Home | Index | Schedule | Archive | Syllabus| New Books | Publication | Subscribing | Host
Archives: | A-D | E-L | M-R | S-Z |

Harlon L. Dalton Racial Healing New York: Doubleday Publication Date: October 1995

From Subject
David Larsen <dlarsen@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu> RACIAL HEALING (Larsen)
Jkechan@aol.com Racial Healing(James Cota)


From: David Larsen <dlarsen@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu>
Subject: RACIAL HEALING (Larsen)
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 1997 11:19:13 -0600 (CST)

Harlon L. Dalton
Racial Healing
New York: Doubleday
246 pp.
ISBN 0-385-47516-0 hardcover
Publication Date: October 1995

Reviewed By: Dave Larsen <mailto:dlarsen@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu>

By all indicators, Racial Healing should be a potent prescription to dress the "festering" wound dividing America. Replete with heartfelt anecdotes drawn from his life experiences, and with input from a diverse pool of academic peers, Dalton promises strong advice for common folk, black and white alike, to engage another in the struggle for social equality. While he does highlight a few possibilities for progress, he falls short of his goal, managing mostly a reformulated summary of the debate's popular arguments, and delivering a conciliatory ointment to ease today's pain.

Dalton begins by recounting a chance encounter with a young woman who had recently immigrated to America from a country where discrimination, prejudice, and class hierarchies didn't exist, Poland. Confused by these "foreign" concepts, she approached Dalton for an explanation. Firing off questions like, "When I pass by the welfare office on my way to work, how come all I see is you people standing in line?", she unwittingly trampled on generations of complex rules for interracial interaction. Initially inclined to brush her aside as an agitator, Dalton reconsiders, intrigued by the racial tabla rosa standing before him. According to Dalton, a large part of the problem is that white people don't think of themselves in racial terms. They readily identify themselves with a particular religion, social organization, company, or region. In fact, the closest white "folk" come to identifying with a race is through ethnic association, or "hyphenated Americans" as he labels them. The solution, though, is not for white people to add skin colour to their personal image, but to acknowledge the advantages associated with it. When they accept that their position in society stems partly from their skin tone, they will also realize the disadvantages associated with somewhat darker colourings. Next, white people must accept that the "race problem" belongs to all Americans, and is not solely the creation and responsibility of black folk. Even folks like the new Polish immigrant, who had no connection with history's slavemasters, are partially responsible, as they inherited the oppressive cultural mindset by coming to America. Finally, white people must realize the new global economy is fiercely competitive, and will require the mobilization of all our resources, including those in the forgotten inner cities, to maintain our leadership position. This economic argument is an attempt to convince white people that helping black people succeed will benefit everyone, and seems to flow from the view that whites won't help anyone else unless they can see how it will help them as well. Thus, by demonstrating that, although they don't realize it, whites are included in the racial hierarchy, _and_ that they are partially responsible for the current system, _and_ that changing the system will be to their benefit, Dalton hopes whites will want to work toward racial healing. Blacks have to make changes to facilitate the healing process as well. First, they have to be more careful about the messages they send as a community. By embracing entertainers that employ racial slurs, violent themes, and debasing images of women, the black community implicitly approves these messages as the "official" story of black culture. White people, and other groups looking in from the outside, are left to erroneously conclude that these things are what the black community values, and are how they want to be treated.

Therefore, the black community must draw together and ignore these detrimental influences, and eventually, a more positive perspective will emerge. Next, they must reexamine the traditional story of today's oppression born of historic scars rooted in slavery. Black folk must continue to press the issues of slavery, segregation, discrimination, and other past outrages to remind the dominant class of the roots of todayUs tensions, but then they must go further, explaining how much of the current problems are due to more subtle and sophisticated issues. And while acknowledging that many black people have managed to "escape" into the middle class, they should point out that too many remain in poverty. Finally, black people must reach out to other minority groups to form common bonds and alliances, and not take offense to multi-ethnic blacks who wish to explore other aspects of their heritage. In this way, everyone can progress, rather than continually jockeying for position at the bottom of the heap. >From the start, Dalton appears on the defensive. Afraid white folk will be unable to "get" race. Afraid black folk will dismiss his ideas because of his interracial marriage. Afraid everyone will focus on the loaded terminology he employs rather than his message.

Following almost every point, he includes hypothetical rebuttals from imagined critics, and then explains why he is still right. The problem with this circular dance is that the points, rebuttals, and counterpoints offer no new perspectives. In a discussion on the appropriate response to rap music that glorifies violence and mistreatment of women, he notes that a coalition of ministers and music company executives have called for restraint. However, he counters that the rap artists disagree, claiming they're just "telling it like it is" (p. 200). Circling around again, Dalton concludes that the rappers are on shaky ground defending lyrics that are vulgar and "contrary to the progress and goals of African-Americans" (p. 200). Furthermore, the rappers are demonstrating a "fragile sense of self-respect" (p. 200). This discourse would be illuminating, had it not previously been played out in other venues. In the first weeks of 1997, the Polish news agency (PAP) reported on union objections to utility and postal rate increases that would place undue burdens on the lower class, a controversy surrounding the future of foreign language schools for the country's ethnic minorities, progress concerning restitution of Jewish property taken during WWII, a conference calling for equal opportunities for women, and a curiously familiar plea from Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski during his New Year's Eve address. "While we cannot change the past, we should do all to prevent the historical dispute from spoiling our future." "True, the pain suffered by many of our countrymen from the history cannot be eased but the wrongs need reparation as far as it is possible," the president declared. The president said in his address that "for the first time since ages, we will enjoy security, democracy, and development simultaneously not one at the cost of the other like it has often been in our history." Further on, Kwasniewski said that "the common Poland" must be a country which can give respect to [...] different people. - (http://www.pap.waw.pl/mmdesign/text/archiw97/03_01_e.htm)

These events offer two lessons Dalton hints at, but fails to explore. First, discrimination, prejudice, and social hierarchies are not uniquely American occurrences. Our proximity to the situation and destructively nationalistic tendencies sometimes cause us to lose sight of this, but around the world and throughout time, groups have attempted to subjugate others to their will. Second, categorical stratification can occur in the absence of race. Poland is more than 95% Polish, and yet inequities persist. Dalton's immigrant friend, although perhaps unfamiliar with the particular terminology of America's racial hierarchy, was almost certainly familiar with the divisive concepts of discrimination and class structures. "I am convinced that the only way to truly heal the past and prepare for a more just future is to [...] let it all hang out" (p. 97). Specifically, he was referring to the social and mental "filters" people use to sanitize their speech so as to be less offensive, and he's mostly correct. We will never get around to addressing our problems if we expend all our energies making everyone feel comfortable. However, one of his suggestions for the black community is to be more careful about the messages they send, considering "[w]hat we do and say gets noticed these days, including what we say about each other and how we talk to one another" (p. 194). In an effort to make his work more accessible and less confrontational, Dalton has produced a book that makes sense on an abstract level, but translates poorly into the real world. How do you convince millions of Americans, and indeed millions of people around the world, that discrimination and arbitrary social hierarchies are wrong? How do you forge a world where diversity is acknowledged, but doesn't determine a person's potential? How do you coerce the advantaged to share with the disadvantaged? Don't worry, Dalton assures us, the "Promised Land" is within reach. "All it takes," he says, "is a genuine commitment to the process of racial healing" (p. 234). I only wish he was right.

Back to top...

Date: Wed, 19 Feb 1997 16:05:56 -0600

From: Jkechan@aol.com

Subject: Racial Healing(James Cota)

Racial Healing
By Harlan Dalton
Reviewed by: James Cota (Jkechan@aol.com)
Through the history of American society there is much talk about the state of relations between blacks and white. Like what is to be done in order to bring some harmony between the two races. From the time White Americans brought Black's over as slaves, to the time blacks were Emmancipated, much discussion has been brought up to help bring the two groups together. In the book entitled Racial Healing, by Harlon Dalton, a law professor at Yale, he lays out several steps the should be taken by both Blacks and Whites in order to achieve somw form of "racial healing.

Dalton begins the book with story about his meeting with a Polish women who had just came to America. He talks about how this women was so open about what she had to ask about why Blacks act a certian way, and other issues she has faced with her encounters with blacks since she came to this country. Dalton at first said he was confused as to why she was so forward with him, then he realized how important he openness was in her understanding of why Blacks act the way she thought they did. That in turn inspired him to write this book.

Dalton lays out in this book several actions that both blacks and whites should consider taking in trying to bring the two groups together. The book is divded into several sections, the first part is labeled "Healing the Past/Transforming the Present", the second section then goes into the steps that should be taken by both sides with "What White Folks Must Do", the third section is "What Black Folks Must Do", and in the end he discusses many ways this world would be like of there were racial harmony entitled, "The Promised Land".

The first concept that is a major point to the first section is to figure out what exactly racism means. Dalton ponders this point in the first section by defining what exactly racism means to him. Must people see the word racisim and think of it as meaning hatred or "disdane" for a cultural group. This however is not how the author see's it. Dalton see's racism as "the symetrical doing of evil and steps to rectify it." what he means by this is that incorperating all the different definitions of racism,and the things that are done to rectify the situtation are many times "treated as opposite sides of the same coin." Dalton shows this by giving an example of racially restrictive covenants and affirmative action, and how affirmitive action may be better then allowing segragation, but it still contributes to the problems blacks and whites face. In this book he attempts to lay out some steps that will help heal this wound between the two races, by laying out steps that both sides should take to help solve the problem without causing more tension.

The first group Dalton lays out steps for is for Whites. In this section he examines how it's important to realize that they are a race also, and that whites should look at themselves as a racial group that has many privlages that come with being white. By realizing that being part of the white race, and confronting it's advantages, whites will be able to understand themselves better, and realize that Whites must make sacrfices and indure some hard changes if there is to be healing between the two races. He also lays out in this section that Whites must dismiss the "Horatio Alger myth", that anyone from the worst level of society can rise up and be the best. This belief in this myth eliminates the excuse that many Whites have against the disadvantaged, that anyone can overcome anything put in front of them, when in fact because being white has it's privlages, and it may be easier for a white person to overcome disadvantages, and that once whites realize that blacks do not have these privledges it may be harder to rise up. Dalton also discusses that Whites should own up to all the problems in society and to not label them as a Black problem. The example the author gives is the labeling of problems as being a Black problem, an example of which is Black on Black crime, when in fact it's problem that both races must face together. The last thing that the author says that whites must do is "Resisting Temptation". This section deals with the idea that Whites must quit pitting one racial group against the other. By doing this it causes even more tension between the two groups being pitted against each other, and does nothing to solve our problems. An example the author gives is when Whites try to ask why Asian's have done much better than Blacks, and how this in turn has caused alot of friction between Blacks and Asians.

Dalton then goes into the section as to what Blacks must do in order to solve racial tensipn. The first step the author lays out is that Blacks need to stop tellinng the same story about slavery, and other events that have hurt Blacks in todays society. In turn Blacks have to realize that slavery happened a hundred years ago, and many Blacks have never been involved in slavery, therefore many whites where not involve in slavery either. Black's must in turn tell the story as to how race has effected them personally, and how it is still effects them in their lives as of now. The next step the author lays out is that Black's must once again show strength as a community. By showing that they are all together as one strong force, and that the idea of threating higher to middle class blacks as "Uncle Tom's" is hurtful to Black as a group, because it show that Black are not together as they once were. The next step the author lays out for Blacks is that of "Taking Stock in Culture". In section he looks at the effect of Black society in todays society in the looking at the rise of Blacks in the entertainment area. With recent rise in popularity in Gangsta Rap music and increase in Black oriented TV and Films, many things have came out of this rise in Blacks in the mass media that has had an effect on both races. With the use of the words such as "Bitches" and "Ho's", and reference to other Blacks as "Niggas", many whites are thinking that this is acceptable in todays society. However this is very detrimental according to the author in bringing these groups together. The author feels that what the entertainers are doing is entertaining, and that because society has accepted these sayings and ideas as norms, it is very counterproductive.However I don't think he feels that this entertainment is bad, but the use of this type of ideas in black society is very detrimental to the Black society. The author feels that Blacks should accept it as only entertainment and not to accept it into their culture, because in the long run it couldbring about more problems. the last step that Blacks must do according to the author is that Blacks must begin to accept other races . What the author means by that is that instead of fighting against or complainning about Asian groups or Arab groups and their success, it's important to accept them and to learn from them.

In the final section Dalton examines several different hypothetical types of planets in which race does not exist. Each of them is diverse in it's own way in eliminating racisim. The one problem though that the author convey's in summarizing the whole book is that race and culture is important, and that in order to reach some form of racial healing steps and sacrifces are needed to be taken from both sides in order for this to happen. In the words of Fredrick Douglas "Struggle leads to progress", both races must struggle within themselves in order for the healing to begin.

My feelings about the book is that it is very general. It is wriiten far all people to read, and if the author got to invoved or detailed, he may not reach out to all people. I don't think the author intends his ideas to be the cure all. The book I feel are begining steps that can be discussed among these groups as to if they would work. In fact in the summary of the book on the back it says it is meant to start some form of discussion. Because the book is general in terms of the topics covered, if the ideas in the book are disussed among these groups involved, then they can become more detailed. The book I feell was meant so that open conversation can be held between Blacks and Whites, which is what the author wants both sides to begin doing. Overall I feel this book is a small general instruction manual to help relieve our society of the ill's that the tension between Blacks and Whites has been so prevelent in our history.

Back to top...