Race: An Interview with Eugene Robinson

Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman is a new half-hour weekly series on ideas and their consequences.

Eugene Robinson contends in his new book that black America has changed, going from one fairly unified group with a common set of goals (civil rights, economic empowerment) to four different groups: the Transcendent, the Mainstream, the Emergent and the Abandoned. He outlines each group and writes that in order to understand where they are going in the 21st century, black Americans need to understand where they are now.

Transcript

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Welcome to Ideas in Action, a television series about ideas and their consequences.  I'm Jim Glassman.  This week: a conversation with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, author of Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America. The topic this week, race in America: where do we stand now?  This is Ideas in Action.  (MUSIC)

              ANNOUNCER:

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              JIM GLASSMAN:

Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist at the Washington Post, a long-time journalist, an author.  He's just published his third book, Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America.  Welcome, Eugene Robinson, to Ideas in Action.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Thanks, Jim.  Great to be here.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Could you just lay out the premise of your book?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

The premise of the book is that-- the way we talk about black America is wrong.  That-- w-- we talk about it as if it were-- a single entity.  And-- while that was never exactly true, it was more true 40 or 50 years ago-- and it's not true at all now.

That-- that-- because of the successes of the-- the civil rights movement, and affirmative action, and all the advances African Americans have made, or many African Americans have made-- you just really can't talk about black America as one thing anymore.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And you divide the black American population into four distinct groups.  Could you tell us about those-- very briefly?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Sure.  I-- I went through census data and marketing studies, and everything, and came up with-- with-- with four groups.  One-- the largest group, which is a majority, actually, is the mainstream.  That's not a huge majority.  I mean, I'd say 55, 60 percent.  The mainstream is the majority of the-- African American population-- that has entered the middle class.

There's a too-large minority-- at least 25 percent, and maybe as much as 30 percent-- that I call the abandoned.  And these are-- the people who did not make the climb to the middle class, for whom that climb is-- is increasingly difficult and distant-- and who are, kind of, mired in the stubborn and multi-generational poverty and dysfunction-- in a cycle that we've really not been able to break.

And two other groups.  One-- the transcendent group, which is-- a very small elite that has wealth, power, or influence-- not just relative to other African Americans, but relative to the whole society or the whole world.  And-- and, you know-- examples, President Obama-- Oprah Winfrey-- African Americans who have just reached-- unprecedented-- heights in-- in-- in the society, and-- and have that kind of-- juice.

And-- the fourth group-- is-- is actually, kind of-- a bifurcated group.  It's-- there are two segments.  I call it the emergent group, emergent black America.  And I use that word because it kind of expands our definition of-- of what black America is.  The two components of that group, one is-- black immigrants-- from the Caribbean, and especially from Africa, and their children-- who are coming in-- in-- record numbers.  And-- the other group is biracial Americans-- of whom there are-- increasing numbers.  And-- and-- whose relationship with white America might be a bit different from-- from, say, mine.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And as-- President Obama, as well.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Exactly.  Exactly.  He fits in a lot of these groups.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

So, how-- how did you get the idea for this?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

This had been working on me for a while-- really for several years, to the extent there was a discussion about black America.  It just seemed to me-- it-- it wasn't going to the point.  It wasn't, for example, saying anything-- to or about the black middle class, which-- which was obviously this huge and growing and-- and-- and really quite prosperous-- segment.

So-- I thought about it, thought about it, then two things happened-- both in-- in 2007.  One, I was-- asked at-- at the Washington Post just to give a five minute greeting to a group of-- publishing executives from the African American press, who-- who were having a reception at the Post.  And I was happy to go down, and do, kind of, a drive-by greeting of you know five minutes or so. And I-- I-- I went down, and started talking.  And these ideas about this diversity, and this-- questions about the community-- just, kinda, popped into my head.  So I just started talking about that a little bit.  And I was stunned at the reaction.  People really latched onto it, and wanted to talk more about it.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And they hadn't thought about it before?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, some of 'em-- they had had that-- the--

              (JIM GLASSMAN:  UNINTEL)

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

--Same kind of proto thinking about it--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Right, right, which is always the best kind of idea--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

--But they hadn't really-- exactly--

              (OVERTALK)

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--Ready for it.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

-- It's ready to be crystallized.  And-- and they just jumped all over it.  This five minute drive-by turned into an hour.  And-- as they wanted to talk, and they wanted to bounce ideas, you know, they're, kind of, thinking off of me.  And I said, "Wow.  Well, th-- you know, there might be something here."

And-- the second thing that happened was that the Pew Research Center came out with-- with a poll.  They did a survey of African Americans, and they came up-- it-- it, you know, in that survey was an astonishing figure-- that 37-- I believe 37.5 of African Americans-- who were surveyed said they no longer believed black Americans could be thought of as a single race.

And-- there was no follow-up question, so y-- you didn't quite know what that meant.  But I knew that meant something.  And it-- it-- it reinforced this-- this thinking.  So I-- I started going through census data, marketing studies, academic studies, talking to people.

And then something else happened, the Obama campaign.  And-- and so, as the year went on-- the campaign looked more and more viable, and I got, kind of, busy that year, too.  But we agreed-- Doubleday and I agreed that-- you really couldn't do this book without seeing how that story came out.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Right.  Yeah, I think one of the most moving parts of your book is where you talk about what pre-civil rights America was like.  Can you describe that a little bit-- within the context of the book?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Pre-civil rights America, I'm old enough to-- to remember-- some of it.  I was-- I was a child.  I grew up in Orangeburg, South Carolina-- at the tail end of Jim Crow.  Ours was the second class-- to integrate-- to go to the newly integrated white high school in town.  There was of course a white high school and a black high school.  There was a black side of town and a white side of town.  In 1968, when I was in high school, there was an incident in our town called the Orangeburg Massacre--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Oh, yeah?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

--In which several-- several-- black students were killed in a demonstration over a segregated bowling alley.  So, in the context of-- segregated neighborhoods, in which most African Americans lived-- there were-- economically, culturally, and socially-- integrated communities, racially segregated, but in other ways integrated.

And so-- I remember in my neighborhood, you had, you know, my mother was a college librarian, my father taught at college.  One of my teachers lived down the street, but also the shoemaker, and-- and-- and-- and his wife was a seamstress.  And the lady who serves French fries in the South Carolina State College cafeteria lived next door.  It was-- we were, kinda, all together.  We were literally all in the same boat.

There were businesses, there were black owned businesses that were pa-- you know, patronized by African Americans.  And so, there was a real fabric to the community.  And I'm talking about a small, you know, small town in the-- in the south, but you could say much the same about the south side of Chicago, for example, or about Harlem, or about the lar-- northern cities-- where so many African Americans ended up-- after the great migration.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

So more homogeneous ca-- socially--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--Not necessarily economically.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Right.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

But it's more, kind of, a feeling of-- of one-- one group, and a kind of web of support, as a result.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

There-- there was certainly a web of-- of support, and there were-- there were institutions, as well.  For example-- when I was a kid, the vast majority of-- of African Americans who had college degrees had earned them at historically black colleges and universities.  I think it was something like 80 percent.

Well, now-- a much greater percentage of-- of the black-- population in the country has-- is college educated, which is-- which is a very good thing.  But the-- the proportions have, kind of, flipped, and only less than 20 percent of-- of--  blacks who go to college go to historically black colleges and universities.  They all go to institutions of-- many of which didn't accept African Americans when I was a kid.

And as new opportunities opened up-- and it was possible in my home state to go to the University of South Carolina, or to go to Clemson, or to go to the College of Charleston, or whatever-- and it was possible for-- for the best professors to get-- jobs and then tenure at these white institutions-- that created a real crisis for historically black colleges.  And-- and-- and-- and some are surviving it, and some are-- some are not.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And you, yourself, went to the University of Michigan.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yes.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And was that-- an experience during the '70s, I guess it was?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yes, Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

              JIM GLASSMAN:

The-- d-- were you-- w-- were you radicalized in any way?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

I think I k-- I kind of was, although more in the-- in the sense of Michigan at that time was-- center of campus radicalism.  And-- and-- and my first week on campus, I wandered in to the student newspaper.  And it was just love at first sight.  I never really thought I wanted to do anything else--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Michigan Daily--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

--The Michigan Daily, yeah.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--Very good newspaper.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

It was a great newspaper.  I majored in Michigan Daily-- at Michigan.  I was-- co-editor in chief my last year.  And-- and-- and I-- I learned that that's the way I wanted to-- to experience the world.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And so you, yourself, are an example of someone who--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--Moved out of this, I don't know, cocoon, or this--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Absolutely.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--The-- this, kind of, homogeneous society.  So now, fast forward-- 40 years, so it's now-- 2010.  And in your book, you write, "It was increasingly clear to me that there was no one black America, that there were several, and that we had to distinguish among them if we were to talk intelligently about African Americans in the 21st century."

So-- so you've broken-- black America into these four groups that you-- you mentioned earlier.  Can you be a little more specific?  So the first group is the transcendent.  This is Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey-- Tiger Woods.  Did this group actually exist prior to-- the '50s, '60s, '70s--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Not-- not in-- not in this way.  African American president, African American, you know, financier-- CEO could not have happened.  It simply could not have happened-- in years past.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Do you think that the people in the transcendent category still suffer from racism in any way?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

There can be contexts where-- you're just another black guy, or just another black woman.  And-- if, in one of those contexts-- you run across someone who's inclined to discriminate, you get discriminated against.  But I-- but it's-- I don't think the people in that group spend a whole lot of time worrying that they, personally, are being-- being discriminated against, or-- or being treated-- being treated wrong, necessarily.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Middle class, that's the second group, middle class African Americans.  They've-- they have steadily risen in income, in education levels--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--And-- but you say they still live in two worlds.  Th-- th-- there is this distinction between middle class-- African Americans and middle class whites that maybe doesn't exist between-- in the transcendent group--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--Between-- African Americans and whites.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

I do believe that there is-- there is a kind of living in-- in two worlds-- aspect to middle class black American life.  The legacy of the civil rights movement, the sense of solidarity, and the sense of unity, and the sense of there being strength in-- in-- in numbers, and strength in-- in-- in finding, you know, common cause among us, and among ourselves.

And-- and that ethic, I think, is-- y-- you know, is still strong, even if it's in conflict with-- actual circumstances.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Right.  Right. So this is-- these are the two worlds that you're talking about.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).  Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

              JIM GLASSMAN:

One is where there's more-- more, let's say, solidarity with other African Americans.  And there's another where y-- y-- where-- where you're more, sort of, part of an integrated world, and you--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah.  Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--and you also, you feel that-- that sometimes middle class African Americans feel kind of torn, or even guilty about it.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, I-- t-- to a certain extent.  When-- the ability arose for-- for black Americans to move out of-- what were by then decaying black neighborhoods and live elsewhere, where they can have-- better schools, nicer homes, whatever.  They took advantage of those opportunities.  Of course they would.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

So is there, kind of, a cognitive dissonance here?  In other words, you're-- you're-- you're moving up, but you, kind of, feel like, "We're leaving-- we're leaving people behind.  And we have some kind of responsibility for that"?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yes, I-- I do believe that.  I don't wanna leave the impression that most middle class black Americans-- you know, sit around every night, you know-- you know, mashing their teeth, and, kind of-- you know-- at-- but there is-- the social consciousness, I think.  And really a sense of lost potential.  And there's one other factor, too, meaning in-- in one-- family, even, will be not just exclusively middle class-- people, but also people who-- who would fit in the group that I call the abandoned group.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

You call the group the abandoned--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--and why do you say that?  Who are they abandoned by?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Oh, I think-- by everybody, k-- (CHUCKLES) by everybody.  I mean, re-- you know, there-- there have been times when we-- when w-- when we talk, and try to act on the-- the, kind of-- scourge of persistent-- poverty and dysfunction.  And-- and recently, we don't talk about it a whole lot.  We did when Hurricane Katrina happened, and-- and-- and-- and kinda, flushed out all this dys-- dysfunction, and--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And you talk about that very movingly in-- in-- in your book.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

In New Orleans (UNINTEL)--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

But-- but you think that that's n-- that-- th-- that was just, kind of-- a moment? 

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

I think that was a moment.  And-- it was a moment, actually, when we said, "By golly, now, we're gonna gave that, sort of, you know, discussion about poverty."  Or, not just a discussion, but, "We're really gonna-- we're not gonna avert our eyes anymore.  We're not gonna pretend that it's not there."

And not just poverty.  I'm talking about entrenched multi-generational dysfunctional black poverty.  You know, that's, kinda, what I'm talking about in the book.  And, obviously, there are other kinds.  We said we were gonna talk about it, and we did for a little while.  But we-- we're not now.  I mean, we haven't been for a while.  And--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

But-- but-- but would you like to see this revived?  In other words, is-- is-- is this something that President Obama could do?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well-- I think it's something that he could do.  I think it's something that-- that-- that any president could do, and, to my mind, at least, should-- should want to do, on any-- number of bases.  And I-- I don't think it's wise for this country to-- to write off that many people.  I-- I j-- I really don't.  I don't think that's a good idea.

And-- and-- I also-- believe that the rungs of the ladder that previous generations used to climb out of poverty, so many of those rungs just aren't there.  I mean, you can't do what Michelle Obama's father did-- you know, in Chicago, like so many other people did who were in the great m-- migration, get a good city job, you know, the-- the-- steady-- job security-- get a house, raise a family, send your kids to college, so they have a better life, have a pension when you retire.  It kind of sounds like a Grimm's fairy tale.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

So-- so are you saying that-- you-- you note in the book that this group, this abandoned group, was, say about 50 percent of the population 40 years ago, and it may be 25 percent today.  And you think it's, kinda, stuck at 25?  Might even-- maybe it will go up?  Or do you think it's, kind of, evolutionarily gonna-- gonna decline, but maybe slowly?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

If it's gonna decline, I think we'll have to give it a nudge to decline.  I mean-- my reading of-- of the evolution is that it went down to that-- about-- approximately 25 percent.  And it's, kind of, bumps around.  And then it'll-- it'll dip, you know, when the economy's really roarin', it'll dip some.  Now that the economy is not roaring-- it-- it's gone up some.  But that's starting to look distressingly, to me, like a bench line.  And that's not acceptable.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

So-- so what's the next group?  The s-- you got the-- the transcendent--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--The middle class, the-- the--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Abandoned.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--The abandoned.  And then your next group

              (OVERTALK)

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--is, sort of, bifurcated.  It's--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Right.  Well, let's talk about the immigrants first--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Okay.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

--If you want to.  I mean, the-- the-- immigration from the-- from the Caribbean is-- is not really new.  It has increased some.  But what's-- what is quite new is-- immigration from Africa-- which was almost impossible back-- before the-- couple of changes in the immigration laws--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Right.  So this is--

              (OVERTALK)

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

--Quotas--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--this is a result of legal change.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Exactly.  And-- so immigrants are, you know, from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana are-- are arriving in-- in unprecedented numbers.  They-- are the best educated regional group of immigrants coming to this country right now.  They're better educated than the Asians.  If you think about it, that makes sense, because if you're gonna come here from Burkina Faso, you must be really something.  You know, you must be prepared to, you know.

They generally arrive in intact families.  Two parent families-- strong, kind of, family traditions.  And they're doing very well.  And their sons and daughters are doing spectacularly well, and we're gonna hear a lot from them--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

So what's the relationship between that group and, let's say the-- the middle class group of African Americans?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

You know-- some-- there has been some friction.  And there's-- there's a question that's out there that doesn't get o-- get asked that often, and-- and-- and really hasn't been answered.  But affirmative action, is that-- should that be for the sons and daughters of-- of-- or descendants of slaves?  People who suffered the injury get the rem-- remedy?  Or-- is it for black people who are-- potentially liable to discrimination, which includes a larger group including the immigrants?  And-- and-- where you, kind of, see this question being asked increasingly is-- is in-- in a question of college admissions.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And then the second part of the fourth group is-- people who've-- who've intermarriage-- biracial, or--

              (OVERTALK)

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Right.  Biracial, triracial, you know.  And-- and-- and it-- and it's just-- just--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Is that increasing?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, it is increasing.  It's hard to get really-- real numbers.  And frankly-- you know, w-- when you talk about-- race in this context, of-- you know, of course, you're talking about something that's actually totally meaningless, as-- as-- you know, in terms of biology, it doesn't mean anything.  In terms of sociology, it-- it means something.

But-- but-- you know, we sound like-- like the laws used to be in Louisiana, where they would-- you know, who's a melano?  Who's-- an octoroon?  Who's a this and who's a that-- depending on what-- what fraction of black parentage you had.  And part of the traditional black experience has been this sense of otherness.  And with-- and so if--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And-- and that-- and that was imposed by-- in part by white America, by these laws, like in Louisiana, you know, if you're 1/16th black, you know, you're-- you're black--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah, you're black.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--Y-- so-- so if that-- if that's dissipating in some way, I mean, is it possible that, kind of, that race will, in America, will, kinda wither away--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

You know, I-- I think it's--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

--As it has in some countries?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

--I think it-- I think it is entirely possible.  I think that date is-- is in the future.  I mean, we're not in post-racial America.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Uh-huh (AFFIRM).  How has President Obama affected-- race in America?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

He made something possible that wasn't even on the radar scope.  I mean, if you had asked me, you know, ten years ago, would there be an African American president in my lifetime, I would have said, "Well, gee, I never thought about that."  But I'd have to guess not-- if I did think about it.  And so an amazing and incredible moment, I think, for this nation in its nearly-- 400 year history of dealing with-- dealing with race.

But, you know, progress never comes without a cost, I think.  And-- and the cost, I think-- in this case, and I'm judging as much from the kind of e-mail that I get as a columnist as anything else-- clearly it's caused anxiety among some people, and-- among some whites-- or contributes to anxiety among some whites-- about-- demographic change, about-- race.  I don't-- I don't know what all is-- is involved.  But--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

w-- w-- what do they say specifically?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, no, I mean, that-- you know-- some--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

You-- you mean--

              (OVERTALK)

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

--frankly racist kind of-- kinds of--

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Th-- these are directed at you?  Or-- or they're  directed at--

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Or at-- or at President Obama, or, you know, or-- or both.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

But is this-- a kind of sentiment that you didn't s-- see before President Obama became president?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Right.  Right.  I hadn't-- I hadn't-- I hadn't been seeing this.  And I-- and-- and-- and not the sort of vitriol.  And, again, I, you know, one-- one assumes, and I hope this is-- this is a relatively small group of people.  But-- but it-- it's surprising.  It's stuff that I hadn't heard since I was a kid.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Do you think that President Obama, because he is an African American, has a more difficult time dealing with a problem of the abandoned, or race in general?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yes, I do.  When-- when he was running for president, I wrote that-- candidate Obama-- in order to be elected, was going to have to be perceived as the least aggrieved black man in America.  And I still believe that.  I mean, that there-- th-- it-- it was-- it was new.  It-- it was-- he had a lot of history to overcome.  And-- he was just gonna have to be seen as a non-threatening figure by white America.  And he was.

I also believed, and-- and I think most African Americans-- that I talked to at the time believed that it was going to be just politically more difficult for the first black president to do-- to enact any sort of specifically black agenda, or, you know, a-- agenda aimed at-- improving situation of black America specifically.  That-- that was gonna be hard.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

So you're not disappointed, just a fact of political life?

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

I-- yeah, I th-- I think it's just a fact of political life.  I think, you know, it-- it-- there's-- there are special burdens that come with being first at anything.  And there's a kind of scrutiny, and-- and-- that-- that just doesn't-- doesn't attach when you're the second, or the third, or the fourth.  And it's, you know, first is first.  And this-- this is a new thing for this country.  And so, no, I'm not disappointed because I just thought that was just the way it was gonna be. 

              JIM GLASSMAN:

Thank you, Eugene Robinson.

              EUGENE ROBINSON:

Thanks so much Jim-- it's great to be here.

              JIM GLASSMAN:

And before we go, I want to remind viewers that you can catch Ideas in Action wherever and whenever you choose.  To watch complete shows, just go to our website, ideasinactiontv.com or download a podcast from the iTunes store.  And that's it for this week's Ideas in Action.  I'm Jim Glassman, thanks for watching.  (MUSIC)

              ANNOUNCER:

For more information, visit us at ideasinactiontv.com.  Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by investor's Business Daily.  Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions.  Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge.  More information is available at investors.com.  (MUSIC) This program is a production of Grace Creek Media and the George W. Bush Institute, which are solely responsible for its content.

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Eugene Robinson

Washington Post Columnist & Author, “Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America”

Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and Associate Editor for the Washington Post, which he joined in 1980. Previously at the Post, he worked as city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the Style section. He began writing his column for the Op-Ed page in 2005. Robinson began his journalism career at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he covered the trial of Patricia Hearst, the kidnapped newspaper heiress.

Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, among others, and has received numerous journalism awards. During the 1987-88 academic year, on leave from the Post, Robinson was a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard University.

He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man’s Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999), "Last Dance in Havana" (2004), and his third book, “Disintegration” (2010).

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