A sweeping examination of how American racism has broken the country's social compact, eroded America's common goods, and damaged the lives of every American--and a heartfelt look at how these deep wounds might begin to heal.
Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States is losing ground across nearly every indicator of social health. Its race problem, argues Eduardo Porter, is largely to blame.
In American Poison, the New York Times veteran shows how racial animus has stunted the development of nearly every institution crucial for a healthy society, including organized labor, public education, and the social safety net. The consequences are profound and are only growing graver with time. Leading us through history and across America--from FDR's New Deal through Bill Clinton's welfare reform to Donald Trump's retrograde and divisive policies--Porter pieces together how racial hostility has blocked American social cohesion at every turn, producing a nation that fails not only its black and brown citizens but white Americans as well.
American Poison is at once a broad, rigorous argument, and a profound cri de coeur. Even as it uncovers our most tenacious national pathology, it points the way toward hope, illuminating the ways in which, as the nation becomes increasingly diverse, it may well be possible to construct a new understanding of racial identity--and a more cohesive society on top of it.
New York Times journalist Porter (The Price of Everything) delivers an anguished and incisive treatise on how racism has contributed to 21st-century America's economic and social decline. According to Porter, white working class voters have undermined their own opportunities for advancement by allowing the social safety net to erode under the false belief that minorities abuse it. He traces the problem to early 20th-century labor disputes, Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, and Ronald Reagan's deployment of the "welfare queen" trope. Porter describes American communities that have been ravaged by unemployment, poverty, and lack of healthcare, yet elect representatives who attach work requirements to Medicaid and blame immigrants for job losses that were caused by automation. He points out that anti-immigration policies could leave Social Security underfunded just as baby boomers retire en masse, and without enough workers to handle such a large increase in the elderly population. Unless American society is able to heal racial divides and create "social trust," working-class people of all races will continue to suffer, according to Porter. His pessimism ("I can't imagine much boundary-breaking solidarity emerging from this America") gives the book a bleak and mournful tone, and he doesn't offer many concrete solutions. Nevertheless, his cogent presentation succeeds in making the problem of racial animus relevant to all Americans. Progressive readers will concur with this bracing sociological study.