A contradictory book of social and legal commentary that attempts to embrace so-called New America's increasingly multiracial character and deal with the author's lingering doubts about Americans' real capacity to live with our ethnic differences. A son of Richmond, Va.'s WASP elite, a former deputy attorney general for civil rights under President Reagan, and a federal judge since 1984, Wilkinson has seen the handwriting on the wail, recognizing that America's customary bipolar, black-and-white concept of race is not appropriate for a multiracial society where Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing population and Hispanic-Americans will soon surpass African-Americans as the largest minority. But Wilkinson fears that increased diversity has simply multiplied the racial fault lines in this country, and he dreads what he sees as the continuing evolution of a contentious society where race becomes a ""premier civic credential."" He notes with real alarm the fading of the integrative ideal that once lived in the hearts of most black Americans. He also says that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has become ""a runaway train of racial separation"" and argues against the entrenchment of what he views as a system of racial shares and entitlements in affirmative-action policy. In the most illuminating sections of the book, however, Wilkinson describes how his father's generation of enlightened men among Richmond's great white city fathers inadequately faced the leadership challenge of stemming the resistance that welled up in response to Brown v. Board of Education and the prospect of school integration. Wilkinson clearly doesn't want his own generation of establishment leaders to be found wanting in the same ways, but he still finds it difficult not to underplay the reality of white domination and its restrictions. Consequently, he circles around and then disappointingly evades the critical question: If ethnic separatism threatens America, whose separatism is it anyway, and what do we do about it?
Pub Date: May 1, 1997
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997
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