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Posted at 03:00 PM ET, 06/01/2011

‘The End of Anger’ on race? Ellis Cose says yes

Twitter follower @Shopaholic_918 wasn’t sure she could read a piece on Salon headlined “Is racism on the way out?” So she tweeted, “Maybe @capehartj will read it and tell me if it’s ok....” Yes, it’s more than okay. The Q&A interview with Ellis Cose, the author of “The End of Anger: A New Generation’s Take on Race and Rage,” offers some perspectives that had me nodding in agreement.

When asked how the black community changed since he interviewed
black professionals for his 1993 book “The Rage of a Privileged Class,” Cose said, “There is a hugely different sense of hope and optimism now; I think that's the biggest change that you see from back then.” He went on to say, “Not too long after ‘Rage’ came out, we started to have these sort of unprecedented breakthroughs,” such as African Americans in high-powered positions. At one time and at the same time, African Americans were running Time Warner, American Express and Merrill Lynch. These changes in society meant there was “a set of younger people who just didn’t go through what that older set of folks went through.” Then Cose added this:

What struck me is just the very different take they had. Not on whether discrimination existed. They all agree that life is different for an African-American than it is for a white American. But what is different is the significance of that discrimination in terms of their life possibilities. The younger folks are just much more likely to believe that they can personally overcome it because there are ways to get around it that their parents didn’t have, and that their grandparents could not even imagine.

And Cose said this when asked about the growing class divisions among African Americans.

Even the most privileged folk are aware that they are subject to being treated quite differently on the basis of race. If there's anything close to a universal experience among African-Americans, it's being treated with suspicion in a store, or being approached by a cop for no good reason — they all shared this. I don't think that there is going to be a loss of a coherent black identity, but I do think it's gotten a lot more complicated, because people perceive their options in wildly different ways than they did before.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written on race — from expressions of anger to the need to talk more openly about race — you’ll know that I agree with Cose’s observation 100 percent.

“I think we will for generations, and maybe forever, be dealing with the impact of racism,” Cose said at the end of the Q&A. “But racism as a phenomenon itself is fading.” Hmmm. I’m not sure about that. He said that he believed we would get to the point where we would talk about “the good old days” of racism in the way folks talk about the Confederacy. But even Cose appeared to pull back just a little bit from that super-optimistic view in the next breath. “I don't think we’ll reach a point where we can talk about it and deal with it when it’s still a problem.” That more people know what the problem mean is and wholeheartedly try to change the faster that day will come. And it will.

By  |  03:00 PM ET, 06/01/2011

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