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Kirkus Reviews
July 1, 1997

Thernstrom, Stephan & Abigail Thernstrom

Title: America In Black And White: One Nation, Indivisible
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (480 pp.) $30.00

A vast historical and sociological survey of the past 50 years of race relations, recalling Gunnar Myrdal's 1944 landmark, An American Dilemma.

Judging from the mass of social science data here, the authors (he's a Bancroft Prizewinning scholar at Harvard, she's a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute) seem never to have met a table they didn't like. The Thernstroms' reliance on statistics will strike some as a little too credulous at times (e.g., they too readily dismiss the possibility that many whites tell pollsters only what they believe to be socially acceptable). But in a debate long on pat answers and resentful rhetoric, they introduce often absent elements of thoroughness and dispassion. Countering the famously pessimistic conclusion of the 1968 Kerner Commission report that America is evolving into two societies, black and white, the authors convincingly point out that segregation by law is no longer in force, that white hostility has sharply abated, and that remaining inequalities mostly result from gaps in educational attainment, the rise in fatherless black families, and black crime. The first third of the book, recounting the history of segregation up to the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, challenges the widespread notion that black economic progress did not begin until preferential race-conscious policies were implemented in the 1960s, pointing out that greater advances in the prior two decades helped make the civil-rights movement possible. Part II details black progress in the professions, residential integration, and politics, noting dismaying gaps between the races in crime rates and graduation rates.

Part III examines the current climate of racial grievance. The Thernstroms conclude by calling for an end to policies and procedures such as affirmative action and the ''race norming'' of test scores, which they believe only polarize the races.

Likely to be seen as the benchmark scholarly study of America's current anguish over the race question.

© 1997 Kirkus Reviews

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