Toward the U.S. Racial Future
In his epoch-making study of U.S. racial dynamics, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, Gunnar Myrdal introduced a theory of “cumulative and cyclical development” to explain the fitful but in his view inevitable progress of U.S. “race relations” toward more democratic and egalitarian conditions.1 The account of “development” Myrdal offered was tentative; the book’s purposes were never primarily theoretical and only in the most general sense political. As is well known, the author and his collaborators argued in favor of the extension of democratic principles to include “race relations,” notably black-white relations, in the context of the battle for democracy that was World War II. They contrasted U.S. national goals and aspirations in the war effort with the racial despotism of the country as a whole, particularly (though not only) the states of the U.S. South. Myrdal linked his idealized concept of a democratic “American creed” with an assimilationist vision of racial progress, an idea of racial “development” that was still very much oriented to the white liberal outlook, as his critics, most notably Ralph Ellison,2 were quick to point out.
Howard Winant is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa
Barbara, where he is also affiliated with the Black Studies and Chicana/o Studies
departments. He founded and directs the University of California Center for
New Racial Studies. He is the author of The New Politics of Race: Globalism,
Difference, Justice; The World Is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy Since World
War II; Racial Conditions: Politics, Theory, Comparisons; Racial Formation in
the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (coauthored with Michael Omi);
and Stalemate: Political Economic Origins of Supply-Side Policy.