Like the canaries that alerted miners to a poisonous atmosphere, issues of race point to underlying problems in society that ultimately affect everyone, not just minorities. Addressing these issues is essential. Ignoring racial differences—race blindness—has failed. Focusing on individual achievement has diverted us from tackling pervasive inequalities. Now, in a powerful and challenging book, Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres propose a radical new way to confront race in the ...

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Like the canaries that alerted miners to a poisonous atmosphere, issues of race point to underlying problems in society that ultimately affect everyone, not just minorities. Addressing these issues is essential. Ignoring racial differences—race blindness—has failed. Focusing on individual achievement has diverted us from tackling pervasive inequalities. Now, in a powerful and challenging book, Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres propose a radical new way to confront race in the twenty-first century.

Given the complex relationship between race and power in America, engaging race means engaging standard winner-take-all hierarchies of power as well. Terming their concept "political race," Guinier and Torres call for the building of grass-roots, cross-racial coalitions to remake those structures of power by fostering public participation in politics and reforming the process of democracy. Their illuminating and moving stories of political race in action include the coalition of Hispanic and black leaders who devised the Texas Ten Percent Plan to establish equitable state college admissions criteria, and the struggle of black workers in North Carolina for fair working conditions that drew on the strength and won the support of the entire local community.

The aim of political race is not merely to remedy racial injustices, but to create truly participatory democracy, where people of all races feel empowered to effect changes that will improve conditions for everyone. In a book that is ultimately not only aspirational but inspirational, Guinier and Torres envision a social justice movement that could transform the nature of democracy in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"To my friends, I look like a black boy. To white people I don't know, I look like a wanna-be punk. To the cops I look like a criminal," explains Lani Guinier's 14-year-old biracial son. Mixing myriad personal examples with hard data and analysis of biased news reports, Guinier and Torres cogently and forcefully argue that "color-blind" solutions are not "attaining racial justice and ensuring a healthy democratic process." Arguing for a multifaceted conception of "biological race, political race, historical race, cultural race," their purpose here is to find terms for discussing "the lived experience of race in America" and for moving toward a society that values (rather than just tolerates) difference. Moving through a wealth of complicated, intellectual and often abstract material, Guinier and Torres pick out the concrete and useful bits: Michel Foucault's explications of power as an ideology are explained via a contentious and racially divided union drive at K mart; the old joke about the rabbi and the bishop of Verona is used to illustrate the long-fought-over issue of race-conscious redistricting an issue that got Guinier labeled "the quota queen" in 1993 via her book The Tyranny of the Majority. Guinier, a professor at Harvard Law School, and Torres, professor at the University of Texas Law School, also grapple intelligently and with passionate wit with such explosive topics as racial profiling and the elusiveness of racial identification and identity (i.e., "white Hispanics"), making this one of the most provocative and challenging books on race produced in years. (Feb. 8) Forecast: While the tone and argumentation here are firmly academic compared with Guinier's other titles, this book will be widely reviewed on the basis of her reputation, and will be brandished by pundits. And even Beltway outsiders will remember the controversy when Clinton nominated her to be an assistant attorney general. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A factually dense rebuke to (mostly white) liberals who "choose a colorblind vision" of politics, arguing that American society's ingrained racism requires effective race-centered policymaking.
Washington Post
Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres consider how blacks' own perceptions of their plight might lead to a new political movement. In The Miner's Canary, Guinier and Torres argue that rather than internalize their social dysfunction as being their "own fault," many blacks have developed a critical perspective on "the system." Refusing to accept the mythology of the American Dream--"that those who succeed or fail invariably do so according to their individual merit"--blacks "appreciate the necessity and efficacy of collective political struggle"...Guinier and Torres announce a bold agenda: "to use the experiences of people of color as the basis for fundamental social change that will benefit not only blacks and Hispanics but other disadvantaged social groups."
— James Forman Jr.
How can a book that advocates for something as ethereal-sounding as the "magical realism of political race" amount to a powerfully reasoned and concretely grounded call for the proliferation of multiracial coalitions in challenges to inequality and exclusion in American society? Law professors Guinier and Torres have managed to do so in their gracefully written book, which is both an analysis of the distinctive contours of the post-Civil Rights Era's racial fault lines and a manifesto for a politics that is decidedly color conscious. Indeed, the purpose of the book is to challenge not simply the calls for colorblindedness on the part of conservatives, but more significantly, similar calls on the part of political leftists.
— P. Kivisto
Boston Herald
Deep in the mines, a distressed canary is a warning that there's poison in the air. Professor Lani Guinier...and Gerald Torres...contend that in America, race is like a miner's canary: Injustices experienced by people of color warn of systemic toxins that threaten everyone...In a passionate call for social change and progressive action, Guinier and Torres convincingly argue that a colorblind approach to deeply entrenched problems does not work; it only inhibits democratic engagement and reinforces existing power structures. Citing the Rev Martin Luther King Jr.'s message that freeing black people from injustice will free America itself, Torres and Guinier urge progressives to use racial awareness as an entryway to political activism.
— Rob Mitchell
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674038035
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2009
  • Series: Nathan I. Huggins Lectures
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 1,074,633
  • File size: 587 KB

Meet the Author

Gerald Torres is H.O. Head Centennial Professor in Real Property Law, University of Texas Law School.

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Table of Contents


1. Political Race and Magical Realism

2. A Critique of Colorblindness

3. Race as a Political Space

4. Rethinking Conventions of Zero-Sum Power

5. Enlisting Race to Resist Hierarchy

6. The Problem Democracy Is Supposed to Solve

7. Whiteness of a Different Color?

8. Watching the Canary




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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2002

    James - Educator in NM

    A beautiful outline for race-centered policymaking and the valuation and celebration of diversity in our society. A must read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2002


    Being a sociology student I anticipated reading a race realtions book written by lawyers. I was disappointed. While problems were defined the analysis and explanation was seriously lacking. I would be interested to know what research guidelines were followed. I would borrow from a friend and buy a more enlightening book on race relations in our country. My time would have been better spent watching ice melt. If you want a good book, buy Amazing Grace -unimpressed reader in Texas

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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