Author: Stephen Steinberg

STEPHEN STEINBERG teaches at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His latest book Turning Back: The Retreat from Racial Justice in American Thought and Policy received the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship.

Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste

The Occlusion of Political Economy

Wilkerson’s adroit storytelling jumps off the page, but the glaring omission in her book is political economy.

Race and Counterrevolution [1]

Optimism is the prozac of the sociological imagination. Indeed, several of sociology’s founders were disaffected children of Baptist ministers who substituted millenarian ideals with the secular version of a heaven on earth. The men of the Chicago school conceived of sociology as a secular eschatology that would be an instrument of social amelioration. What’s wrong with that, you might be thinking? Nothing at all — except when it leads to a false optimism where we look upon the world through rose-tinted glasses.

Derrick Bell: Fighting Losing Battles

When Derrick Bell published Gospel Choirs in 1996, he sent me a copy with this inscription: "Our job is to turn out the truth. God’s help is needed to get the truth accepted." This epigrammatic note — principled resolve, on the one hand, and pessimism born of despair, on the other — encapsulated the two sides of Bell’s world view.

A Robust Voice for Such a Diminutive Person

The image of Phyllis that remains most salient, and the one I most miss, would begin with a phone call. I would answer with a lugubrious “hello.” And from the other end, I would hear a buoyant “HIYA, STEVE, this is PHYLLIS.” A robust voice for such a diminutive person. And a twang that seemed more Texan than Bronx.


I knew when I wrote my piece that I was walking through a minefield of controversy, first of all because I challenge the dominant discourse on immigration and call into question many of the orthodoxies of a new generation of immigration scholars. I therefore came prepared to engage in verbal battle with outraged critics whose scholarship has been called into question. Alas, they did not show up at the table!


Social Capital: The Science of Obfuscation

VILLA VICTORIA—a great title. As with other legendary ethnographies—Street Corner Society, Urban Villagers, Tally's Corner, All Our Kin, and Sidewalk, Villa Victoria projects images of Gemeinschaft, of that quintessential social bond that survives even in the city that notoriously eviscerates the social bond. Although the contents of these books often contradict expectations, the romantic impulse excited by the titles is not so easily rebuffed by cold facts.

Race Relations: the Problem with the Wrong Name

Instead of focusing on the historical and structural processes that reproduce racial inequalities from one generation to the next, discrimination is reduced to the level of discrete acts by discrete individuals. However, far more is involved here than individual acts of discrimination…