With an eloquence and compassion reminiscent of James Baldwin's Letter to My Nephew, Ellis Cose presents a frank and realistic examination of the daunting challenges facing black men in twenty-first-century America and offers a way out of the cycle of defeatism and despair that wreaks havoc on America's black communities.
Black men have never had more opportunity for success than they do today. Yet, as Ellis Cose bluntly puts it, "We are watching the largest group of black males in history stumbling through life with a ball and chain wrapped around their legs. If brought together in one incorporated region, the population of black males behind bars would instantly become the twelfth largest urban area in America." Add to that the ravages of AIDS, murder, poverty, and illiteracy, the raging anger between many black men and women, and the widening gap separating the black elite from the so-called underclass, and you have a prescription for a paralyzing pessimism.
But even as he acknowledges the systemic obstacles that confront black men of all social strata, Ellis Cose refuses to accept them as reasons for giving up or giving in. In powerful and stirring prose, Cose rails against the historical worldview that has categorized academic achievement as a source of shame instead of pride in many black communities; he also outlines steps black males can take to enhance their odds for success.
With insightful anecdotes about a broad range of black men -- from Franklin Raines, the first black man to run a Fortune 500 company, to unlettered ex-prisoners -- Cose documents the amazing journey the black race has made, and contemplates the challenges ahead. Both a warning of the vast social tragedy that is wasted black potential and a vital call to arms that can enable black men to reclaim their destiny, The Envy of the World is an honest and important book for anyone concerned about the future of America.
Cose, a contributing editor and columnist at Newsweek and author of the critically acclaimed The Rage of the Privileged Class, was ordered out of a San Francisco restaurant because the ma tre d' claimed he was a "troublemaker." Drawing from his own experience (much of it, thankfully, much less hateful), as well as that of men he interviewed, Cose in nice prose details the myriad experiences of black men, among them Henry Louis Gates at Harvard University; Antwan Allen, a Harlem teenager who rejects what "being black" means on the street; Useni Eugene Perkins, poet and author of Home is a Dirty Secret; and Loquillo, who died of a heroin overdose at the age of 45. Spinning these stories, Cose begins to map the complex social, emotional and political fabric in which African-American men such as Tiger Woods and Colin Powell are lionized or like Willie Horton, scorned and feared. He presents an impressive array of statistics "twenty-eight percent of all black males... eventually will end up in jail"; a Harvard study that showed "black students were nearly three times as likely as whites to be labeled 'retarded' " which are used not simply to prove racism but to explore the underlying cultural and racial contradictions that produce it. Examining a wide range of cultural artifacts, from William Foote Whyte's classic 1943 Street Corner Society to the 1999 movie Whiteboys, and never avoiding hard questions such as black-on-black crime or interracial sex, Cose charts both an urgently argued history of black masculinity and a moving and nuanced snapshot of where it is now. A six-city author tour should draw Cose's regular Newsweek readers and move copies of the book.