Mitchell Duneier, sociologist
Gunnar Myrdal’s massive sociological study AN AMERICAN DILEMMA (1944) viewed the “negro problem” as something that could never be understood solely from data on the living conditions of blacks, but as a phenomenon of the power of the majority. It was a moral situation in which there were conflicting values both within the white population and, importantly, within the white individuals themselves.
If there were no changes, Myrdal predicted riots. “America can no longer view its Negroes as a patient, submissive minority,” he writes. “They will organize for defense and attack. … they have the advantage that they can fight with all their hearts. “
Myrdal perceptively noted that the average white Northerner did not understand racism as something he or she took part in every day. But he also argued that whites are deeply concerned about the contradiction between their egalitarian principles and their attitudes towards black citizens. This was the “American dilemma”.
This great book has a lot of value, but more can be learned today from Myrdal’s naivety. At the time of the civil rights movement, a new generation of critics had realized that the whites Myrdal had interviewed – perhaps like many today who are rushing to make public statements or take part in multiracial rallies – were still perfectly able to speak divide and act that live with moral dissonance.
Valeria Luiselli, Writer and essayist
So-called Third World problems – hunger, poverty, violence – are often explained as the result of certain “political cultures” that are endemic in certain nations. This narrative is partly true, but also reductionistic. All countries interact with other countries, and most “developing countries” must maintain unequal relationships with major powers, which they systematically abuse through military intervention, economic sanctions, or unequal treatment. The border areas between Mexico and the United States are a clear and moving example of this relationship. in the THE FEMICIDE MACHINE (2012) Sergio González Rodríguez focuses on Ciudad Juárez across the border with El Paso, Texas, where the rate of feminicide increased dramatically in the early 1990s after decades of mutually agreed industrialization programs that led to NAFTA. “The Femicide Machine” discusses politics of killing women because they are women, not only as part of the simplification of Mexican culture, but as a result of the economic interactions between Mexico and the United States and the geopolitical conditions that fuel them.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr., professor
I reach for James Baldwins these days NO NAME ON THE STREET (1972), his first book after Dr. King’s murder that broke him. This memory, shadowed by sadness and trauma, is as fragmented as Baldwin’s memories. “Much, much, much has been wiped out,” he writes, “only recently came back in confusing and untrustworthy flashes.” The book is also Baldwin’s attempt to grapple with America’s recent betrayal of blacks, and his desire to muster the energy and faith to keep fighting – to speak to the blacks to keep fighting. The prose is angry because Baldwin is badly wounded. If “The Fire Next Time” (1963) was prophetic, “No Name in the Street” was the billing.
Albert Woodfox, activist
I read The nature of prejudice (1954), by Gordon W. Allport, sometime in the 1970s when I was in prison. This book has had the greatest impact on my ability to understand the difference between prejudice and racism. Prejudice is a normal reaction to the unknown. Racism is a premeditated illness.