cover image By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and the Reality of Race

By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and the Reality of Race

Leonard Steinhorn. Dutton Books, $23.95 (299pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94359-4

Even as desegregation became the law of the land, true social integration never had a chance, according to the authors of this very pessimistic survey of race relations in the U.S. Steinhorn, a white man, and Diggs-Brown, a black woman, teach at the American University School of Communication, in Washington, D.C. They comb through books, the media, polls and interviews and find that, while Americans represent themselves as racially tolerant, the everyday reality of work, housing and education reveals the opposite. Blacks and whites often work together, but they tend to ""self-select"" after work, to commute to their own community and socialize almost exclusively with members of their own race. The authors should be commended for tackling the uncomfortable gap between how Americans--mostly white Americans--view race relations and the everyday facts of their lives. But they sometimes muddle the difference between legal segregation and de facto, social segregation (what they mean when they use terms such as ""self-select""). The most troubling, thought-provoking assertion of the book is that the ideal of integration, while laudable in the abstract, ""ironically helps us avoid a real reckoning on race."" To buttress this point, they note that those who most aggressively promote a ""color-blind"" society are the same people who most vociferously oppose affirmative action. Any serious grappling with race, insist the authors, must find a new language that takes account of difference even while preserving the hope of integration. (Jan.)