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America in Black and White One Nation, Indivisible

By Stephan Thernstrom, Abigail Thernstrom
Simon & Schuster 1997 ISBN: 9780684809335

About the Book

The “American Dilemma,” Gunnar Myrdal called the problem of race in his classic 1944 book. More than half a century later, race remains the issue that dwarfs all others—the problem that doesn’t get solved and won’t go away. But in the decades since Myrdal wrote, much has changed, say the authors of America in Black and White. Progress—too little acknowledged—has been heartening. Pessimists talk of the “permanence of racism,” and say that things are as bad as ever.  In fact, the authors show, the status of blacks has been transformed in recent decades, and there is no going back.

America in Black and White is the first comprehensive work since Myrdal’s to look at the status of African-Americans and ask, what has happened and why? The book starts with a picture of American apartheid—back life in the South and North in the decades before World War II. That picture sets the stage for a dramatic tale of amazing change. It is often assumed that progress is both fragile and recent: a product of the civil rights revolution of the 1960s and subsequent affirmative action policies. This is wrong, the authors argue. In fact, by numerous measures, the pace of change was most impressive in the years between the end of World War II and the 1970s, the start of the modern affirmative action era. Deep economic and demographic shifts, accompanied by a revolution in white racial attitudes, put African-Americans on the difficult road to equality.

The end of that road is not yet in sight, the authors acknowledge. Nevertheless, progress has been impressive. For instance, today black and white high school graduation rates are identical, and black married couples earn on average only a bit less than those who are white. America is also more racially integrated than ever before. More than 70 percent of both whites and blacks now claim to have a “good friend” of the other race. Only a small fraction of blacks say they have no white neighbors.  Residential segregation is down in almost every major city—a well-kept secret.

Problems remain, of course. But they will not be solved by traditional civil rights strategies, the authors argue. Affirmative action programs, for  in-stance, do nothing to help the black underclass. Racial preferences cannot rescue the high school dropout who is too unskilled for the modern world of work.

Indeed, racial preferences are not a civil rights solution at all, the authors contend. Preferences themselves—not their rollback—threaten progress. Racist whites have long said to blacks, you’re defined by your color.  With racial preferences black and white Americans of seeming good will have joined together in saying, we agree. It is precisely the wrong foundation on which to come together for a better future. Racial progress ultimately depends on our common understanding that we are one nation, indivisible—that we sink or swim together, that black poverty impoverishes us all, and that black alienation eat at the nation’s soul.

About the Authors

Abagail Thernstrom is a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Eduation, a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and a former senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York. She is the author of several previous books, most recently America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible, written with her husband Stephan Thernstrom.

Stephan Thernstrom is the Winthrop professor of history at Harvard University and Bancroft Award-winning author of several groundbreaking books. He is a former senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and was appointed to the governing body of the National Endownment for the Humanities. The Thernstroms live in Lexington, Massachusetts.



Affirmative Action’s Unlikely Foes; One Academic Couple, One Critical Book and Plenty of Salvos
Steven A. Holmes | The New York Times

America In Black And White: One Nation, Indivisible; Review
Philip Klinkner | The Nation | 12-14-98

Histories of ideas
Quentin Skinner | The Economist | 6-13-98

Getting Beyond Racism
John Hood | Reason | 5-98

A New History of Race in America Provokes Intense Reactions
Carol M. Swain | The New Democrat | 1/2-98

The Conservative Line on Race
Glenn C. Loury | The Atlantic Monthly | 11-97

Fredrick D. Robinson | The Ethnic NewsWatch | 11-30-97

Race and the nation: The Wide-Angle View
Bill Maxwell | St. Petersburg Times | 11-23-97

The color of change; Two books take different approaches to examining America's oldest dilemma
Michael Meyers | The Boston Globe | 11-9-97

Racism Is (a) Entrenched? Or (b) Fading?; The Answer for Many Is (b) as Optimists Dispute Decades of Pessimism on Race Relations
Richard Bernstein | The New York Times | 11-8-97

Across the racial divide; 3 topical books try to open a dialogue on race
Susan S. Richardson  | Austin American-Statesman | 11-2-97

Controversial Book Reports Progress In Race Relations
by Richard Mcgowan | Daily Press | 10-26-97

A Question Of Racial Progress In America
Owen Mcnally | The Hartford Courant | 10-19-97

Black Community Must Rise Up Against Crime
Walter E. Williams | Anchorage Daily News | 10-13-97

America's Continuing Dilemma
by Richard D. Kahlenberg | The Washington Post | 10-12-97

Promised Land
Martin Duberman | Los Angeles Times | 10-12-97

Cockeyed Optimists
Dinesh D'Souza | The Weekly Standard | 10-6-97

Up From Gunnar Myrdal: America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible
Kenneth S. Lynn | The American Spectator | 10-97

The Facts And The Feelings
by Alan Wolfe | The New Republic | 9-29-97

The racist madness of Jim Crow
by Mona Charen | The Baltimore Sun | 9-24-97

A New Ground Zero In The Race Debate?
Paul Magnusson | Business Week | 9-22-97

America in Black and White: One Nation Indivisible; Review
Patrick H. Samway | America | 9-20-97

The State Of Race Relations; In Black And White
Linda Chavez | Chicago Tribune | 9-17-97

Remarkable progress on race has been made
Donald Lambro | Austin American-Statesman | 9-8-97

Throwing The Book At Race; A Benchmark New Work Turns The Accepted History Of Racial Progress In America Upside Down
Tamala M. Edwards | Time | 9-8-97

Affirmative Action and Reaction
by Nicholas Lemann | The New York Times | 9-7-97

America in black and white
by Thomas Sowell | Forbes | 8-11-97

America in Black and White: One Nation Indivisible; Review
Publishers Weekly | 7-7-97

Telling A Different Story Of Racism In America: New book an incredibly hopeful account
David Frum | The Financial Post | 7-5-97

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