A history of race in the United States, and wondering what comes next

Walter Russel Mead writes a history of the entire length (400 years come next July) of race relations in the United States. He focuses on a series of “compromises”, changes in the social/political/economic rules that accommodate changes in the relative power of various factions.

Although I wish he would have gone into detail about the era of imposition of Jim Crow, 1876 to roughly 1910. As far as I can tell, this wasn’t simply a reclaiming of the power of Southern whites but rather a gradual loss of power of Southern blacks, because the process took decades. I suspect the major cause was the huge bulge of immigration of relatively poor whites from Europe, and while the immigrants weren’t treated well in the US, they slotted into the socioeconomic totem pole above blacks.

He considers the current situation the “Compromise of 1977”, which centered on removing “barriers to access” — blacks were now allowed to work for, especially, governments and large, stable businesses. The critical point is that this sort of access can be provided by bureaucratic policies like “affirmative action”, without having to overcome the informal cultural barriers which tend to keep blacks out of employment in many smaller firms.

This ties in to one of Mead’s broader concerns, that the economy is no longer dominated by large, stable firms that offer lifetime employment and a quasi-socialist menu of benefits, his so-called “blue social model”. OTOH, this history is already six years old and we’re now seeing low unemployment that’s likely to last a long time, so the new “social model” is probably emerging now, and that will probably bring about a new “compromise” in the racial situation.

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