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Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequalby Andrew Hacker
Every one of us could write a book about race. The text is already imprinted in our minds and reflects our moral character. Dividing people into races started as creating some convenient categories. However, those divisions have taken on lives of their own, dominating our culture and consciousness, coloring passions and opinions, contorting facts and fomenting fantasies.
So race is more than simply a subject to be studied or an issue for debate. Given these conditions, objectivity is hardly possible. Which brings us back to the book that each of us might write. The volume in your hand offers one author's understanding of the role and meaning of race in the contemporary United States. Its title borrows from Benjamin Disraeli's remarks on the rich and poor of his Victorian England, and applies them to the two major races in America today: "Two nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets."
The subtitle, "Separate, Hostile, Unequal," has several sources. First, there has been the continuing debate in our courts and conversations over whether racially separated facilities can ever be equivalent in status and social worth. Another issue is whether the separation springs from choice, or is imposed by one race upon the other. Hence the conclusion of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders back in 1968: "Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one back white, separate and unequal." Yet these two nations, these two separate societies, have existed from the start. And, to be utterly frank, their relations have never been amiable. Alexis de Tocqueville noted this hostility a century and a half ago. "The most formidable of all the ills that threaten the future of the Union arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory," he observed during his visit to the United States. If he wrote these words during the days of slavery, they describe our racial reality today. Indeed, he could have been in our midst when he saw how "the danger of a conflict between the white and the black inhabitants perpetually haunts the imagination of the Americans, like a painful dream." We can benefit by returning to Tocqueville's analysis in the concluding chapter.
My early training was in philosophy, where I soon discovered that we should not expect a consensus on social and moral issues. Not the least reason is that we frequently disagree on what we feel are the facts. While research can be useful, past a certain point we must bring intuition and imagination to bear. On this premise, the first part of this book will expand on some personal impressions concerning race in our time. These chapters will include observations on how we define and divide people into races; on what it is like to be black in the United States; and why white Americans react as they do to people of African ancestry. So the reader should be forewarned: this section will rely on subjective interpretations, since statements about how we behave in the realm of race are seldom amenable to evidence, let alone conclusive proof.
At the same time, in treating these and other topics, I have tried to provide enough plausibility to keep the conversation going. While the reader will not be asked to agree at every stage, it may be hoped that he or she may say, "You could have a point; I'm still willing to listen." Some of what will be said may seem overly generalized or unwilling to admit of exceptions. Here, too, indulgence is asked. Race is a tense terrain, where we often try to hide crucial truths from ourselves. One way to bring these premises to the surface is by making them as vivid as possible.
Part II of Two Nations will focus more precisely on the role race plays in such spheres as education and family life, as well as the economy, politics, and crime. This section, too, reflects the author's outlook and interests. Much of my career has been spent as a social scientist, which carries a commitment to revealing how the world really works. One way to array information is in statistical form. While numbers in and of themselves cannot pronounce final truths, they can offer insights and illumination if they are collated with care.
It is revealing that so much information about ourselves is classified according to race. We publish separate black and white breakdowns on whether mothers breast-feed their babies and on persons who have been arrested for embezzlement. The census even has separate racial columns for people who bicycle to work. But it would be a mistake to view such tabulations as depersonalized data. On the contrary, they can tell a very human story. And, as will be seen, statistics often surprise us with unexpected findings.
Nor will Part II rely entirely on tables. It will also offer a broader analysis of conditions impinging upon race. Thus the rise in fatherless households may emerge not as just one race's problem but as having larger social causes. In the same way, what we call crime can be explained in terms of class as well as race. Or, by exploring forces that run deeper, we may come closer to realizing why so many men commit the crime of rape. Also, any discussion of unequal education should be conjoined with at least a few comments on what we want our offspring to learn and why we place so much emphasis on multiple-choice tests. These chapters will also seek to explain why some conditions related to race have changed over time, while others manage to persist, and still others have become more painful and pronounced. Given the breadth of these issues, the reader should not be surprised if more than a few impressions find their way into these analytical chapters.
One or two more remarks should suffice. No one could possibly tally all the books and articles that have been written about race in America. A host of scholars, journalists, and commentators have produced an impressive literature. Prominent among these are authors who have actually lived on the nation's racial frontiers. J. Anthony Lukas's Common Ground about Boston, Elijah Anderson's Streetwise on Philadelphia, as well as Chicago as depicted in Nicholas Lemann's The Promised Land and Alex Kotlowitz's There Are No Children Here have all added dimensions to our understanding that statistics can never satisfy. For this reason, each book on race should be seen as part of a collective enterprise. If each of us focuses on certain aspects and issues, and explains them in our own way, we are all dependent on what others have discovered and said.
So separate mention should be made of America's most notable book on race. It was a over half century ago, in 1944, that Gunnar Myrdal published his classic study, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. By every measure, it was a masterful enterprise and one that can never be rivaled. If few people read him today, many of Myrdal's insights remain relevant and applicable. For example, he stressed the idea that race in America is essentially a caste condition, so that for all basic purposes, black people never escape their birth. And as his title made clear, Myrdal's central theme was that the United States was and is beset by an apparent paradox: the nation's commitments to universal justice and equality are contradicted by the way it treats its principal minority race. Myrdal, an eminent Swedish scholar, took seriously Americans' declarations about justice and equality. Perhaps, as a good guest, he did not want to accuse his hosts of hypocrisy.
As it happens, the pages that follow will contain relatively few citations or references. This should not be taken as suggesting that what others have written lacks significance. Rather, it is that too many allusions to fellow authors can end up as a book devoted to other books. Real issues like employment and welfare can become deflected into a debate over Charles Murray's formulations versus those of William Julius Wilson. Or questions of education and culture may become a battle of competing quotations from Diane Ravitch and Molefi Kete Asante. While this can often be a fruitful approach, especially for academic audiences, it has not been the one chosen here. References, listing source materials, have been gathered in a separate section.
The book's title might seem to intimate that a full portrait of America can be rendered in black and white. Obviously this is not the case. While persons we classify as black or white still comprise America's major races, they currently account for a smaller share of the population than at any time in our history. Since we want a full perspective, Asians and Hispanics and other ethnic groups will obviously appear on these pages. Still, Two Nations will adhere to its title by giving central attention to black and white Americans, and the reasons for this emphasis will be made evident. In many respects, other groups find themselves sitting as spectators, while the two prominent players try to work out how or whether they can coexist with one another.
Two Nations will also seek to explain why so much behavior regarding race remains so obdurate and ingrained. Not the least of its conclusions will be that racial tensions serve too many important purposes to be easily ameliorated, let alone eliminated or replaced. The reader should also be advised not to expect this book to end on an optimistic note. Nor should he or she look for a closing chapter with proposals for reducing discrimination and ending prejudice. Two Nations is not that kind of book. I leave it to others to propose measures they feel can break down racial barriers and bring more amity and equity to the racial sphere.
Of course, there are things that should be done, and some may be within the realm of possibility. At the same time, there is scant evidence that the majority of white Americans are ready to invest in redistributive programs, let alone give of themselves in more exacting ways. As will be shown, not only is the taxpaying electorate overwhelmingly white, but it is also middle-class, middle-aged, and — increasingly — ensconced in insulated suburbs. In short, our time is not one receptive to racial remedies. One aim of this book will be to show why this is the case.
Given the tempo of our times, a book on race must be kept up-to-date. This is all the more necessary for the classroom, where Two Nations is frequently used, not least because it encourages debate and discussion. Hence this new edition, in which every chapter has been revised. In particular, new or expanded material has been added in the following areas.
Affirmative action has moved from being a series of varied programs to a serious constitutional issue. By the end of 2002, courts in different parts of the country had made conflicting rulings. One set of opinions allowed colleges to consider race in making admission decisions if their aim was to have a more diverse student body. Other courts asserted that race cannot be a factor, since giving preference to one group discriminates against others. By the time this edition of Two Nations is in your hands, parties to the cases will have asked the Supreme Court to choose between these principles and positions.
Copyright © 1992, 1995, 2003 by Andrew Hacker
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