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The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy, by Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres

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This book recalls Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, 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.  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" Gerald 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 

There's also the book's immediacy.  Prominent economic historian 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. 

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The ambition, originality and insights of this book far outweigh its difficulties due to multiple voices and an "un-ironed out" presentation. It belongs on your shelf.  

(Review written in 2003)

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I have a law degree (Stanford, 66') but have never practiced. Instead, from 1967 through 1977, I tried to contribute to the revolution in America. As unsuccessful as everyone else over that decade, in 1978 I went to work for the U.S. Forest (more...)
 

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