The question of responsibility is the underlying premise behind the argument of race in America. Andrew Hacker tackles this controversial and often elusive issue in his book Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal.
Noone will argue that racism in America is as old as the country itself. It was racism that almost totally annihilated the original inhabitants of this land, the American Indians. It was racism that lead Europeans to bring Africans from Africa to the New World for the slave trade at the rate of 100,000 per year for 200 years. It was that same racism that amounted to some 20 million human beings being displaced between America and the West Indies. It is that same racism that makes America, Two Nations, one Black, one white separate, hostile, and undeniably unequal.
Andrew Hacker makes no excuse for the present condition of racial animosity in this country today. In fact he sets the tone for the entire book in the preface. The very first paragraph sets the tone for the entire book. He states that every one of us could write a book about race based on our autobiographical experiences. This statement in and within itself is not so profound. However by the third paragraph of the preface we begin to see hoe this issue of race has consumed Americans since day one. Hacker explains in the third paragraph that the subtitle, “Separate, Hostile, Unequal,” has several sources, however he uses it as a reflection of the conclusion presented by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in 1968: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white, separate and unequal.”
Yet these two nations, these two separate societies, have existed from the beginning. Hacker quotes Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59), a French political writer and statesman (his work on the U.S. political system became a classic), as having noted this hostility a century and a half ago when he said “The most formidable of all ills that threaten the future of the union arises from the presence of a black population upon its territory.”
I commend Andrew Hacker for taking the painstakingly obvious stance that I have heard muttered a million times in my own neighborhood, “things for black folks ain’t changed much.” I could conclude my summation of Andrew Hacker’s book with that latter quote, however I will attempt to write an objective review of the entire book (as if to say that one can write about this topic and remain objective!).
The basic premise of racism is the belief in or advocacy of the superiority of a given group, people, or nation, usually one’s own, on the basis of racial differences having no scientific validity. This is the belief that Hacker states is at the very core of white Americans. He states that the “Africa” in African-American is in total contrast with the very essence of the European structure of technology and science, of administrative systems based on linear modes of reasoning.
How often have we heard conservative white Americans make the statement “My grandfather or father came here from the old country (usually referring to some European country) and worked hard and saved every possible penny and pulled himself up by the bootstraps and made something of/for himself. He didn’t need any government assistance or hand- out, he did it the old fashion way, hard work.” These statements when made are usually in reference to the African- American minority group. The implication being that African-Americans have not made it due to some innate fault of their own. These statements reek of racist rhetoric because the obvious implications are that citizens of African origin are somehow inferior to citizens of European origins.
Andrew Hacker cleverly and courageously exposes the ugly truth about white Americans that only a member of that so-called privileged class could do. In many of his assertions he backs them up with unimpeachable facts. Case in point. Hacker takes a look at the living arrangements between the races. He states that hardly any whites will live in a neighborhood or community where half the residents are black. So directly or indirectly, white Americans have the power to decide the racial composition of communities and neighborhoods.
He goes on to point out that white Americans have become very skillful at using less blatant methods to prevent residential integration from passing what he calls a certain “tipping” point. The sad truth to this is that whites won’t even allow the Black proportion in a neighborhood to reflect the proportion of Blacks in the country. Hacker states that once the number of Blacks in a neighborhood begin to reach proportions of somewhere between 10 and 20 percent whites begin what we all know as urban flight!
Hacker touches on several issues in his twelve chapter book. While I will not address each and every chapter I will take a look at some of the more interesting points. In chapter nine of his book he looks at segregated schooling. He makes an interesting point that illustrates the hypocrisy of many white students. For many black undergraduates who attend major universities, until relatively recently knew they would find few classmates of their own race. Most spent a lonely four years, whether in the classroom or residence halls. However white students are quick to berate Black students for sticking closely together, especially at campus dining tables or for forming their own organizations.
The hypocrisy here is that these same white students ignore the fact that they themselves invariably sit at “white tables,” and select their friends on the basis of shared temperaments or interests. Another fact ignored by white students is that many college campuses are located in communities that tend to be virtually all white. Black students who seek to do a little shopping in these communities find themselves objects of wary attention. On one hand whites don’t particularly want to be bothered by Blacks, however become concerned when Blacks get together without them.
Overall this book made me angry, it didn’t teach me anything that I didn’t already know. However it did teach me that the plight of the Black community isn’t acknowledged unless addressed by a white person. The claims that Hacker makes in this book are nothing new, however it appears that it was not given legitimacy until he wrote this book in 1992. I will say that he points out the hypocrisy of white America with a fervor that is not often seen.
Reviewed of TWO NATIONS–BLACK AND WHITE, SEPARATE, HOSTILE, UNEQUAL, Andrew Hacker (Ballantine, 1992)
by Nicole Besse (1995)
The phrases, “Land of the free…” “Liberty and justice for all…” and “All men are created equal…” are recognizable and historic phrases known to all Americans, but are they really an honest description of the United States of America? In his book TWO NATIONS, Andrew Hacker argues that for white Americans in the U.S. the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Declaration of Independence ring true, but if you are black, those words say nothing of what really goes on in America.
Hacker’s book TWO NATIONS uses statistical evidence mostly from the U.S. Census Bureau to prove that the U.S. is a nation of inequality, hostility and separatism. Hacker names his book using Benjamin Disraeli’s remarks on the rich and poor of Victorian England, but applies them to the “two major races in America today”(vii). The quote he uses in the preface of TWO NATIONS from Disraeli sums his entire book,
“Two nations, between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each others habit’s, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.”
In ways that Bell could not convince me with his make-believe chronicles, Hacker was able to with hard facts and statistics. His book opened my eyes to the real dimensions of race and how it controls lives, builds walls and divides American society. Hacker analyzes race in almost every aspect of life, from education to crime and from family life to politics. Hacker shows race as it really is; a set of categories devised by those in power for means of discrimination, domination and humiliation.
In addition to many other topics, Hacker discusses the racial income gap and how being black means having less economic opportunities. Hacker argues that race seems to play a role in how people fare financially. He uses statistics to show that the overall earnings of blacks tend to be lower than that of whites, even in cases where blacks and whites have the same level of education. Income ratios would not improve even if black families had the same number of single parents and married couples that white households do. Hacker states, “…emulating the white family structure would only close about half of the income gap”(95).
Hacker argues further that poverty for blacks is seen as a natural outgrowth of their culture, but for whites as atypical and inadvertent. Hacker goes on to talk about the preoccupation of society with “black crime,” but the tendency of society to forget “white crime.” Once again Hacker analyzes the double-standard that applies to blacks and whites in American society. He does not discount the fact that blacks are responsible for a large ratio of violent crimes, but says the problem is societal not racial.
Society ignores “white crimes,” such as embezzling, because violent crimes such as murder, rape and robbery which are predominantly “black crimes are more dangerous. This is in fact true, but embezzlement is a serious crime that is not being given the attention it needs. A harm is done to society regardless if it was a black who committed the crime or a white, regardless of whether money was stolen or a store was robbed, why separate crime by race?
Hacker ends his book with a chapter on politics in which he illustrates that blacks have relatively little political power with which to change things. Blacks he argues, are not easily organized because they are “preoccupied with personal problems”(200). Also, blacks have a limited effect on political leaders because most lawmakers have few if any black residents in their constituencies.
Hacker continues by saying that the political climate has changed since 1975; that attitudes of white voters willing to support measures aimed at helping blacks have changed. “At the most visible level, growing numbers of white people are expressing misgivings over how black people are conducting themselves. Along with complaining about welfare dependency and violent crime, more and more whites have come out against preferential programs, and increasingly condemn blacks for casting their race as victims who have no control over their condition”(201).
Whatever the case, a huge wall exists in our society and it only exists because of race. Racial divisions are tearing America apart and unless something is done to remedy the hostility between blacks and whites things can only get worse. “Is it right to impose on members of an entire race a lesser start in life, and then to expect from them a degree of resolution that has never been demanded from your own life?”(219)