Gary Klass

Spring, 2004

Since its founding, no set of political issues has more bedeviled the American political system than those having to do with race and ethnicity. The nation’s founders devised a political system that has done a pretty good job of addressing conflicts arising from ideological, geographic, religious and class differences, but the institutions they created have been largely inept when it comes to dealing with the persistent inequalities related to race and ethnicity. Social policy problems related to education, crime, and welfare, that might otherwise find resolution, often prove unsolvable to the extent race and ethnicity enter into the debates.  Whether or not the nation can and if it can, how, begin to solve these problems are the fundamental questions of this course.

At it simplest level, much of the debate over race in the US is between those who see racism as the fundamental cause of America's social ills and those who blame these problems on the behavior and lifestyle of the disadvantaged themselves.  Starting with either of these first two premises -- and in some cases, compromises between the two premises -- those how have studied and written on race in America have developed a wide range of competing theories, and agendas.

In this course we will read many of these books, analyze and critique them. We will read the books in part for the knowledge and information they might contain, but mostly to gain an understanding of the diversity of thinking about these matters. An important objective of this course is for the students to develop an ability to communicate their own ideas and insights about these most controversial of subjects. This involves more than formulating ideas and putting them on paper; it involves finding an audience, exposing one's ideas, evidence, and logic to others and anticipating, and responding to, their reactions. In this regard, this course will be different.

Perhaps unlike many other courses related to race, ethnicity and social inequality, there will be no attempt to impose any doctrine, perspective or ideology on this course (although even saying that might do so), other than that we ought to adhere to common standards of free and open inquiry. The books themselves have been chosen to reflect a very broad spectrum of thought and ideology. The authors, the other students in the class, and, perhaps, the instructor will, no doubt, express views with which you will disagree. This should be appreciated: you will never learn much from people you agree with. Our discussions will be guided by one general rule:

We are all students trying to learn; it is just as important not to take offense as it is not to offend.

Course Objectives:

Due Dates, Requirements and Grades.

Each (undergraduate) student will be assigned to read four of the books (one from each of the four sections of the course), to summarize the work in class, and to submit a review of each book to the discussion list. Each reviewer will be asked to summarize and discuss the assigned book one week prior to the date the review is due. The reviews should be approximately 1,500 words in length. The reviews and in-class summaries will comprise 80% of the final grade. Note that the class presentation on each book is a part of the grade for that review. Reviews will not receive a grade higher than a B if a) it is submitted late, or b) if the reviewer cannot adequately summarize the book the prior week. Each review will be evaluated based on the "Summary Grade sheet" standards.

In addition, each student will be expected to read, but not review, one additional book from the list.  For that book, you are expected to post discussion comments to the list.

Class participation, both oral in-class participation in class and on the discussion list, will comprise 10 percent of the grade. This will include at least two well-thought-out messages to the discussion list commenting on other reviews that have been posted. At least one of these must be posted before the semester break.

Participation on the discussion list, in the form of "commentaries" submitted to the list will require some reading of, or reading-about, the other books on the list. Such commentaries should consist of serious analysis of the book or the review under discussion. At all times avoid sending quick, short, and immediate responses to reviews and commentaries to the list.

For your first book review (only), a draft copy must be sent to the instructor by January 28th.  You are welcome to send draft copies of your other reviews to the instructor and to each other at any time, but please do so sufficiently in advance of the due date to receive comments back.  Not paying attention to comments made on your draft is a big mistake.

A final take-home examination on the course subject matter (minimum 2,000 words in length) will comprise 10% of the grade. This will be sent to the instructor (but not the discussion list] by May 1. The examination is intended to assess how well you grasp the ideas presented in all of the books, particularly those you have not reviewed and to develop and summative and integrative interpretations of many different works.

In the class schedule below, two books are assigned each week. The dates in the schedule below are the class presentations; the review must be posted to the discussion list the following Tuesday at midnight (Thus, the first book will be discussed on February 3, and the second on February 5; both reviews must be posted by February 10, midnight).

Late reviews sent out within one week of the due date will not receive a grade higher than a B.  Later than that, the reviews should not be sent out on the discussion list, and you will receive a 20% grade reduction.

Graduate Students will be required to do a background research assignment early in the semester. (see below).


Attendance for this course is mandatory. Do not enroll in the course if you anticipate problems attending class.   Each absence will be penalized 1% of the grade (10% of the participation grade).  The first two of these penalties will be waived by completing a background research assignment on one of the other books assigned in the course.

Background research assignments.

These assignments involve background research -- assigned by the instructor -- on some of the books we will be reading.  Typically they will involve summarizing published book reviews and a particular issue that one of the books addresses.  Approximately 600 words; emailed to the list of class email addresses; due the Sunday before the book is to be discussed in class.

Class format:

Once we get into the book review schedule, each class will be primarily devoted to a discussion of one of the two books to be reviewed the next week. These discussions will be led by the students doing those reviews.

An unusual feature of this course involves the use of an Internet electronic mail discussion list, POS334-L . Each student's work will be distributed on the POS334-L list to over two hundred faculty and students across the world, some of whom will be submitting their own writings and commentaries on each other's writings. The purpose is both to provide an external audience for the students' ideas and to bring ideas from the outside into the class. In effect, your writing will be on public display.

Course Schedule:

I. Introduction: (WEEKS 1-3).

The first two weeks will address general principles of writing book reviews, an introduction to the major value conflicts and issues concerning race and ethnicity, and some demonstration of the use of electronic mail and discussion lists. We will examine and evaluate previously-published book reviews, including those sent to the POS334-L discussion list.

The following readings (available on-line) will be discussed on Tuesday, January 20th:

Robert Jensen, "Unearned Privilege: White people need to acknowledge benefits of unearned privilege."

Walter Williams, "Affirmative Action Can't Be Mended"
{Note: Each student will be assigned one book from each section to review.}

Section I:

Feb 3:  Classic Liberal and Conservative Positions on Race
(Class presentations on February 3 and 5, book report due February 10).

Steele, Shelby. The Content of Our Character (1991)
Bell, Derrick. And We are not Saved (1989)

Feb 10: Classic Liberal and Conservative... (continued)
(Class presentations on February 10 and 12, book report due February 17).

Feagin, Joe R. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities & Future Opportunities (2000)
McWhorter, John H. Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America (2001)

Section II

Feb 17: Diversity

Wood, Peter, Diversity: The Invention of a Concept (2003)
Tusmith, Bonnie and Maureen T. Reedy (eds.) Race in the College Classroom: Pedagogy and Politics (2003)

Feb 24:  Two books, no theme

D'Souza, Dinesh. What's So Great About America (2002)
Kelley, Robin D. G. George Lipsitz,  Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (1996)

Mar 2: Two calls for color blindness

Wilson, William Julius.  The Bridge over the Racial Divide (1999)
Rodriguez, Richard.  Hunger of Memory (1983)

Section III

Mar 16: Education

Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1992)
Thernstrom, Stephan and Abigail. No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning (2003)

Mar 23: Race and Politics

Swain, Carol.  Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress (1995)
Yarbrough, Tinsley E,  Race and Redistricting: The Shaw Cromartie Cases (2002)

Mar 30: Two Supreme Court cases on Affirmative Action.

Ball, Howard. The Bakke Case; (2000)
Urofsky, Melvin I. Affirmative Action On Trial (1997)

Section IV

Apr 6: Beyond Black and White

Rodriquez, Richard.  Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002)
Wu, Frank H. Yellow: Race in America, Beyond Black and White (2002)

Apr 13: Indians. 

Deloria, Vine. Red Earth, White Lies (1997)
Bordewich, Fergus. Killing the White Man's Indian (1996)

Apr 20: Public Opinion

Sniderman, Paul M. and Thomas Piazza. The Scar of Race (1993)
Smith, Robert C. and Richard Seltzer. Contemporary Controversies and the American Racial Divide (2000)