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America in Black and White


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About the Author

Stephan Thernstrom, the Winthrop Professor of History at Harvard University, is the editor of The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups and the author of several other books.


This is a solid, sweeping account (from a Harvard scholar and a race relations specialist) of race relations in the United States over the last 50-some years, from the days of Jim Crow, through sit-ins, the African American migration from the rural South to the urban North, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Act, the affirmative action era, the racially perceptual influence of an "appallingly high" urban black crime level, and the steady growth of a suburban black middle class. The authors assess judicial, educational, political, and social influences on what, despite real continuing problems, has been progress in easing race-related inequities. They see preferential policies as giving credence to the separateness of minorities. On balance, they are optimistic, as long as opportunity is provided for everyone in one nation. Of great breadth and depth, this work is highly recommended for academic and public readership.‘Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology at Alfred

David W. Reinhard The Oregenian A conversation-stopper in the best sense. The guts of this book will cause those on the left and right to stop and think before issuing the grand pronouncement or withering indictment.
Jim Sleeper The Wall Street Journal May be the most far-ranging, information-rich analysis of our seismic racial shifts....
Linda Chavez The Chicago Tribune [America in Black and White] promises to become the standard reference book on contemporary race relations.
Roger Lane The Philadelphia Inquirer On their chosen issue [the Thernstroms] have served a high hard one, a statistical missile into the other court. It will take more than rhetoric to answer them.
Thomas Sowell Forbes A very through history of contemporary race relations and racial policies in the United States....America in Black and White is a penetrating analysis, as well as a superb history. It should be "must" reading for anyone concerned about race relations in America.

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 1950s‘before 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.)

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