REVIEWSrnAgainst thernPessimistsrnby Philip JenkinsrnAmerica in Black and WhiternOne Nation, Indivisible:rnRace in Modern Americarnby Stephan Themstrom andrnAbigail ThemstromrnNew York: Simon and Schuster;rn704 pp., $32.50rnAmerica in Black and White is an ambitiousrnproject, at once a massivelyrndetailed review of race relations this centuryrnand a provocative manifesto for thernfuture. As such, it demands comparisonrnwith Gunnar Myrdal’s An AmericanrnDilemma (1944), which did so much tornplace racial injustice at the center ofrnAmerican politics for decades to come.rnUnlike Myrdal’s, however, the Thernstroms’rnbook is neither a jeremiad nor arncall for national self-flagellation; describedrnby its authors as an optimisticrnwork, it has already been widely attackedrnfor its supposed complacency and callousrnracism. Yet it should be requiredrnreading for anyone interested in the nationalrn”dialogue” that Clinton has calledrnfor on race relations and that has acquiredrnmaterial form in his futile commissionrnon race.rnThe Thernstroms’ primary challengernto established wisdom is their emphasisrnon the progress blacks have made thisrncenturv, especially between 1940 andrn1970—before affirmative action policiesrnwere fully in place. As so often in history,rnwar was the decisive catalyst for crucialrnchange: the long defense boom beginningrnin 1940 significandy increasedrnlabor demand in Northern factories,rnwhile the many millions in uniform duringrnWorld War II and Korea meant thatrnemployers were forced to open job opportunitiesrnto groups hitherto excluded:rnabove all, to black Americans, most ofrnthem from the rural South. An additionalrnfactor was the virtual elimination ofrnimmigration between 1924 and 1965,rnwhen employers were unable to meetrntheir needs by drafting a cheap laborrnforce from Poland, Italy, China, or India.rnIn consequence, prospects for African-rnAmericans improved dramatically inrnthese years, whether in terms of income,rnhousing, education, or health. Blackrnprogress, moreoer, was overwhelming!}’rnaccomplished within the black community,rnunder the auspices of black doctors,rnblack clergy, black writers, and blackrnartists. The era offers an inspiring story ofrnself-reliance on the part of a people whornhad sunived lynching and segregation,rnhorrors which the authors make no attemptrnto conceal.rnThe Thernstroms lead us to reconsiderrnthe impact of the urban rioting of thern1960’s, now conventionally seen as a secondrnfirebell in the night to which whiternAmerica responded with critical socialrnlegislation. For the Thernstroms, riots inrnWatts, Detroit, and elsewhere mark thernend of a triumphant phase of improvement;rnthe causes of insurgency are discerniblernin a revolution of rising expectations,rnrather than in the hopeless povertyrnso often adduced. Concurrently, thernend of residential segregation meant thatrnthe skilled and energetic black middlernclasses could now abandon the discreternareas into which they had traditionallyrnpoured their energies. By the 1970’s, developmentsrnwere aggravated by the collapsernof traditional patterns of manufacturing,rnand thus of the cities in which thernolder industries were based. In a tragicrnversion of economic musical chairs,rnblacks, having succeeded their variousrnwhite ethnic predecessors in Americanrncities, were the ethnic group dominatingrnthe nation’s urban centers at the timernwhen this economic disaster occurred.rnAs a result, they suffered more directlyrnthan other groups from the consequencesrnof social crisis, internecine violence,rnand epidemic drug abuse, all ofrnwhich were inevitabK’ attributed byrnwhites to the moral weaknesses characteristicrnof the black race. In this way thern”urban black underclass” was born, andrnwith it the attendant myths that divertedrnwhite attention from the achievementsrnof the black middle class, whose interestsrnand attitudes are generally congruentrnwith those of their white and Asianrnneighbors.rnThe story as told by the Thernstroms isrncertainly not one of uninterruptedrnprogress, but neither is it a tale of incessantrnwoe in which the black spirit hasrnbeen crushed consistendy by systematicrnwhite oppression. Nor is the record ofrngovernment intervention an account ofrnnoble officialdom rescuing haplessrnblacks from the nastiest excesses of thernwhite power structure. Why therefore dornwe hear so little about black achievements,rnand so much about the cripplingrnclimate of racism that supposedl) pervadesrnthe national life? One reason isrnthat the civil rights establishment has arnpowerful vested interest in projecting arngrim image. As in any decolonizedrnAfrican state, the new black regimes inrncities like Detroit or Washington justifvrntheir existence by constant reference tornthe brutal tyrannies from which theyrnhave rescued their subjects, preservingrnhegemony through an elaborately cultivatedrnnationalistic mythology and arnrepository of symbols and keywords.rnProgress, the black leaders insist, can onlyrnbe made through corporate racial solidarityrnsymbolized by a charismatic leadershiprnthat intuitively feels and expressesrnthe spirit of the race —assumptionsrnwhich uncannil)- recall the Europeanrnfascisms of the 1930’s. The misconceptionrnis honestiy entertained, though in arnfew cases it certainly provides a comprehensivernand nearly infallible means to escapernthe consequences of scandal orrnmisdeed. The perpetuation of conceptualrnerror is largely the work of a whitedominatedrnmedia which immediatelyrnforfeit any limited critical faculties theyrnmight possess when entering the ethnicrnminefields—for instance, a year or so agornduring the nonexistent wave of racist arsonrnattacks on black churches, whichrngalvanized public opinion for a fewweeksrnand which the Thernstroms dismissrnfor the charade it was.rnThe authors’ historical learning givesrnthem a useful perspective on historicalrnevents. Fhe}’ know hov’ much and howrnlittle can be gleaned from historicalrnstatistics; at every stage the picture theyrnpresent is at odds with the accepted wisdom.rnTheir combination of multiple approachesrnand methods permits us to oc-rn26/CHRONICLESrnrnrn