Posted on July 3, 2022

The Real American Dilemma

Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, January 1998

[Editor’s Note: This is Jared Taylor’s introduction to the book, The Real American Dilemma: Race, Immigration, and the Future of America, available at the American Renaissance store.]

This volume takes its name from Gunnar Myrdal’s hugely influential 1944 book, An American Dilemma. Funded by a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, it went through 25 printings — an astonishing record for a dense, 1,400-page work of sociology — before a second, “twentieth anniversary” edition was published in 1962. In 1966, Transaction Books brought out yet another anniversary edition (in two volumes) with a new introduction by Myrdal’s daughter, Sissela Bok, who emphasized her father’s commitment to changing human behavior by improving social institutions. No book, before or since, has ever had such an impact on how Americans think about race.

An American Dilemma by Gunnar Myrdal

For Myrdal, the dilemma lay in the contradiction between unequal treatment of blacks and the sweeping statement about human equality in the Declaration of Independence. In an attempt to resolve this dilemma, the Swedish economist established what have come to be the ground rules for discussing race relations in America. He asserted that race is a trivial matter, that people of all races share equally in all abilities, and that if non-whites do not succeed in American society it is because of white racism and oppression. If the book can be said to contain a key passage, it is surely this:

White prejudice and discrimination keep the Negro low in standards of living, health, education, manners and morals. This, in its turn, gives support to white prejudice. White prejudice and Negro standards thus mutually “cause” each other.

America had a race problem because whites oppressed blacks and then pointed to the consequences of oppression as reasons to justify oppression.

In the half century since the publication of An American Dilemma, the United States has accorded Myrdal’s analysis something close to sanctity. During the 1950s and 1960s, it enacted the entire civil rights program he had proposed. In 1965, Congress extended Myrdal’s racial thinking to a new area by passing the Immigration and Nationality Act, which abolished national-origins quotas, and, for the first time, opened the United States to large numbers of newcomers from the Third World. If race was a trivial matter and an unacceptable basis for discrimination at home, it could hardly be defended as a criterion for immigration.

Immigration Act of 1965

The signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965.

Since that time, large-scale immigration and racial integration — even forcible integration — have been defended in part because they promote “diversity.” A mixture of races, religions, cultures, and even languages is now thought to be an inherently good thing for a country, and if large-scale immigration and high birthrates among non-whites reduce whites to minority status in a few decades, this will simply be the welcome result of having understood the benefits of diversity. A demographically renewed America will be the final triumph of Myrdal’s view that race is a trivial matter.

The contributors to The Real American Dilemma believe that much of what Myrdal had to say was wrong, and that policies based on his analysis cannot work. Many of them believe that there has now been ample time to test these policies and that by even the most generous standard they have failed. It has been more than 30 years since the great triumphs of the civil rights era. Integration, anti-discrimination statues, abolition of anti-miscegenation laws, and even affirmative action — of which Myrdal never dreamed — have not rung in the rosy future he and his colleagues predicted. American race relations are as tortured as ever. At the same time, concentrations of immigrants have brought perplexing social problems to Miami, Los Angeles, and much of Texas, and even the most optimistic boosters of “diversity” are hard pressed to describe exactly what the benefits are or are likely to be.

Many whites are not waiting to find out. They are moving away from areas with large numbers of non-white immigrants to those parts of the country where whites are still a majority. Their behavior suggests the belief that the new, polyglot America will not be an improvement over the old one, and shows their unwillingness to live in a neighborhood — or perhaps even a nation — in which they are a racial minority.

The persistence of racial friction and continued white flight are practical, empirical challenges to the assumptions about race upon which Myrdal based his analysis. Likewise, at the theoretical level, the past half century has seen enormous advances in our scientific understanding of race, and we know that much of what Myrdal took for granted was simply wrong. And yet, the intellectual orthodoxy he helped establish remains as firmly entrenched as ever.

To be sure, there is an American dilemma. As Prof. Philippe Rushton points out in chapter one, there is a world-wide racial dilemma, but it does not take the form Myrdal described. Today, the American racial problem stems from a refusal to outgrow the narrow and unserviceable views that have failed to move the country forward. What passes for public discussion of the problem is a mechanical repetition of worn-out formulae that do not give solutions.

A different and more realistic view of race would include at least three elements. First, it would accept the evidence of our senses, and acknowledge that race is not a trivial matter. It has become fashionable to claim that race is an artificial social construct with no inherent meaning, but in the everyday thoughts and actions of millions of Americans it clearly means a great deal. In their choices of spouse, neighborhood, school, friends, and even hobbies and diversions, Americans commonly divide along racial lines.

A second step in a realistic understanding of race is to grapple honestly with the question of racial differences. It is well established that blacks and Hispanics have higher rates of crime, illegitimacy, poverty, and even death rates from most diseases than whites. This is generally taken as decisive evidence that American society is “racist.” At the same time, whites suffer from all these things at markedly higher rates than Asians but this is not taken to be evidence of anything at all. A realistic understanding of race must account for such apparent contradictions by accepting the possibility of biological as well as social factors.

There is now a vast body of evidence for an at least partially genetic explanation for group differences in ability and achievement. It is understandable that people should resist this view, with its unpleasant implications of genetic determinism. However, averting our eyes from the evidence has led to dangerous misdiagnoses. Since we have refused to accept even the possibility that the achievements of blacks and Hispanics (and, of course, Asians) are largely governed by differing levels of inherent ability, we have persisted in attributing low achievement among certain non-white groups to “Racism” and “oppression.”

Unfortunate attitudes and expectations may arise from this. For example, it is often proposed that our “racist” society teaches blacks, in particular, to “hate themselves,” and that this causes self-destructive and anti-social behavior. In fact, shocking as it may sound, our society is inadvertently teaching blacks to hate whites. When blacks are told repeatedly that their problems are caused by racist white people — policemen, bankers, judges, politicians, bureaucrats, doctors, journalists, employers — the natural reaction is to hate them. If the United States has a problem of real, visceral racial hatred, it is not one of whites hating blacks, but of blacks hating whites.

This is evident not just in the fiery speeches of Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, Sister Souljah, and Khalid Abdul Muhammad — which have no parallel in hostile statements by whites of anything like comparable stature. It is borne out in the cold statistics of interracial crime. When blacks commit violence they choose white victims more than half the time, which means there is more black-on-white crime than black-on-black. Violent white offenders choose black victims only 2.5 percent of the time. For every black mugged by a white, 24 whites are mugged by a black, and for every black woman raped by a white man, 200 white women are raped by black men. On a per capita basis, blacks commit four to five times as many of what are officially classified as “hate” crimes as whites. Statistics like these carry an alarming message: There may be violent consequences when society promotes hostility towards whites by insisting that “racism” is the cause of black failure.

The third element in a realistic understanding of race would be recognition that it is legitimate to resist demographic change. The shifting racial makeup of cities like Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, East St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. has profoundly affected the lives of their inhabitants. Much as we may be loathe to admit it, racial change produces social change. A largely Hispanic neighborhood is different from one that is largely white, black, or Asian, and it is perfectly natural that people who have grown up in a “white” environment should wish to live and rear their children in one. There is nothing sinister about the desire to preserve the distinctive character of one’s environs or nation. Every people in every age has done this.

It is common to insist that racial diversity is inherently good, but if it were, Americans would practice it spontaneously. It would not require constant cheer-leading, bullying, and the heavy hand of government enforcement. Even if the problem is that white Americans are just too simple-minded to recognize the value of diversity, it is strangely authoritarian to force it on them. Even more perplexing is a goal of “diversity” and racial dilution for whites that no one seems to promote for non-whites. Policies must be consistent if they are to have validity and gain real support rather than lip service.

To summarize, a successful analysis must recognize that race matters, and that it may be impossible to build a society in which is can be made to note matter. Our challenge is to find workable, humane solutions based on a realistic understanding rather than on error or wishful thinking.

Breaking the Taboo

Sentiment to this effect is steadily growing, but it finds few opportunities for expression. This is because the Myrdal analysis has been an accepted part of the intellectual landscape for so long that many people consider it unassailable. Race is, in fact, the great taboo. There may be no other subject about which one can investigate the data, reach a conclusion, express it thoughtfully, and find oneself denounced not merely as mistaken but as morally suspect.

Conventional thinking about race has therefore become a little like a religion, complete with dogma and excommunication of free-thinkers. This obviously stifles debate. People know that certain views about race will prompt damaging accusations of “racism,” so they keep their opinions to themselves. The tragedy is that if there is any subject about which America needs the greatest possible candor and freedom of expression it is race. Race relations have always been the nation’s greatest challenge, and are the backdrop to nearly every worrying front-page story about crime, illegitimacy, illiteracy, school failure, or welfare dependency. If we are not free to question current assumptions about race we will continue to blunder down a path that shows no sign of leading to a better future. In a liberal society, suppression of dissent of any kind is suspect; suppression of dissent on a subject of central national importance is a crisis that is, itself, an American dilemma.

This book is a volume of dissent. Its contributors have thought very carefully about the vital questions of our time and have reached conclusions that violate intellectual orthodoxy. All have, to some degree, paid a price for doing so; in chapter two, Samuel Francis describes some of the unpleasant consequences of dissent.

Every chapter of this book except the last is based on a presentation given at a conference on race and immigration held from May 25th through 27th, 1996, in Louisville, Kentucky. The conference was sponsored by American Renaissance, a monthly newsletter about racial matters, of which I am editor. A similar conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1994, and reactions to both have been perfect illustrations of how dissent is met.

The earlier conference included in its audience Dinesh D’Souza of the American Enterprise Institute, who was a subscriber to American Renaissance. He listened to the speakers and circulated through the crowd, quietly gathering material for a book, The End of Racism, which was published in 1995.

I happened to acquire a pre-publication copy of the book and was astonished to find that Mr. D’Souza had invented passages from speeches (which had been recorded), and had deliberately falsified “quotations” from American Renaissance. He appeared to be trying to make the conference sound like a gathering of potentially violent boors. I and some of the other speakers wrote to Mr. D’Souza’s publisher. Books were already in print, but his distortions were so egregious that The Free Press took the extraordinary and costly step of destroying the entire first print run while Mr. D’Souza hurriedly made corrections. The text, as finally published, is still a caricature of the conference, but at least it no longer contains outright misquotations.

The End of Racism says many useful things about race; it repeats a great many arguments I made in Paved With Good Intentions, a book published three years earlier. Why, then, would Mr. D’Souza write dishonestly about the American Renaissance conference? He probably feared his book would be greeted with accusations of “racism” — which it was — and hoped to preempt them by saying, in effect, “Those guys are the racists: I’m a bold thinker.” Let us assume that Mr. D’Souza stooped to falsification and charges of “racism” only because he knew his book veered dangerously close to forbidden territory, and because he was desperate to avoid excommunication. By doing to others what he was afraid might be done to him, he showed how well he understood the power of racial orthodoxy and how much he feared the wrath of those who guard that orthodoxy.

By 1996, American Renaissance was better known. When Louisville’s guardians of orthodoxy learned that we planned to hold a conference in their town, they immediately set out to sabotage it. Activists first alerted the Louisville Courier-Journal to our plans, and the newspaper obliged with a long article about “white supremacists.” The local leftist weekly went even further, with a cover photograph of a man in a suit wearing a Klan hood, and the headline “Racists Without a Klu.”

The Courier-Journal ran several more worried articles about the conference and denounced it in editorials not just once but twice. “Purveyors of racial division are, at hear, scared people,” it observed, preferring to speculate about the mental state of dissenters rather than examine their views. The same editorial referred to a letter I had written to the editor as “a study in either semantic deception or self-delusion.” The local television was just as dismissive.

Activists visited the hotel where we planned to hold the conference, and put pressure on the general manager to cancel his contract with us. When he politely declined, demonstrators held “prayer vigils” in front of the hotel, asking God to interfere with our plans. Perhaps in the belief that God is more likely to answer prayers that are televised (or in the hope of bringing even greater pressure to bear on the hotel), they arranged for their vigils to be reported on the nightly news.

Two local high schools had planned proms at the same hotel on the same weekend. They were caught up in the hysteria about “white supremacy” and joined the chorus demanding that we be ejected. When the hotel once again said it would abide by its contract, the schools broke theirs. The proms had been planned for a completely different part of the hotel, ten floors away from the conference, and the students would not have even known we were there. What is more, one prom was scheduled for Friday night whereas the conference did not begin until Saturday night. Some ideas, it seems, are so loathsome they can contaminate an entire building, and do so 24 hours before the people who hold those views even arrive. It is hard to imagine a meeting on any other subject causing such a panic.

The conference itself was met with demonstrations, teach-ins, and more worried news coverage, none of which disrupted a marvelous series of lectures and discussions. Two of the speeches, mine and Samuel Francis,’ were broadcast repeatedly by C-SPAN.

I suspect that proceedings would have been a great disappointment to the demonstrators, who no doubt imagined all manner of fantastic goings-on. In fact, this moral ordeal for the city of Louisville amounted to nothing more than a few middle-aged men exchanging ideas — interesting and rarely articulated ideas, to be sure — but just a few men with ideas. We are pleased, in this volume, to offer these ideas to the judgement of the general public.

It should be unnecessary to have to explain what these ideas are not. However, as the press reaction in Louisville demonstrates, whenever debate strays from the guidelines, accusations of “white supremacy” are not long in following, so this charge may be worth a brief comment. First of all, “white supremacist” is probably the most pejorative, emotion-laden racial term that can be used against a white person. Because it is almost never defined, it is not usually a description of a way of thinking. Instead, it is a denunciation and is meant to intimidate and discredit.

Taken literally, the term “white supremacy” is presumably the belief that the white race is supreme — that it should dominate, rule or exploit other races. There is nothing in this volume or in American Renaissance that even remotely suggests this view.

White supremacy can be defined somewhat more mildly as a belief in the superiority of whites compared to other races. The consistent position taken at the conference and by people associated with American Renaissance is that the races are different, that these differences are reflected in society, and that they are a legitimate and necessary subject of study. Some differences are impossible to compare. There is no scale on which they can all be ranked so as to draw across-the-board conclusions about superiority or inferiority.

It is certainly true that the major racial groups appear to differ in average levels of a number of important traits like intelligence and resistance to disease. However, if whites are “superior” to blacks in this respect, Asians are “superior” to whites. Indeed, during the discussion after Prof. Rushton’s lecture, one of the participants noted that if journalists were determined to call the conference supremacist they should call it “Asian supremacist.”

The purpose of investigating racial differences is not to justify preconceptions but to better understand mankind. If, despite obvious overlap, there are racial differences in average abilities and predilections by all means let us study them. They are likely to have important implications for all multi-racial societies, and there has never been a time in history when ignorance was better than knowledge. Those who would suppress dissent and discourage inquiry by making irresponsible charges only reveal their own prejudices.

Today, as I write these words, we are approximately half-way through a year-long initiative on race sponsored by President Bill Clinton. He has appointed an advisory board to investigate the status of race relations, sponsored White House discussions on affirmative action and hate crimes, and held a semi-public “town meeting” during which a few citizens aired their views. The initiative is to produce a final report that is to be the basis for building — to use the initiative’s full name — One America in the 21st Century.

The initiative is something of an irony. It recognizes that the presence in the United States of people of different races is a source of great tension. The initiative’s name implies that racial diversity and the frictions to which it gives rise could even threaten national unity. And yet the President has repeatedly called racial diversity one of America’s greatest strengths. Why does a “strength” require the sort of sustained national attention usually reserved for such things as drug addiction, AIDS, crime, or welfare dependency?

An additional irony is that this effort was initially billed as a frank dialogue that would grapple honestly with a difficult subject, but it has been anything but that. Even those who generally support the President on social issues have been disappointed by the initiative’s timid approach. When, in November 1997, the President’s advisory panel announced that it would not listen to criticism of affirmative action, even the generally liberal American Jewish Congress protested:

“If the presidential panel wants to talk only to itself, fine,” said AJC executive director Phil Baum, “but then don’t pretend that it is a ‘dialogue’ and don’t try to pass off its findings as a serious review of the possibilities.” It is becoming clear that the initiative will not venture beyond the clichés and emotional appeals that constitute conventional public discourse about race.

The President is to be congratulated for trying to do something about America’s oldest and most agonizing problem, but his initiative is unlikely to accomplish anything. It will file its report and then be forgotten, just like scores of other commissions, outreach programs, and blue-ribbon panels. The reason is that the initiative refuses to question the narrow assumptions of the Myrdal analysis — that race is unimportant, and that once the prejudices of a few ignorant or ill-intentioned whites are overcome, America will be a land of racial harmony.

I believe this analysis has remained unassailable for so long because so many people find it attractive. It inaugurated a half century of hope, policy-making, and idealism, and for the majority of Americans it would be immensely painful to conclude that the ideas that launched the civil rights movement may have been wrong. It is very, very difficult to give up the assumptions that unleashed what has probably been the greatest peace-time outpouring of moral energy this nation has ever seen.

But as we look back on 50 years during which every major national institution supported policies based on the Myrdal analysis, it is high time to ask what we have achieved. Why is the present so unlike the future our leaders promised us? Where is the equality, good will and spontaneous integration the civil rights movement was to bring? What if the contributors to this book are right and Myrdal was wrong? Unless we are prepared to ask the really hard questions we will do no more than repeat the failed policies that have made the Presidential initiative necessary.

The transformation of the American legal and institutional framework that took place during the 1950s and 1960s was a remarkable achievement. It took courage to act on ideals and to work for what promised to be a better world. But it takes even more courage to admit that those ideals may have been false, that the goal was unattainable and perhaps not even desirable. Unless it can muster the courage to change course, our country has no choice but to sink ever deeper into the racial conflict and despair that has become the real American dilemma.