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America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible.
This weighty book, contextualizing some complex racial history and limning current controversial issues, serves as a good backdrop to future arguments about race.
After discussing history (e.g., the Jim Crow laws, Northern segregation), the authors emphasize that national economic expansion in the 1940s and 1950sóbefore the civil rights era helped blacks rise economically. They offer a nuanced take on the difficulty of neighborhood integration, and their analyses of black single motherhood and crime challenge conventional liberal explanations. The meat of the book is a careful attack on race-based policies; even blacks now oppose school busing and Afrocentrism. Although the authors emphasize the rise of the black middle class, they acknowledge that black wealth lags behind that of whites. However, they don't stress how public policy has shaped this development which diminishes their argument for U.S. color-blind policies. Though the Thernstroms note usefully that black leaders tend to be more negative about American progress than ordinary citizens, their one chapter on public attitudes cannot fully explore why our nation has not moved further toward becoming "indivisible." Stephan Thernstrom is the editor of The Harvard Encyclopedia of Ethnic Groups; Abigail Thernstrom wrote Whose Votes Count: Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights. (Sept.)
© 1997 Publishers Weekly
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