cover image Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation

Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation

Jennifer L. Hochschild. Princeton University Press, $72 (415pp) ISBN 978-0-691-02957-3

Drawing on a rich lode of polling data, policy studies and popular journalism, Hochschild, professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton, probes the essential questions suggested by this book's title. She focuses on the dichotomy in which whites increasingly feel racial discrimination is ``slight and declining,'' while blacks believe the opposite. Both blacks and whites value the American dream; both groups believe that hard work should bring success. Paradoxically, the growing black middle class--in part, because of reality's failure to live up to the high expectations inspired at the peak of the civil rights movement--is more skeptical of the dream than poor blacks. However, the author observes that many poor African Americans ``only sort of'' believe in the American dream, while many of the ``estranged poor''--her preferred term for the ``underclass''--reject it. She notes that most of the oft-stigmatized white immigrants from 1880 to 1920 were transformed by civic tides into believers in the dream. Without new politics to alleviate race and class injustice, she warns, we face abandonment of the dream, perhaps leading to a formalization of American hierarchy and a separatist black nationalism. (Sept.)