An American Dilemma Revisited

An American Dilemma Revisited: Race Relations in a Changing World

Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 360
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    An American Dilemma Revisited
    Book Description:

    "This book must be regarded as a greatly important contribution to race relations literature. It is invaluable for the manner in which authors combine the lessons of history with insightful analyses of empirical data to demonstrate patterns of change over the past fifty years in the status of African Americans... Provocative and stimulating reading." -James E. Blackwell, University of Massachusetts, Boston

    "Presents a wide-ranging reanalysis of the seminal work done by Gunnar Myrdal in 1944, examining virtually every issue that Myrdal noted as relevant to the American race question. In so doing, Clayton and his contributors have brought the matter up to date and shown how the American dilemma continues into the twenty-first century." -Stanford M. Lyman, Florida Atlantic University

    Fifty years after the publication ofAn American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal's epochal study of racism and black disadvantage,An American Dilemma Revisitedagain confronts the pivotal issue of race in American society and explores how the status of African Americans has changed over the past half century. African Americans have made critical strides since Myrdal's time. Yet despite significant advances, strong economic and social barriers persist, and in many ways the plight of African Americans remains as acute now as it was then. Using Myrdal as a benchmark, each essay analyzes historical developments, examines current conditions, and investigates strategies for positive change within the core arenas of modern society-political, economic, educational, and judicial.

    The central question posed by this volume is whether the presence of a disproportionately African American underclass has become a permanent American phenomenon. Several contributors tie the unevenness of black economic mobility to educational limitations, social isolation, and changing workplace demands. The evolution of a more suburban, service-dominated economy that places a premium on advanced academic training has severely constrained the employment prospects of many urban African Americans with limited education.An American Dilemma Revisitedargues that there is hope to be found both in black educational institutions, which account for the largest proportion of advanced educational degrees among African Americans, and in the promotion of black community enterprises.

    An American Dilemma Revisitedasks why the election of many African American leaders has failed to translate into genuine political power or effective policy support for black issues. The rise in membership in Pentecostal and Islamic denonimations suggests that many blacks, frustrated with the political detachment of more traditional churches, continue to pursue more socially concerned activism at a local level. Three essays trace social disaffection among blacks to a legacy of police and judicial discrimination. Mistrust of the police persists, particularly in cities, and black offenders continue to experience harsher treatment at all stages of the trial process.

    As Myrdal's book did fifty years ago,An American Dilemma Revisitedoffers an insightful look at the continuing effects of racial inequality and discrimination in American society and examines different means for removing the specter of racism in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-124-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Obie Clayton Jr.
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xxii)
    Sissela Bok

    An American Dilemma Revisitedwas the title my father Gunnar Myrdal had given to his final, unfinished book. His aim was to reexamine all that had gone into writingAn American Dilemma,to reevaluate its conclusions in the light of how race relations in America had evolved in the ensuing decades, and “to express my worried thoughts about the future development.”¹

    But the task proved too great. In 1985, at the age of eighty-seven, increasingly immobile and blind, and unable to carry out or even oversee the research and the revisions that he knew were needed, he decided not to...

  6. Introduction
    (pp. xxiii-xxx)
    Obie Clayton Jr. and Wilbur Watson

    An American Dilemma Revisitedgrew out of a symposium hosted in 1994 by Morehouse College and the Morehouse Research Institute. The symposium was conceived in memory of Gunnar Myrdal, author of the monumental studyAn American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy(1944), from which the symposium drew its title. In his classic work, Myrdal developed a detailed historical, social, and economic inquiry into the status and life chances of African Americans during the period between the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II. One of the products of the Morehouse symposium is this volume featuring essays...

  7. 1 An American Dilemma Revisited
    (pp. 1-24)
    Stephen Graubard

    In choosing to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Gunnar Myrdal’sAn American Dilemma,Russell Sage Foundation is doing more than simply celebrating the magisterial scholarly work of another age. It is asserting, simply but emphatically, that no issue is more crucial to the country today than the relations between the races—relevant to every aspect of American life—and that few matters of such moment are being discussed less candidly, less openly. Some, imagining that their sexual freedom is a faithful index of the country’s twentieth century liberation from Puritan and Victorian mores, little realize how reticent...

  8. 2 The Political Situation and Power Prospects of African Americans in Gunnar Myrdal’s Era and Today
    (pp. 25-44)
    Robert A. Dentler

    Gunnar Myrdal’sAn American Dilemma(1944) stands as a monumental achievement in the annals of social scientific reporting on race relations. It has been severely criticized for embodying a white liberal ideology and for denigrating African Americans by portraying them as mere reactors to institutional white racism rather than as creators and carriers of a great subcultural tradition. It has outlasted those criticisms, valid as they are, however, and continues to be read, studied, and used in policy interpretations to this day.An American Dilemmaalso provides us with a good baseline from which to examine change or the absence...

  9. 3 Black–White Residential Segregation: The Views of Myrdal in the 1940s and Trends of the 1980s
    (pp. 45-75)
    Reynolds Farley

    Writing five decades ago, Gunnar Myrdal asserted that housing segregation involved discrimination, representing a deviation from free market competition for housing, thereby curtailing opportunities for blacks. He explained why this segregation had detrimental effects:

    It permits any prejudice on the part of public officials to be freely vented on Negroes without hurting whites .... It is in Southern cities that Negroes receive few neighborhood facilities such as paved streets, adequate sewage disposal, street lights and so on. [p. 618]

    Based on more recent studies, Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton (1993) argue that black–white residential segregation is the key missing...

  10. 4 Shifting Challenges: Fifty Years of Economic Change Toward Black–White Earnings Equality
    (pp. 76-111)
    Ronald F. Ferguson

    When Gunnar Myrdal publishedAn American Dilemmain 1944, three of every four Negroes in the United States lived in the South. The reigning ideology in the South, mirrored to a substantial degree in the nation at large, was white supremacy. Decade after decade, the leading proponents of white supremacy decreed that Negroes had neither the right nor the human potential to participate on a par with whites in the economic and political life of the nation. White citizens broadly subscribed to this dictum, as did many blacks. Consequently, a full eight decades after the formal abolition of slavery, social,...

  11. 5 The Undesirables, America’s Underclass in the Managerial Age: Beyond the Myrdal Theory of Racial Inequality
    (pp. 112-137)
    William Darity Jr.

    In 1944, Gunnar Myrdal opened Chapter 17 ofAn American Dilemma,“The Mechanics of Economic Discrimination As a Practical Problem,” with the following decidedly pessimistic commentary:

    The picture of the economic situation of the Negro people is dark. The prospects for the future ... are discouraging. The main practical problem must be how to open up new possibilities for Negroes to earn a living by their labor.¹

    Today, we must ask whether blacks will be significant participants in twenty-first century America. Opening up jobs from which African Americans have been excluded by historic and ongoing discriminatory practices remains an important...

  12. 6 Myrdal Revisited: The Negro in Business, the Professions, Public Service, and Other White Collar Occupations
    (pp. 138-168)
    John Sibley Butler

    In the years since Gunnar Myrdal published his work, there have been many changes in the area of race relations. A massive civil rights movement provided people of African descent with the basic constitutional rights that other Americans had enjoyed for centuries. Racial integration of housing, though varying across the country, has been accomplished. Despite all of the changes,An American Dilemmastands as a baseline for the analysis of race relations in America. The purpose of this chapter is to reexamine Myrdal’s analysis of business and professional African Americans.

    When Myrdal examined the collected data on the Negro in...

  13. 7 The Miseducation of Black America: Black Education Since An American Dilemma
    (pp. 169-190)
    Walter R. Allen and Joseph O. Jewell

    Published in 1944, amid the massive destruction and racial genocide of World War II, Gunnar Myrdal'sAn American Dilemmastood not only as a challenge to America’s democratic principles but also as a firm testament to their promise, conceiving of the American race problem as a moral dilemma in the very heart of the nation’s democratic ethos. For him an important part of this dilemma, perhaps the key to its solution, lay in the American system of education: education represented a vehicle for combating racist beliefs as well as for improving black people’s material conditions. Myrdal viewed increased educational opportunity...

  14. 8 The Church and Social Change: Accommodation, Moderation, or Protest
    (pp. 191-208)
    Obie Clayton Jr.

    When I Began my work on this chapter, I considered revisiting Chapter 40 ofAn American Dilemmaand simply giving an updating on the “Negro Church.” However, this would not have done justice to Gunnar Myrdal, and I found myself examining the social conditions surrounding the black church since Myrdal’s writings. Readers should not expect to find anything here resembling Myrdal’s original study, but rather an attempt to analyze the contributions of organized religion and especially the black church in the area of social change and race relations from the 1940s to the present.

    We will not examine the cultural...

  15. 9 Justice for All: Still An American Dilemma
    (pp. 209-225)
    Susan Welch, Michael W. Combs, Lee Sigelman and Timothy Bledsoe

    Gunnar Myrdal’s analysis of “an American dilemma” focused on the so-called American Creed, a set of values that emphasize individual worth and liberty. In powerful language and with hundreds of chilling examples, Myrdal depicted the conflict between these values and the actual treatment of African Americans over the course of American history.¹

    In his chapters on justice, Myrdal highlighted a corollary to the American Creed, the idea that “Negroes are entitled to justice equally with all other people.”² This corollary was far from being universally accepted in 1944. Today it is far more widely accepted in principle, though far from...

  16. 10 “A Strange Atmosphere of Consistent Illegality”: Myrdal on “The Police and Other Public Contacts”
    (pp. 226-246)
    Samuel Walker

    Policing in the south, concluded Gunnar Myrdal, was marked by “a strange atmosphere of consistent illegality.” He found a pattern of systematic police lawlessness directed against African Americans.¹ The abuses included physical brutality, unjustified shootings, arrests without legal pretext, and failure to arrest whites who committed crimes against African Americans.

    Fifty years later some observers might argue that little has changed. Police misconduct, particularly the excessive use of force against racial minorities, remains a serious national problem. The widely broadcast videotape of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King on March 3,1991, made visible what many African Americans believe to...

  17. 11 Courts, Sentences, and Prisons
    (pp. 247-268)
    Cassia C. Spohn

    “The whole judicial system of courts, sentences and prisons in the South is overripe for fundamental reforms,” concluded Gunnar Myrdal inAn American Dilemma.¹ Relying primarily on anecdotal accounts of differential treatment of African Americans and whites in southern court systems, Myrdal documented widespread discrimination in assignment of counsel, bail setting, jury selection, court processing, and sentencing. Myrdal noted that although the danger of discrimination was greatest in lower state courts, where judges with limited education were more susceptible to the pressures of public opinion, it was found to some extent in all state courts in the South. He stated,...

  18. 12 The Dynamic Racial Composition of the United States
    (pp. 269-287)
    Antonio McDaniel

    In revisiting Myrdal’s work it is appropriate that we reconsider the basis that underlies the theoretical orientation of his original work. For Myrdal and his collaborators, the “Negro problem” is reduced to a problem of assimilation or amalgamation.An American Dilemmapresents the racial conflict in American society as a moral problem, a problem of the resistance to African amalgamation by European Americans.¹ The anti-amalgamation attitude of whites is seen as the obstacle to African Americans' assimilation. InAn American Dilemmathe problem is conceptualized in the context of amalgamation into white America. Race is viewed as a special case...

  19. 13 Gender and Social Inequality: The Prevailing Significance of Race
    (pp. 288-300)
    Doris Wilkinson

    In the perceptive appendix toAn American Dilemma,Gunnar Myrdal paused to clarify “a parallel to the Negro problem.” Concentrating on historical placement, status differentiation, and accompanying socially constructed attributes and behaviors, he interpreted what “marked” Americans of African ancestry in the United States. He observed that their position in the country’s racially framed stratification system was analogous to that of free white women since both were under the control of a white male patriarchy. Taking into account the historically racialized social location and treatment of African slaves, without making gender distinctions among them, Myrdal noted that the ironic paternalistic...

  20. References
    (pp. 301-314)
  21. Index
    (pp. 315-327)