America In Black And White: One Nation Indivisible

2290 words - 9 pages

Surveying the current state of racial discourse in America, Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom conclude, “Today we argue without a common language.” Part of a growing number of scholars who were sympathetic to the cause of civil rights for black Americans in the 1960’s but who have since recoiled at the misapplication of the intentions of that movement, the Thernstroms believe that the language of fact and reason will provide a firmer foundation for black and white relations in the United States. Committed to race-neutral policies, the measuring stick by which they judge today’s racial policies, they counter the lack of intellectual rigor in popularly held explanations of racial disparities by using sociological studies and some seventy tables to bolster their contention that American society has changed in revolutionary ways. They also criticize the misuse of statistics to further policies at odds with the original intentions of civil rights legislation.The book has three parts. Part 1 traces the history of African Americans from the Jim Crow era through the triumphs and subsequent divisions in the Civil Rights movement. Part 2 traces social, economic, and political trends since the 1960’s, focusing on various misconceptions about the role of race in them. Part 3 analyzes the use of preferential policies.Part 2 contains chapters on the rise of the black middle class, the changing relationship between city and suburb, poverty, crime, and politics. It is particularly valuable for isolating various misconceptions about race and tracing their harmful consequences for black progress and racial relations. One misconception is that poverty defines black America. Whereas racial activists have a vested interest in such a definition because it allows them to blame racism for poverty, the Thernstroms remind readers that most poor people in America are not black and the majority of blacks are not poor. Although a significant portion—29 percent—are still poor, remarkable improvement has taken place since 1940, when 87 percent of African Americans (and 48 percent of whites) lived below the poverty line. Another misconception is that the Civil Rights movement has been the cause of economic improvement. On the contrary, the Thernstroms find that the greatest progress occurred between 1940 and 1960, when blacks reduced their impoverished percentage from 87 to 47. They note that a quiet social revolution has taken place: A considerable percentage of African Americans have migrated to the suburbs and risen to the ranks of the middle class. In 1940, only 1 percent of black families qualified as middle class; in 1970, 39 percent qualified; and in 1995, 49 percent. Black economic progress has slowed since the 1970’s, not because of the unyielding racism of white America but because of the economy’s general stagnation and the precipitous rise in single motherhood and crime in black communities. Even so, for two-parent black...

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