Prejudice Across America

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1998, James Waller, a professor of social psychology at Whitworth College in Washington state, led a select group of upper middle-class white students on a study tour of twenty-two days, focusing on five minority groups: African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Jews, and Indians. The students visited Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.

In a well-organized itinerary, Waller took the students to lectures, historical landmarks, churches, and museums specializing in the history of ethnic injustices. In some instances the tours of cities were led by minorities with a militant perspective, and whenever possible Waller and the students tried to engage in conversations with members of minorities about “racial reconciliation.”

Two different kinds of material are interwoven throughout the book. First, Waller discusses his own reactions and the reactions of his students to the institutions and people they encountered. Secondly, Waller tells about the situations and the historical backgrounds of the various places they visited. The second aspect of the book, which is based on considerable reading and research, is especially interesting.

Prejudice Across America provides a number of insights into the nature of prejudice and contemporary race relations. Conservative readers will be irritated by the tone of the book, which tends to be somewhat dogmatic, preachy, and self-righteous. Also, Waller greatly minimizes the significance of economic class. The book would have been more interesting if he had included a visit to Appalachia or another region with large numbers of disadvantaged Americans of European ancestry.