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With a compassionate eloquence reminiscent of James Baldwin's Letter to My Nephew, Ellis Cose presents a realistic examination of the challenges facing black men in modern America.
Black men have never had more opportunity for success than today—yet, as bestselling author Cose puts it, "We are watching the largest group of black males in history stumbling through life with a ball and chain." Add to that the ravages of police brutality, murder, poverty, illiteracy, and the widening gap separating the black "elite" from the "underclass," and the result is a paralyzing pessimism. But even as Cose acknowledges the systemic obstacles that confront black men, he refuses to accept them as reasons for giving up; instead he rails against the destructive attitude that has made academic achievement a source of shame instead of pride in many black communities—and outlines steps black males can take to enhance their odds for success.
With insightful anecdotes about a broad range of black men from all walks of life, Cose delivers a warning of the vast tragedy that is wasted black potential, and a call to arms that can enable black men to reclaim their destiny in 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.