Race and America’s Soul

Reckoning with Race: America’s Failure, by Gene Dattel (Encounter, 408 pp., $27.99)

What gives Gene Dattel’s Reckoning with Race: America’s Failure its special power is that, even after its bracingly original and thoroughly researched account of the racism of the abolitionist North from the late eighteenth century until long after the Civil War, the book nevertheless does not shrink from laying the ills of today’s black American underclass not at the door of a painful history, with ample blame for northern as well as southern whites, but squarely at the feet of black Americans themselves. Yes, shameful, deeply shameful, were slavery, Jim Crow, and northern racism, and who can doubt that they left grievous scars? Still, America fought a war to end the evil institution, had a civil rights movement to try to erase its malign remnants, and spent decades on affirmative action and other nostrums to expunge even the faintest remaining traces. Whatever white Americans could do to atone for and repair the damage they caused, they have done, as much as imperfect humans in an imperfect world can do. Now, Dattel argues, it’s up to black Americans to save themselves.

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