“The more things change, the more things stay the same,” observes former New York Times and Washington Post reporter Daniels in this modern take on the ills of inequality.
He frames his argument around the candidacy of Barack Obama, the biracial Democrat whose unlikely success in the quest for the presidency has resurrected a long-dormant discussion about race in America. Daniels places special emphasis on a paradox of relatively recent development: Unprecedented achievement by high-profile blacks like Obama has overshadowed the poverty in which the majority of African-Americans still struggle. The author doesn’t cover much new territory, but his updates of oft-discussed troubles are particularly relevant in this historic election year. Among the issues he revisits and reconsiders: affirmative action, black identity and a failure of the traditional sources of African-American leadership. He bombards the reader with statistics and data seemingly without end but weaves them skillfully into the text with a literary aplomb. His exploration of the Republican Party’s failure to integrate black politicians or woo an African-American constituency is particularly engaging. Conspicuously missing from this otherwise balanced text, however, is an equally substantial investigation of the Democrats’ flaws. Daniels’s frank discussion of the failure of black civil society shines brightest. The editor for ten years of the National Urban League’s flagship publications, he takes both his former employer and the NAACP to task for failing to provide a cohesive national platform. Their ineffectiveness stems, he argues, from diversifying and delegating too many responsibilities to smaller organizations and a reluctance to embrace the new tool of social organizing—the Internet. Daniels also weaves into his theme such recent notes as the Jena Six, the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action policies and Obama’s degree of blackness.
Re-conceives the dialogue about race in America, which is too often reduced to glib generalities due to a false sense of propriety and desire for harmony at any price.