Ellis Cose

Stories by Ellis Cose

  • 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. ...
  • Growing Up in a Turbulent Time

    HENRY LOUIS GATES Jr. is one of the most distinguished literary scholars around; yet the voice most often heard in Colored People (216 pages. Knopf $22) is not that of Gates the Harvard professor, but of Gates the vulnerable, awkward, infinitely curious young man. This Gates is less with such arcana as the relation to diegesis than with how to get into Linda Hoffman's pants. ...
  • Everybody's Talking At Me

    WRITERS NECESSARILY BELIEVE THAT words are magical, capable of illuminating even the most cobwebbed of minds. But to write about race for an interracial audience is to sorely test one's faith in that notion. I wrote The Rage of a Privileged Class (192 pages. HarperCollins. $20) to provoke discussion about an issue the pain and anger of black professionals that had not been widely explored. The book has accomplished that; but it has also served to demonstrate just how limited and difficult such dialogue can be. ...
  • Hustler, Icon, Hatemonger, Peace Seeker

    LIKE A FIREWORK THAT FIZZLES AS IT arcs across the sky, Malcolm X, in dying young, denied his public a fitting finale. His admirers have filled the void with myth--clouding not only the picture of what he might have become but of who he really was. ...
  • The Tale Of The Great Crusader

    WITH A MIND AS SHARP AS A STILETTO and a will as unyielding as a tank, Bois was clearly meant for stardom. Still, for a black man of his era (with "a strain of French" and "a bit of Dutch," as he loved to point out), his accomplishments were miraculous. ...
  • Rage Of The Privileged

    WAS STUDYING RAGE, I TOLD MY HOST, AN eminently successful corporate lawyer. Specifically, I was looking into the anger of middle-class blacks--into why people who seemingly had so much to celebrate were filled with resentment and rage. "Well, I can tell you why I'm angry," he began, launching into a long tale about his compensation package. Despite the millions he had brought into the firm the year before, his partners were balking at giving him his due. "They want you to do well, but not that well," he grumbled. The more he talked, the more agitated he became. What I had originally thought would be a five-minute conversation stretched on for nearly an hour as this normally restrained and unfailingly gracious man vented long-buried feelings. ...
  • A City Room Of Many Colors

    IF SAMENESS IS THE MOTHER OF disgust--as the poet Petrarch declared--diversity is not necessarily the father of contentment. For years (officially since 1978) America's daily newspapers have been in pursuit of an elusive ethnic heterogeneity. In that time, they have raised the percentage of ethnic minorities from under 4 percent to just over 10, but the effort has pleased virtually no one. Minority journalists wonder whether, for all the hoopla, the diversity crusade is largely a farce. Critics of the "diversity" campaign argue that it is undermining hiring standards and inspiring cheerleading for (and soft coverage of) favored groups. ...
  • Protecting The Children

    Maybe someday more americans of all races will decide to get and stay married. For the time being, however, we must face a simple fact: desirable as "traditional" families may be, fewer and fewer Americans are belonging to them. Many women--especially many black women--will be raising their children alone. The question then becomes, "How can we make sure those large numbers of kids who will be raised without fathers have a decent shot at life?" ...
  • Guinier: The Rewards Of Martyrdom

    Political misfortune has brought Lani Guinier fame. In time it may bring her fortune. For the moment, she would be content if it could help her focus America's attention on what she calls the "unfinished agenda of civil rights." She had hoped the hearings to confirm her as an assistant attorney general would do that. Those hearings were never held. Yet the process that destroyed her candidacy has given her a second chance--or at least provided an audience to whom she can make her case. ...
  • Brutality As A Teen Fashion Statement

    Anyone old enough to have grown up lip-syncing the lines to "My Girl" is unlikely to see the beauty or wit in lyrics like "Bitches ain't s--- but hoes and tricks." Yet that phrase (or variations on it) from Dr. Dre's double-platinum album "The Chronic" is among the more popular tidbits of wisdom served up on T shirts this summer. Teen fashion, of course, rarely follows grown-up rules. Yet even adults who accept teenage rebellion are agape at a fad that has young men flaunting T shirts that Pluck messages directly from the gutter. Not all the shirts are vulgar. One of the hotter items features a solemn Mike Tyson accompanied by the warning I'LL BE BACK. Nor do they all ridicule women. Some invite you to THROW YA GUNZ IN THE AIR or advise you to BACDAF--UP. Another wryly reassures, NO WHITE LADY, I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE YOUR PURSE. But those that denigrate women-typically referred to as "bitches"--have provoked the fiercest reaction. ...
  • Black And Blue At The Post

    Satan must have smacked his lips when Jill Nelson joined The Washington Post. For if Nelson had not exactly sold her soul, she all but surrendered her identity. A rebellious free spirit, she signed on to become a Post staff writer, trading in the penurious but autonomous freelance life for what she saw as the equivalent of a yoke and a plow. Her reasons were of the most Faustian sort: security, status, power and money. But the Devil did not quite get his due. Nelson broke free and emerged shaken but unbowed, spitting great gobs of anger and resentment smack in the face of her former employer. ...