In 1994, Ellis Cose surveyed successful, middle-class African-Americans and uncovered an often unspoken rage. He described his findings in the book The Rage Of A Privileged Class.
Now, 17 years later, Cose has discovered a major change among middle-class blacks: They have become one of the most optimistic groups in America. He reveals his findings in a new book, The End Of Anger.
Cose tells NPR's Neal Conan that the rise in optimism is not linked to perceived end of discrimination.
"No one black who I talked to thinks we have arrived at a point where we are an equal opportunity nation," Cose says.
Cose conducted two large surveys — one of black Harvard M.B.A.'s and one of graduates of A Better Chance, a program that sends kids to prep schools. He says he learned that for well-educated and well-prepared African-Americans, "the sky is the limit."
Cose found that a generation after The Rage Of A Privileged Class, middle-class African-Americans are finding themselves with opportunities that didn't exist before.
"And this is something that is fundamentally different about the way people — particularly people of color — are viewing the American experience," he says.
According to Cose, it was once axiomatic for African-American parents to warn their children that they'd have to work twice as hard to get half as far as their white counterparts. But these days, the conventional wisdom has changed.
"Some of those kids are indeed going to get as far as anybody," Cose says.
Cose refers to the post-Jim Crow generation as "The Believers," a group that never experienced a time when African-Americans couldn't get into top-ranked universities or work at large corporations. Instead, they saw African-Americans rise to top positions in both industry and government.
Because of that, Cose says, the Believers have largely concluded that the old ways don't apply to them; that they can succeed no matter what color skin they have. He says in many ways, African-Americans today have more faith in this country than their white counterparts.
In one survey, Cose asked participants about discrimination in the workplace. He says, "Around 90 percent said there was some kind of glass ceiling in the corporate workplace."
But when participants were specifically asked about glass ceilings at their workplace, the results were quite different — only half said they saw a glass ceiling in effect.
In another workplace survey, many young African-Americans said they felt they were treated the same as their similarly credentialed white peers.
"People were not saying discrimination has disappeared," Cose says. Instead, he says, the message was that "the kind of discrimination that made it impossible to aspire to rise to a certain level is nowhere anywhere near as heavy as it used to be."
The result is that a young black Harvard M.B.A. can actually reach for the stars. There may still be discrimination, but if you successfully navigate around trouble, you can still achieve your goals.