The New American Dilemma
MILTON M. GORDON
Over a generation ago, Gunnar Myrdal, in his monumental study of this country's greatest and most salient issue in race relations--what was then referred to as "the Negro problem"--wrote of "an American dilemma"--the gap and implicit choice between the religious and political ideals of the American Creed which called for fair and just treatment of all people, regardless of race, creed, or color, and the overt practices of racial discrimination and prejudice directed by Whites toward Blacks which took place in the daily life of the American people. Thus this country stood at a crossroads whence it could choose to follow the existing pathway of racial discrimination and hostility or, conversely, make the decision to honor its best ideals and eliminate differential treatment of its people on the basis of race. The tension of this choice, declared Myrdal, existed not only between Americans of varying attitudes and persuasion, but also within the heart of the individual citizen. 1
It is my contention that, at least at the level of formal governmental action, the United States of America, in the three and one half decades since Myrdal published his great study, has moved decisively down the road toward implementing the implications of the American Creed for race relations, that this is a most important step (although it obviously does not remove all aspects of racially discriminatory treatment and prejudice from the institutions and private social relations of everyday American life), and that, with respect to racial and ethnic relations, America now faces a new dilemma--a dilemma which is oriented toward a choice of the kind of group pluralism which American governmental action and the attitudes of the American people will foster and encourage. . . .
. . . In the dilemma which Myrdal presented [he] identified two divergent paths, one of them supported by the finest ideals of religious and civic morality, the other buttressed not by any well-understood moral and religious conviction, but by destructive and hateful practices arising out of the worst impulses in hu-