How did Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944) reflect and anticipate trends in American racial relations?

Gunnar Myrdal's book An American Dilemma juxtaposed the concepts of the "American Dream" and American democracy against the conditions faced by African Americans in the 1940s. He concluded that, on almost every level, economic, political, and social discrimination against African Americans represented a major quandary for the United States. Civil rights activists, less than a decade later, would attempt to make the same point through protest as Myrdal made with his book.

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First, Gunnar Myrdal published An American Dilemma in 1944. The date is significant, because it was published in the midst of World War II, a struggle which saw the United States emerge as the world's greatest power. It acted as a self-proclaimed force for democracy around the world. In this...

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First, Gunnar Myrdal published An American Dilemma in 1944. The date is significant, because it was published in the midst of World War II, a struggle which saw the United States emerge as the world's greatest power. It acted as a self-proclaimed force for democracy around the world. In this context, An American Dilemma posed serious questions for the nation.

On every front, Myrdal showed that the condition of African Americans was a rebuke to American values and self-image. Politically, African Americans could not vote in the South, and whites routinely went to the polls to elect racist candidates. Socially, Jim Crow—de jure in the South and de facto in the North—established a system of segregation that was intended to promote white supremacy. Economically, most African Americans did not have access to the "American Dream," since they were trapped living in poverty.

Civil rights leaders would make many of these same points less than ten years after the book was published. Legally, they sought to demonstrate in the courts how segregation and inequality was incompatible with the US Constitution. They used their nonviolent protests and speeches to underscore the ways that Jim Crow was a rebuke to claims that the United States was a great democracy. They pushed for avenues to economic improvement, particularly education. Even as Myrdal's book was being published, they pushed their way into government jobs created by the war.

In short, Myrdal attempted to underline the disconnect between what he called the "American creed," namely that everyone was equal and had an equal chance of success, and the race-based discrimination that prevented true equality. Civil rights leaders used precisely the same tactic.

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