The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy (The Nathan I. Huggins Lectures)

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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.

3 thoughts on “The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy (The Nathan I. Huggins Lectures)

  1. 1
    49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Provocative Stories of Race and Progress in America, April 11, 2002
    By A Customer

    These writers are two of the premier civil rights advocates and thinkers in America today. This book grew out of years of debate and discussion about the political possibilities for individual and collective action by black and brown women and men in today’s tough environment.
    Their collection of stories about race in this book alone makes it worthwhile. There are dozens. Multiracial children. The forced choice between being white or black for latino/hispanic americans. Progressive whites trying to struggle with coalitions led by people of color. Alliances between unions and churches stretched over racial barriers. Dizzying combinations of social justice choices.
    This book made me smile, nod my head, grimace, and even hold my breath. As a white progressive I found it challenging and hopeful and occasionally painful (as I recognized some of my own well-intentioned mistakes).
    This book is going to be around a long time because it looks at race and politics in new and provocative and hopeful ways. People who are serious about social justice and race ought to pull up a chair, turn on a light, and start reading.

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  2. 2
    51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A vision with room for everyone, March 4, 2002
    By A Customer

    In Miner’s Canary, Guinier and Torres chart a new vision for race in America. Instead of the stagnant, stone throwing rhetoric that has crippled the dialogue on race, this book lays out a blueprint on how Americans of all races can start talking to each other and move forward together. Miner’s Canary builds on the prevailing idea that race is not about biology but politics. When viewed through the prism of social and economic factors versus the color of an individual’s skin or the texture of that person’s hair, we begin to see that social and economic injustice is less about race and more about protecting power and privilege. This book is about ways to get Americans of all races talking to each other and working together to protect democracy. I challenge those who would say otherwise to stop the name calling and stone throwing. Read this book, and let’s figure out ways we can work together to make America better than any of us ever dreamed it could be.

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  3. 3
    13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    THIS BOOK RECALLS ELLISON’S INVISIBLE MAN, July 4, 2003
    By 
    G. L. Rowsey (benicia, ca United States) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy (The Nathan I. Huggins Lectures) (Paperback)

    Because it’s the best book about race relations in America since Ellison’s masterpiece of fifty years ago. By “race relations” I mean blacks and whites, as Ellison would have meant the words. But The Miner’s Canary is about much more, it’s about all-minority-cultures and whites in America. And in direct opposition to the color-blind solution the Supreme Court has decided the Constitution requires, the book’s authors esteem and celebrate and find strength, including political strength, in our separate cultural identities — including the separate (non-oppressive) cultural identities of whites.

    When I put The Miner’s Canary down, I wished I had read the Acknowledgments first, then the chapter “by” Torres. This is a difficult book, it has many authors, and the voice I identify as Ms. Guinier’s seems sometimes to address junior high school students and other times to address law professors. So the book has many levels of analysis, and it treats its central topic — political race — from many angles. These are not shortcomings, but they add up to a very demanding book.

    The book’s real-life examples, however, are all wonderful and all one — compelling and utterly elucidating. And the long illustration of how Greek democracy in action would look if it followed American districting and apportionment rules is simply surpassing wonderful.

    Then there’s the book’s immediacy. The Nobel Prize winning econometrician Robert Fogel has emphasized the roles of technology and religious activism in America’s movements for social justice, relegating progressivism to the status of an adjunct to the latter. The Miner’s Canary, on the other hand, puts the struggle for social justice squarely within the politics of progressivism. This is not necessarily inconsistent with Fogel (whatever one thinks of the validity of his argument), assuming Fogel’s subject is movements in the past before about 1980 when the Big Sleep set in — which it is — and assuming The Miner’s Canary is describing developments since about 1980, which it is. The book says something new has been happening, and it started being more than unrelated occurrences about twenty five years ago. This new thing Guinier and Torres call political race.

    The ambition, originality and insights of this book far outweigh its difficulties due to multiple voices and an “un-ironed out” presentation. I give it five stars.

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