William Wilson

William Julius Wilson is the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University. His article this issue is adapted from The Bridge Over the Racial Divide: Rising Inequality and Coalition Politics.

Recent Articles

Affirming Opportunity

How do we reconcile multiracial coalition politics with special opportunities for minorities? In place of racial preferences, we need more imaginative conceptions of talent and merit.

I have long argued for a multiracial, national political coalition to press for public policies to address the common concerns of families of all racial and ethnic groups in an era of rising social inequality. But I believe just as firmly that an entirely race-neutral agenda would be a mistake. Policies that explicitly address race remain crucial to a progressive strategy and to the continuing quest for racial justice in America. However, in an era of widespread opposition to affirmative action as we know it, these policies need to be redesigned so that a broad coalition can support them. In response to cries from conservatives to abolish affirmative action, some liberals who support multiracial coalition-building have argued that we ought to shift from affirmative action programs based on race to affirmative action based on economic class or need. This shift would recognize that the problems of the disadvantaged—low-income, crime-ridden neighborhoods, broken homes, inadequate...

Racism and Race-Conscious Remedies

An exchange on whether American social and economic policy should emphasize special programs for blacks and other racial minorities or a more universal approach aimed equally at disadvantaged whites.

When I assert that many white Americans have turned not against blacks, but against a strategy that emphasizes programs perceived to benefit only racial minorities, I do not have in mind those who support racist or white supremacist views. To be against a strategy that emphasizes programs narrowly targeted to minorities does not automatically make one a racist. The white Americans I have in mind are those who could be potential members in a progressive political coalition to fight inequality, especially if the coalition's policy agenda would reflect not only the important concerns and interests of racial minorities, but the real interests and concerns of these non-minorities as well. My article "Race-Neutral Programs and the Democratic Coalition" is not an attack on race-specific programs, as Professor Tollett asserts. Rather, it emphasizes the limitations of such programs in confronting the enduring problems of minority poverty. Moreover, I do not propose that race-specific programs...

Race-Neutral Policies and the Democratic Coalition

Race-neutral programs offer the best way to help the truly disadvantaged and to win back the truly disenchanted.

The election of Ron Brown as the first black chairman of the Democratic National Committee triggered a new round of soul-searching among Democrats. Was the party committing political suicide by becoming too strongly identified with the aspirations of minority voters? Had America become so mired in racism that whites would desert the Democrats because blacks seemed to be running things? My answer to these questions is an emphatic "No." Many white Americans have turned, not against blacks, but against a strategy that emphasizes programs perceived to benefit only racial minorities. In the 1990s the party needs to promote new policies to fight inequality that differ from court-ordered busing, affirmative action programs, and antidiscrimination lawsuits of the recent past. By stressing coalition politics and race-neutral programs such as full employment strategies, job skills training, comprehensive health care, reforms in the public schools, child care legislation, and prevention of crime...