Two Nations

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Andrew Hacker’s new book has received front-page coverage in THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW and rave reviews in NEWSWEEK and other sources. Its publisher claims that “TWO NATIONS is the first book since Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 classic AN AMERICAN DILEMMA to offer an up-to-date and profound analysis of the conditions that keep blacks and whites dangerously far apart in their ability to participate in the American Dream.”

TWO NATIONS does indeed stand out from the general run of books about race relations, but its distinction lies elsewhere than its accolades might suggest. What most distinguishes this book is its profoundly racist character. On page after page Hacker offers unsupported and unsupportable generalizations about “white America” and white attitudes toward blacks. These generalizations are not tangential to Hacker’s argument. On the contrary, wherever there are problems in the black community—unemployment, poor academic achievement, a soaring crime rate—Hacker finds the same explanation: white racism.

Even readers who have been following Hacker’s project over the last five years as segments of it have appeared in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS may be surprised to see just how one-sided is his analysis of the crisis conditions in the black community today. Do many employers prefer to avoid hiring black workers? Well, “It is not easy to buckle down to a job when you have to expend so much of your energy contriving a ’white’ personality—or at least the appearance of one—so as to put your white workmates at ease.” This sort of special pleading typifies Hacker’s approach to every issue he discusses.

With the exception of David Duke’s backers, no one who looks at America’s inner cities will fail to acknowledge the destructive legacy of racism. But to lay the blame for all the ills of black Americans on white racism, past and present, as Hacker does, is to insult blacks and whites alike, depriving them of their full humanity.