Cover image for The bridge over the racial divide : rising inequality and coalition politics


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E185.615 .W545 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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In a work that will significantly influence the political discussion with respect to race and class politics, one of the country's most influential sociologists focuses on the rising inequality in American society and the need for a progressive, multiracial political coalition to combat it. The culmination of decades of distinguished scholarship, The Bridge over the Racial Divide brilliantly demonstrates how political power is disproportionately concentrated among the most advantaged segments of society and how the monetary, trade, and tax policies of recent years have deepened this power imbalance. Developing his earlier views on race in contemporary society, William Julius Wilson gives a simple, straightforward, and crucially important diagnosis of the problem of rising social inequality in the United States and details a set of recommendations for dealing with it.

Wilson argues that as long as middle- and working-class groups are fragmented along racial lines, they will fail to see how their combined efforts could change the political imbalance and thus promote policies that reflect their interests. He shows how a vision of American society that highlights racial differences rather than commonalities makes it difficult for Americans to see the need and appreciate the potential for mutual political support across racial lines.

Multiracial political cooperation could be enhanced if we can persuade groups to focus more on the interests they hold in common, including overcoming stagnating and declining real incomes that relate to changes in the global economy, Wilson argues. He advocates a cross-race, class-based alliance of working-and middle-class Americans to pursue policies that will deal with the eroding strength of the nation's equalizing institutions, including public education, unions, and political structures that promote the interests of ordinary families. He also advocates a reconstructed "affirmative opportunity" program that benefits African Americans without antagonizing whites. Using theoretical arguments and case studies, Wilson examines how a broad-based political constituency can be created, sustained, and energized. Bold, provocative, and thoughtful, The Bridge over the Racial Divide is an essential resource in considering some of the most pressing issues facing the American public today.

This book is a copublication with the Russell Sage Foundation.

Author Notes

William Julius Wilson, an American sociologist, received his Ph.D. from Washington State University in 1966 and teaches at the University of Chicago. His scholarly work, written from both historical and sociological perspectives, has concentrated on the condition of African Americans living in inner cities, especially the underclass. He stresses urban divisions separating the middle class from the poor. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Whites are tired of complaints about racism--particularly as they lose economic ground--and agitated by their truthfulness. Blacks bridle at continued discrimination despite whatever irritation their complaints cause whites. Most Americans have reconciled themselves to the hopelessness of the situation and respond accordingly. To bridge the racial gap, Wilson thoughtfully asserts the need for coalition building with a focus on nonrace-specific issues, although this runs counter to the black leadership tradition. The issues he considers are economic globalization and the surge of technology, the true causes of both the recent economic surge and the maldistribution of gains, making them natural points for coalition. Wilson's call for selective (rather than benign) neglect of the race issue acknowledges the black community's concern about the erosion of affirmative action, which has become a negative buzz phrase for many whites. He analyzes the term, from quotas at one extreme and the ideal of equal opportunity at the other, emphasizing the middle ground concept of affirmative opportunity. This path of coalition building is paved with obstacles, but it appears to be the most progressive path available in the current maze of racial antagonism in the U.S. An excellent work. --Vernon Ford

Choice Review

Wilson argues that overcoming obstacles to creating and maintaining multiracial coalitions and other political combinations will require a thorough understanding of the social, economic, and political reasons that cause these divides to occur. These conditions have given rise to conservative political messages against people of color and other underrepresented groups in the U S. Wilson uses empirical evidence to bolster his concerns. In light of this evidence Wilson also presents ideas on how people can rise above this problem. He further argues that, while African Americans can legitimately look at what has yet to be accomplished, they would benefit from creating coalitions with other like-minded nonminority peoples. Wilson proposes that groups such as the Industrial Areas Foundations can aid in coalition building across racial and ethnic lines. This volume provides one side of the issue. Books by Manning Marable and Derrick Bell present yet another side. Useful for upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. P. Barton-Kriese; Indiana University East