“Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America” Book Review

His story starts in America’s historically black neighborhoods, where segregation brought people of different economic classes together. Robinson says that began to change during the civil rights era.

“People who had the means and had the education started moving out of what had been the historic black neighborhoods,” Robinson explains.

He cites Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood as a prime example of this because of how Shaw was home to a vibrant black community and a thriving entertainment scene in the 1930s through the 1950s. By the ’70s, Shaw had become a desolate, drug-ridden area.

“In city after city, African-American neighborhoods, that …once had been vibrant and in a sense whole — disintegrated,” Robinson says.

He attributes that change to African-Americans taking advantage of new opportunities, resulting in a more economically segregated community.

“There have always been class distinctions in the black community,” Robinson says, “but what I believe we’ve seen is an increasing distance between two large groups, which I identify as the Mainstream and the Abandoned.”

Robinson says that while a “fairly slim majority” of African-Americans entered the middle class, a large portion of the community never climbed the ladder. It’s getting harder and harder to catch up, he says, “because so many rungs of that ladder are now missing.”

So as formerly segregated neighborhoods begin to gentrify; rents increase and longtime residents get pushed out.

“What happens to this group that I call the Abandoned is that they get shoved around — increasingly out into the inner suburbs — and end up almost out of sight, out of mind,” Robinson says.

Of course, that’s not to say that life was better before the civil rights movement. Robinson says we can’t forget what life was like before integration.

“Forty five years ago, only two out of every 100 African-American households made the present day equivalent of $100,000 a year. Now it’s eight or nine,” he says. “No one would turn back the clock and go back to those days.”

But Robinson says opportunities for African-Americans to climb into the middle class are quickly disappearing, putting black families that did manage to make it into the middle class in a difficult position that involves a certain amount of “survivor’s guilt” and plenty of frustration that efforts to help — haven’t.

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