The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream is a critique of more than just the failures of racial policy in the last forty years. Starting with the visible successes of the civil rights movement, Sheryl Cashin begins a detailed history of how discriminatory private practices and officially non-racist government policies have combined to effectually continue and even deepen the prejudicial practices of Jim Crow. She also shows how techniques like real-estate profiling and federal programs from HUD to highway construction have set up a system of winners and losers in America that affects people from every race and class.
But Cashin, a wealthy professional and former advisor to President Clinton, is herself writing from the viewpoint of one of the winners, and it shows as she moves from academic discussion of policy issues to intimate looks at the modern American middle class. With the median American household making under 50,000 a year, Cashin’s laments about the burdens integration places on the six figures and above group seem more than a little ludicrous. Her attempts to group people making from 45,000 to 150,000 a year as “middle class” soon become awkward. The Failures of Integration begs for the reintroduction of the phrase “upper class” to the American social lexicon. When she laments the lack of stores like Neiman Marcus in a black upper-middle -class neighborhood, which must settle for such tragically down-market stores as Sears, she almost guarantees alienation of many readers who do much of their shopping at such “crap” stores. “We Want A Nordstrom‘s” will not soon replace “We Shall Overcome” as a rallying cry for civil rights.
Her own unquestioned bias is especially obvious when the book turns, briefly, to discussing real poverty. The first person quotes and direct interviews that populate the majority of the book vanish, along with Cashin’s interjections of personal experience, to be replaced by endless grim statistics and unsupported suppositions. She also stops discussing the proof of her claims, with severely detrimental results; Poor Anglo-, Hispanic- and Asian- Americans across the country will be relieved to know that they don’t live in severely discriminatory circumstances, unlike blacks, and are not segregated from other races and classes. Without discussing her criteria for “segregated” neighborhoods, Cashin leaves herself open to such dismissal.
It can be hard to seriously accept a critique of privilege written from such a privileged viewpoint. But her evaluation of nongovernmental segregation techniques is enlightening, and her assessment of the flaws of the American system from a winner’s perspective is valuable. Sociologists, teachers, reporters and citizens with the least glimmering of common sense have complained for decades about the growing effects of American classism and segregation on the poor and working class. Cashin is one of the few to point out that even the elite are damaged by these inequalities. Such awareness if crucial if America is ever to correct The Failures of Integration.