March 21, 2008

Book Review - All Things Being Equal: Instigating Opportunity in an Inequitable Time, Edited by Brian D. Smedley & Alan Jenkins

By David A. Love
Published By The Black Commentator
March 20, 2008
In this so-called land of equality and opportunity, it seems, some people are more equal than others. Although it has been over half a century since the historic Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, America retains huge reserves of inequality of opportunity. The poor and people of color find themselves on the losing end of this proposition.

Upward mobility is a seemingly impossible dream for many. Wage gaps based on gender and race persist, and millions of people lack health insurance. The public education system is failing substantial numbers of our children. Institutional discrimination shows no signs of abating. And the criminal justice system rejects rehabilitation in favor of mass incarceration.

Alan Jenkins and Brian D. Smedley of The Opportunity Agenda have edited an outstanding book which gets to the heart of what is hurting America, and what has to be done in order to get the country on the right track. All Things Being Equal: Instigating Opportunity in an Inequitable Time (New Press, 246 pp.) brings together a number of thoughtful essayists who provide strategies and solutions for instigating opportunity in this country.

The editors team up with civil rights lawyer Bill Lann Lee for an introductory chapter on the scope of the problem. In a chapter on economic inequality, Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute discusses the correlation between wealth, income and opportunity across generations. A nation with less mobility than other advanced nations, the United States can and must do more to strengthen the social safety net, and remove the barriers that perpetuate economic injustice.

Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond examines educational quality and equality, with an emphasis on the problem of broken schools, lack of access to qualified teachers, and instructional and resource disparities for students of color. Philip Tegeler, executive director of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) discusses housing mobility, and the role of holistic public policy alternatives that maximize opportunities in employment, education, services, safety and health through physical location.

Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project analyzes America’s incarceration boom, and solutions that will allow us to take a different approach to criminal justice policy, and expand opportunity by reducing the imprisonment of vulnerable populations.

Other topics covered in the book include healthcare inequality (Brian D. Smedley); discrimination in the marketplace, including persistent patterns of discrimination in housing, lending and employment (Margery Austin Turner of The Urban Institute and Carla Herbig of the U.S. Department of Justice) and educational opportunity for immigrant communities (UCLA sociology professors Edward E. Telles and Vilma Ortiz).

The contributors to this book dare to broach some of the nation’s most complicated and weighty social issues, an ambitious undertaking to say the least. Ultimately, they succeed in connecting the dots, in demonstrating the ways in which these problems are interrelated, and more importantly, are holding back the nation and stifling progress for large segments of the population. A common thread which binds the chapters together is public policy - the role of public policy in creating systemic inequality of opportunity, and the need for leadership in creating restorative public policy that upholds human rights in America.

All Things Being Equal is thorough yet not overbearing, scholarly and informative yet down to earth and accessible. It is required reading for people who are concerned about the worsening conditions of society, and who seek thoughtful, innovative and creative solutions for an unequal nation.


Anonymous said...

Yep, pretty much nailed it David. I'd only add that Obama extended this to include how to build powerful coalitions among black, brown, and white, something King did as well of course.

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