Ellis Cose

Stories by Ellis Cose

  • Dialogue Of Dishonesty

    DIALOGUE, HOWEVER PAINFUL, IS ULTIMATELY HEALING - so believe those who worship at the shrine of Saint Oprah. Yet the truth, as talk TV illustrates daily, is that conversation doesn't necessarily lead to conciliation; it often is just another name for conflict. So when Bill Clinton suggests a national talkfest as a way of lifting ""the heavy burden of race from our children's future,'' skepticism is in order. ...
  • No Labels Need Apply

    Randall Kennedy would deliver us all from the sin of race-based thinking, if only he could get past the conflict in his own brain - the battle between the ethical ideal he cherishes and the moral muddle of the actual world. He abhors the idea of affirmative action, for instance, because it requires treating members of different racial groups differently. But if it is the only way to overcome "white-skin privilege," he will accept the trade-off, albeit reluctantly: "I would like to find some other way," he says. ...
  • The Color Bind

    EVER SINCE A FEDERAL COURT outlawed affirmative action at the University of Texas, Austin, law school last year, promoters of "diversity" have prophesied disaster. Now, as the school admits its first post-affirmative-action class, their nightmare is coming to pass. If the end of affirmative action is not really analogous to the onset of Jim Crow, to many Latino and black students, the distinction seems hardly worth the trouble of making. As Diana Saldana, president of the Chicano-Hispanic Law Students Association put it, "It took us 30 years to get here, and it took them 24 hours to dismantle any progress we have made." ...
  • Forgive And Forget?

    AN INJUSTICE UNRESOLVED AND UNFORGIVEN BURNS A hole in the heart. Although an apology cannot erase the wound, it can serve as a balm. It can "help to heal," says Fred Gray, the attorney for the survivors of the Tuskegee (Ala.) experiment--a study in official turpitude that (from 1952 to 1972) saw the U.S. government perpetrating medical malpractice in the name of syphilis research on African-Americans. ...
  • The House That Jack Built

    IF JACKIE ROBINSON HAD NEVER PICKED UP A BAT, WOULD Americans more readily remember Charles Drew? Would the brilliant surgeon, administrator and blood-plasma researcher (who died three years before Robinson's major-league debut) personify the prevailing positive image of black American manhood? Not a chance. After all, as onetime NBA star and former senator Bill Bradley points out, America and its media simply don't idolize intellectuals the way they worship performers. So Michael Jordan is more celebrated than any black physician, in the same way, notes Bradley, that Madonna shines more brightly than any white, female doctor. In a culture that lionizes entertainers and sees athletes as American heroes, Robinson was destined to be revered. His accomplishments helped to convince millions of young blacks that sports super-stardom is a viable path to success. As Art Taylor of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society puts it, "Education has failed so many that...
  • The Black Gen X Nobody Knows

    IMAGINE A 16-YEAR-OLD Harlem boy whose parents are both dead, and odds are high you won't conjure up Antwan Allen. Yet Antwan--number one in his class, president of the drama club, president of the student council, editor of his school's paper and head of its honor society--insists, with passion and conviction, that he is not an aberration, that he is just as representative of his race and generation as the hip-hop boys of the 'hood. ...
  • Getting Past The Myths

    FOR MORE THAN TWO AND A HALF YEARS, THE O. J. SIMPSON saga was the most important domestic story in many American lives, consuming enough newsprint to sink a fleet of ships. It so skewed news priorities that coverage of any other event was, as publicist Perri Dorset put it, always "subject to an O.J. disaster."Still, for all the coverage and outrage it generated, the enduring lessons of Simpson's never-ending tale are anything but obvious. In fact, much of conventional wisdom concerning that story turns out, upon reflection, to be fiat-out wrong-myths rooted in the desire to find deep significance in a story that, unfortunately, has none; one that, at base, is depressingly banal.The Simpson trials, especially the criminal trial, opened a serious racial breach in American society. In reality, neither the trials nor the verdicts tore the races apart. The breach the trials brought to light existed long before the murders in Brentwood-reflecting, among other things, a black-white gap in...
  • Why Ebonics Is Irrelevant

    IF OAKLAND'S SCHOOL BOARD ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING else, it gave people (at least those who were not howling in dismay) something to laugh at over the holidays. Yet, all the hooting over "Ebonics" notwithstanding, the board's call for change was justified. America's dereliction of its educational duty to black children is a national tragedy. Unfortunately, in lieu of a solution, Oakland, Calif., came up with stale, silly rhetoric.The problem is not that the board embraced Ebonics, but that it put Ebonics at the core of its educational strategy. If schoolteachers want to learn black vernacular, or turn themselves into amateur linguists, that is perfectly fine, perhaps even desirable, but it won't necessarily transform them into better teachers. If Oakland educators truly are incapable of communicating with children from the " 'hood," they have a problem that a crash course in "black English" won't solve. The key to teaching black children (or any children) is not in convincing them that...
  • Twelve Steps Toward Racial Harmony

    AMERICANS HAVE LITTLE ALTERNATIVE BUT TO ACCEPT THE POSSIBILITY THAT race will continue to divide us. Yet it is clear that society is more hospitable to minorities and more--racially--egalitarian than it was a few generations ago. There is every likelihood that it can become more so. Hence, we have to ask the question--if only as an experiment in thought: Do we have the vaguest idea how to create a society that is truly race neutral? The short answer, I suspect, is no. Otherwise we would be much further along the way than we are. Still, I believe we can get beyond such platitudes as ""Let's just love one another,'' which is the verbal equivalent of throwing up our hands in noble resignation. Enumerating steps our society could take toward racial sanity is obviously not the same as putting America's racial goblins to rest. It is, however, a necessary prelude to moving the dialogue beyond the realm of reassuring yet empty platitudes. So what would some of those steps be? ...
  • After Affirmative Action

    NO ONE EVER EXPECTED AFFIRMA- tive action to succumb without a whimper. And if the Proposition 209 battle is any indication, death will be fought every inch of the way. ...
  • Watch What They Do

    THE EARTH DID NOT STOP LAST Oct. 16, but for countless African-Americans something nearly as momentous occurred. For a brief and beautiful moment, an army of black men marched on Washington, stood tall and pledged, some with tears in their eyes, to change themselves and their world for the better. Tom Henry, an administrator for the University of Pennsylvania who, in his off hours, counsels unmarried fathers, took a group of young men to the rally and was swept up in the wave of brotherhood that washed across the Mall. ""It was sort of utopian,'' he observed, and then added, somewhat wistfully, ""if we could just bottle that and make it last.'' ...
  • No Work, No Workfare

    AT A CONVENTION BRIMMING OVER with accolades to the Clinton administration for creating millions of new jobs, it fell to the Rev. Jesse Jackson to point out that misery had grown under Clinton as well. A few blocks west of Chicago's gleaming United Center, noted Jackson, was a "canyon of welfare and despair." In the manner of a guest who knows better than to dwell on unpleasantness, Jackson made his point and moved on. ...
  • Voting Rights Act, R.I.P.

    THE OLD SOUTH MAY have died of multiple causes, but the Voting Rights Act of 1965 delivered the coup de grce. It smashed age-old political alliances and forced Southerners, for the first time since Reconstruction, to accept blacks in the chambers of political power. In the quarter of a century between 1965 and 1990, the number of Southern black state legislators and members of Congress went from two to 160. Yet last week, in the wake of two unsettling Supreme Court decisions, one of the most effective civil-rights laws ever enacted may have been fatally defanged. ""Only the shell still stands,'' said Theodore Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. ...
  • The Blacks In The Gray Flannel Suits

    WHEN NELSON MANDELA LEFT HIS Soweto residence for a six-bedroom house in one of Johannesburg's most exclusive white suburbs, it set a powerful example. The message to educated blacks: come and get it, if you can. Four years later they're clearly getting with the program. Once only a blip on the demographic radar, the black middle class may now make up as much as 8 percent of the country's 12 million economically active Africans. And the numbers are growing every day as corporate recruiters comb the nation's business schools and antiapartheid stalwarts buy pin-striped suits and join the government or private enterprise. Last month Cyril Ramaphosa, the African National Congress figure largely responsible for writ-ing the new Constitution, announced his intention to leave politics to help run the nation's largest black-owned business conglomerate. ...
  • The Realities Of Black And White

    NEXT MONTH'S CENTENNIAL OF PLESSY V. FERGUSON WILL be an occasion to celebrate how much things have changed since the days when Supreme Court decisions reeked with racism. "If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane," declared Justice Henry B. Brown, writing for the 8-1 majority that agreed Homer Adolph Plessy had no business sitting in the white section of a Louisiana train. The decision provided legal cover not only for segregated train cars but for the next 58 years of Jim Crow in all its vile, phony "separate but equal" incarnations. The anniversary will also remind us, however, that the questions at the heart of the case (What is "equal" treatment? And what is the government's role in ensuring it?) remain largely unresolved. ...
  • The Last Best Hope

    At no point in the past 30 years has the nation's established black leadership felt so forsaken. Still, when Rep. Kweisi Mfume takes over the reins of the NAACP next week, he may find Americans' flagging interest in civil rights to be the least of his problems. ...
  • Saint, Satan, Brothers Under The Skin

    Colin Powell and Louis Farrakhan are unlikely ever to share a podium; yet, for much of 1995, they shared the public stage-symbolizing, for much of society (and especially for whites), Saint and Satan: the hope and the heartache blooming in black America. Many African-Americans, however, saw Farrakhan not as Powell's opposite but as his brother: pricklier, less likable, more resentful; but essentially one who had taken a different yet no less American journey. ...
  • The Key To Farrakhan's Middle-Class Appeal

    As the sea of men came together on the Washington Mall, many felt a certain ambivalence. Asked why they were marching, few invoked Louis Farrakhan's name. When one speaker called for the crowd to affirm Farrakhan as its leader, there was a decidedly tepid response. They came instead, men said, for "the cause." Yet Farrakhan is probably the only person who could have pulled it off. The unavoidable question is, "Why?" ...
  • The Silly Season

    IN ONE OF THE MORE memorable moments of the O. J. Simpson trial, prosecutor Christopher Darden begged jurors not to "choke on [the] smoke," not to let passion overwhelm good sense. Perhaps his warning would have been better directed at the rest of us. One can debate (and millions will, ad nauseam) whether the jury reached the proper verdict at the proper time, but the decision on the public is clear. We were never capable of setting aside our preconceptions about the case, and never succeeded in untangling it from our own obsessions. ...
  • Shuffling The Race Cards

    Fred Goldman's outburst went unheard by the Simpson jurors, but it echoed around the world-providing a stark contrast to Johnnie Cochran's practiced eloquence. The emotional venting, during which the father of the butchered Ron Goldman called Cochran a whore, a horror and "the worst kind of racist," was compelling yet tortured and painful to watch. An anguished display of parental distress, it was rooted in an all too credible fear: that Cochran's clever arguments and racially tinged rhetoric might not lead to justice but to a murderer's going free. ...
  • Blinded By Color

    Never before in American history has racism been so roundly reviled, Witness all the embarrassed tuttutting at Mark Fuhrman's use of the "N word," an expletive now considered so profane that it reduces tough-talking reporters to euphemism. Yet even as the country, with self-congratulatory (dare we say "colorblind") gusto, proposes Colin Powell for president, troubling race-related questions remain. ...
  • Teaching Kids To Be Smart

    Intelligence can be taught." The phrase is posted on bulletin boards throughout Banneker High School, located in a working-Mass neighborhood in northwest Washington, D.C. It is the unofficial motto for a citywide program for public-school students who hope to become National Merit Scholars. It is also a defiant cry of hope, rejecting the notion (resurrected in last year's best-selling "The Bell Curve") that intelligence is largely fixed at birth and virtually immune to human intervention.For Eugene Williams, the project's director, the issue is not merely academic. If a shaky intellectual start portends a lackluster life, many of his students are already doomed-particularly those who come from communities where survival, not scholastic achievement, is the essential priority. Williams, however, insists that intellectual deprivation can be overcome. And his superiors are gambling that he is right. This fall Washington's school administrators plan to expose all entering high-school...
  • Black Men &Amp; Black Women

    Normally white men don't presume (to borrow James Baldwin's phrase) that the world has "prepared no place" for them. Black men, however, have never had the luxury of assuming the world's congeniality. More than any other group of American males, black men have kindled society's contempt. That scorn has exacted a price--on black men's self-image, on black men's aspirations, and particularly on black male-female relationships.Among the many informants for "a man's world" with strong opinions on the state of those relationships was a black woman with a thriving career and a Ph.D. whose complicated and conflicted thoughts were both provocative and revealing."I never ran across a lot of black men who liked women, who really liked women and appreciated women," she said. She recalled something a physician friend of hers had said: "'Black men punish you for the ills of society. They punish women.' AndI've felt that way with black men."She recalled a business meeting she had attended with...
  • Will Race Taint The Jury Pool?

    JUSTICE IS NEVER SO threatened as when it trips over prejudice. So juries are told to be bias-free. In a perfect society, they would do as they are told. But the real world suggests dismissed O.J. juror Jeanette Harris, is not so easily banished. And in that world, race matters.Even before Simpsons trial began, racial polarization was evident. Whites and blacks started out roughly 40 percentage points apart in their estimation of his guilt. Succeeding months, and a parade of witnesses, experts and evidence, have not closed the gap.It would be nice to believe that jurors could nonetheless rise to their assigned task and weigh evidence without prejudice toward either side. Indeed, the U.S. judicial system is rooted in the assumption that something almost magical happens in the jury room; that ordinary people, once charged with rendering justice, not only suspend judgment but also resist the polarization that defines so much of the outside world. jurors succeed often enough to give...
  • One Drop Of Bloody History

    The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2010, Hispanics will become the largest minority in the land.Telling whites they are black is not a task for the tactless; and Shirlee Haizlip makes every effort to be kind. After getting her quarry on the line, she identifies herself as a cousin -- long-lost, she explains, as a result of a "family secret." After they have chatted long enough to achieve a certain intimacy, Haizlip divulges her news: that their great-grandfather was once a slave. Invariably the reaction is the same. The person on the other end asks, "A black slave?"That's not an idle question. In America -- still -- one drop of "black blood" is enough to change one's complexion."The Sweeter the Juice," Haizlip's first book, documented her search for an aunt and ultimately an entire branch of the family that had "become white." She's now working on a sequel about her relatives who discovered they are not quite as white as they thought. One newly found cousin confided that when...
  • Color-Coordinated 'Truths'

    IN MY DESK, ATOP THE most recent stack of mail, sits a letter taking blacks to task for having "destroyed the merit system and public schools." The writer denounces the Congressional Black Caucus, Haitian politicians, African culture, "animal behavior" and the practice of awarding jobs based on race and gender rather than on test-certified merit. "Blacks just don't like to face the truth," concludes my correspondent. ...
  • The Fall Of Benjamin Chavis

    Probably no one can convince Benjamin Chavis that his downfall was due to anything other than "enemies" from without. The truth, however, is much less flattering. Chavis, head of the NAACP until he was fired by the organization's board of directors at a meeting in Baltimore last Saturday, did himself in. He gave his adversaries his head on a platter and left his friends with no rationale for defending him. The most they could do was blame his problems on others and point to Chavis's extraordinary potential -- so far unfulfilled. ...
  • Truths About Spouse Abuse

    Though the O.J. Simpson case put marital violence on virtually every editor's agenda, the leaders of what is sometimes called the men's movement are not particularly happy with the result. Coverage has focused too much, they say, on evil male perpetrators and innocent female victims. To read the papers, Nicole Simpson is Everywoman, and O. J. Simpson is Everyman. So, taking a cue from women's rights groups, the men's advocates have taken the offensive, putting forth statistics and anecdotes to argue that for every victimized female there exists a suffering, battered male. ...
  • Caught Between Two Worlds

    O. J. Simpson was supposed to have transcended race. Yet racial issues now swirl all around him. He is no longer Hermes hurtling through an airport, but the tragic Moor, tortured by the imagined betrayal of his alabaster bride. Never mind that Iago is nowhere to be found, or that this Othello failed to fall on his blade: commentators, searching for Shakespearean analogues, have found one with a racial subtext. ...
  • Drawing Up Safer Cities

    WHEN MOST PEOPLE THINK OF CRIME fighters, they see cops. Oscar Newman sees fences and enclosures-graceful barriers that convey a sense of community and that also tell anyone inclined toward incivility that hostile intrusions are not allowed. In an age when even children carry guns, the idea that benign barricades can prevent crime seems engagingly naive-not unlike the notion of stopping a burglar with a PLEASE, DO NOT ENTER Sign. ...