The American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal called the problem of race in his classic 1944 book. More than half a century later, race remains the issue that dwarfs all others - the problem that doesn't get solved and won't go away. But in the decades since Myrdal wrote, much has changed, say the authors of America in Black and White. Progress - too little ackwledged - has been heartening. Pessimists talk of the permanence of racism, and say that things are as bad as ever. In fact, the authors show, the status of blacks has been transformed in recent decades, and there is going back. Problems remain, of course. But they will t be solved by traditional civil rights strategies, the authors argue. Affirmative action programs, for instance, do thing to help the black underclass. Racial preferences cant rescue the high school dropout who is too unskilled for the modern world of work. Racial progress ultimately depends on our common understanding that we are one nation, indivisible - that we sink or swim together, that black poverty impoverishes us all, and that black alienation eats at the nation's soul.
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.