"You can no longer talk about what black America thinks or feels," writes Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist, in a new book about the increasing disconnect between America's African-American communities.
In Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America, Robinson argues that America's African-American population can now be divided into four distinct groups: the abandoned poor; immigrants and people of mixed race; the mainstream middle class; and the small but powerful elite. He describes how each group has a different 'black experience' and largely remains detached from the others.
Robinson tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that generational changes have also changed what it means to be African-American, using his own family as an example. He grew up in the Jim Crow South, while his sons grew up in a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood. His father, who was born in rural Georgia in 1916, served in a segregated Army during World War II.
"If you look at those three generations, you see how much has changed," he says. "My father grew up at a time when basic fundamental civil rights battles were being fought. By that's totally different from the time I reached adulthood, when those rights were guaranteed, and totally different from the world in which my kids grew up."
On election night in 2008, Robinson was working as an analyst on-air for MSNBC when he momentarily left the set to call his parents. (His father, who was 92 at the time, has since died.)
"It was a night I'll never forget," he said. "I got to call and tell them that they had lived to see the election of the first African-American president and then spent several days thinking about that, thinking about the fact that [my father's] life had spanned such a period. The world in which he was born and the world in which he died were two different worlds."