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The American Non-Dilemma

Racial Inequality Without Racism

The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism

Publication Year: 2012

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s seemed to mark a historical turning point in advancing the American dream of equal opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race. Yet 50 years on, racial inequality remains a troubling fact of life in American society and its causes are highly contested. In The American Non-dilemma, sociologist Nancy DiTomaso convincingly argues that America’s enduring racial divide is sustained more by whites’ preferential treatment of members of their own social networks than by overt racial discrimination. Drawing on research from sociology, political science, history, and psychology, as well as her own interviews with a cross-section of non-Hispanic whites, DiTomaso provides a comprehensive examination of the persistence of racial inequality in the post-Civil Rights era. DiTomaso sets out to answer a fundamental question: if overt institutionalized racism has largely receded in the United States, why does racial inequality remain a national problem? Taking Gunnar Myrdal’s classic work on America’s racial divide, The American Dilemma, as her departure point, DiTomaso focuses on “the white side of the race line.” To do so, she interviewed a sample of working-class whites about their life histories, political views, and general outlook on racial inequality in America. She finds that while the vast majority of whites profess strong support for civil rights and equal opportunity regardless of race, they continue to pursue their own group-based advantage, especially in the labor market. This “opportunity hoarding,” as DiTomaso calls it, leads to substantially improved life outcomes for whites due to their greater access to social resources from family, neighborhoods, schools, churches, and other institutions with which they are engaged. At the same time, the subjects of her study continue to harbor strong reservations about public policies—such as affirmative action—intended to ameliorate racial inequality. In effect, they accept the principles of civil rights but not the implementation of policies that would bring about greater racial equality. DiTomaso also examines how whites understand the persistence of racial inequality in a society where whites are, on average, the advantaged racial group. Most whites see themselves as part of the solution rather than part of the problem with regard to racial inequality, but, due to the unacknowledged favoritism they demonstrate toward other whites, DiTomaso finds that they are at best uncertain allies in the fight for racial inequality. Weaving together research on both race and class, along with the life experiences of DiTomaso’s interview subjects, The American Non-dilemma provides a compelling exploration of how racial inequality is reproduced in today’s society, how people come to terms with the issue in their day-to-day experiences, and what these trends may signify in the contemporary political landscape.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page

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p. 3-3


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p. 4-4


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pp. v-vi

Tables and Figures

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pp. vii-ix

About the Author

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pp. xi-12

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pp. xiii-xv

I want to thank many people for their help and support in the many years that this study has been in the making. I especially want to thank Eric Wanner and the Russell Sage Foundation for both financial support and encouragement in the development of this research, as well as for forbearance while I expanded the project. I am also...

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pp. xvii-xxv

Growing up in a white, working-class family in the 1950s Midwest, I gave very little thought to and was rarely confronted with issues of racial inequality. Instead, I was interested in issues of class inequality and the future effects of economic changes on blue-collar workers. I have vague memories from high school of knowing that race...

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1. Introduction: Racial Inequality Without Racism

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pp. 1-45

When Gunnar Myrdal wrote those words in the early 1940s, the United States was in the midst of World War II and the outcome was not yet known.1 One of the central themes of Myrdal’s famous book An American Dilemma (1944) was that if the United States emerged successfully from the war, it would not be able to assume...

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2. Jobs, Opportunities, and Fairness: The Stakes of Equal Opportunity

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pp. 46-66

These working-class men told important stories that revealed a great deal about what is at stake for those who are subjected to the uncertainties of the labor market. Further, the contrast in their life situations highlights both what being protected from market competition means for many white workers and how difficult it is sometimes...

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3. Community, Networks, and Social Capital

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pp. 67-100

This blue-collar worker from New Jersey got help throughout his career from people he knew in the neighborhood, on the job, or through leisure activities. His mother had a college degree, and his father had attended some college classes but worked in a blue-collar job. The interviewee was not all that interested in school...

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4. The American Dream: Individualism and Inequality

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pp. 101-136

According to two-thirds of the interviewees in this study, everybody can make it, no matter what, because this is America, because everyone has the same opportunity, because there is something for everyone, because only those who give up fail, because they have heard stories that prove the point, because they have experienced it...

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5. The Transformation of Post–Civil Rights Politics: Race, Religion, Class, and Culture

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pp. 137-173

The civil rights movement disrupted the institutional patterns by which whites lived their lives. Although busing induced perhaps more resistance than other civil rights policies, any policies that affected white lives were resisted, and not only by those directly affected. Despite the general acceptance of the principles of civil rights that eventually...

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6. The White Electorate: The White Working Class, Religious Conservatives, Professionals, and the Disengaged

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pp. 174-219

The contrasting political views of these two Tennessee interviewees set the boundaries for the political differences among the interviewees in this study. The graphic designer felt that the government providing help for the poor just makes them weak and encourages irresponsibility, while the health care executive thought of the poor as members...

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7. Government, Taxes, and Welfare

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pp. 220-255

These interviewees were almost unique in recognizing that government provides a wide range of services, although the New Jersey homemaker’s acknowledgment of this fact was something of an afterthought. The Tennessee commercial artist was especially cognizant of the services that government provides because...

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8. Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity: Changes in Access to Education and Jobs for Women, African Americans, and Immigrants

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pp. 256-308

No topic demonstrates the divergence in the political views of the various sociopolitical groups in this study more than affirmative action, which is also the program that, in general, divides black and white opinion in the United States more than any other topic (Kinder and Sanders 1996). Yet, despite the passion around the subject of affirmative...

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9. Conclusion: Myrdal’s Dilemma and the American Non-Dilemma

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pp. 309-338

In his famous book An American Dilemma, published in 1944, Gunnar Myrdal predicted that America would eventually solve its racial problems because of the incompatibility between the commitment of Americans to what he called the American creed and the existence of racial inequality. He defined the American creed...

Appendix A

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pp. 339-351

Appendix B

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pp. 352-364


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pp. 365-375


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pp. 377-389


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pp. 391-403

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447898
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871540805

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Civil rights.
  • African Americans -- Economic conditions.
  • Equality -- United States.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Racism -- United States.
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