and optimism about race relations in the United States.
Newsweek columnist and contributing editor Cose (Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge, 2004, etc.) conducted surveys of nearly 200 members of Harvard Business School’s African-American alumni association and more than 300 alumni of A Better Chance, an organization that sends underprivileged but talented teenagers to selected secondary schools to prepare them for college. Questionnaires and interviews with members of these elite groups show that they are upbeat about their potential to compete in a white world. Their answers are quoted at considerable length, as are those of other prominent blacks whom Cose interviewed about their experiences and their views. The author cites three factors as sources for the optimism he found: generational evolution, a transformation of American values leading to a widely shared ideal of racial equality and the election of Barack Obama. To categorize generational differences, Cose labels the civil-rights generation Gen 1 Fighters (blacks) and Hostiles (whites), and succeeding generations Gen 2 Dreamers (blacks) and Neutrals (whites), Gen 3 Believers (blacks) and Allies (whites) and Gen 4 Reapers (blacks) and Friends (whites). His interviews highlight their different attitudes. Today, he contends that as white racism has become unacceptable, black rage has become inappropriate. However, while the future seems bright to some, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and the number of blacks in the underclass is huge. Furthermore, while anger may be mellowing in black America, a segment of white America is up in arms about political and social changes that it sees as threatening a fondly remembered way of life. As for the spirit of hope and optimism among successful blacks, he writes, “at some point, absent real change, reality is likely to force a reassessment.”
Heavily laced with anecdotes and lengthy quotes from other African-Americans, this report reads more like an accumulation of a journalist’s notes than a careful analysis of race relations in present-day America.