Book Review: Gary Nash’s Race and Revolution

Published 16 Feb 2017

Gary Nash’s Race and Revolution is an incisive analysis of the revolutionary period’s premature efforts to redress the perceptible incongruity of slavery and of their eventual concessions, which not only rendered the Black society in one piece but endowed it with the fortification of an enormously consolidated government after the late eighteenth century.

Nash admits that people in various parts of the United States differ in certain hereditary features, including the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, their facial features, their stature, and the shape of their heads. But by the same token, the features that humans everywhere share are substantially larger and of considerably greater importance than their differences. The disparities between blacks and whites are not virtually as remarkable as between carnivores and humans. But physical distinctions, such as a handicap or race, become strengthened by societal insights, which consequently generate bigger spaces between people. Inhabiting racialized social orders such as the United States can entail unfavorable health consequences for members of minor racial clusters, including negative outcomes of interpersonal ethnic discrimination and of qualities of place of habitation on both mental and physical health.

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Despite the so-called success of the numerous antislavery and anti-discrimination movements in the past, within the United States, Nash emphasizes that African Americans have been the victims of ghettoization. They settled in slum areas near the factories where they worked in the inner city. As slums grew, ghetto conditions worsened. These patterns are most evident in large American cities where smokestack industries once attracted young men with few or no skills to jobs that nonetheless paid well enough to support wives and children. Prejudice and discrimination have made it difficult for African Americans and even other minorities to improve these conditions

Gary Nash points out that the causes of social problems among African Americans in the ghettos embrace the connivance of the society as a whole. Nash’s use of the true names of people and places in the book could silence his detractors who might question the truthfulness of his eye-opening interpretation. Additionally, Race undertook to be an eloquent anti-slavery treatise. Though the central issue of the book is slavery, several chapters further provide readers more profound insights into this harsh reality. Aside from pulling together a number of annotated documents, his interpretive book takes us to the fields and the cabins and the lives of many slaves to reveal the real human cost of African-American slavery in the North and the South. Nash touched on the dehumanizing aspects of slavery in the South and discrimination in the North: not just the beatings, but also the parting of children from their mothers, the denial of education, and the sexual abuses of slave masters. Such circumstances allegedly breed weak ego structures, lack of impulse control, a present-time orientation characterized by little ability to deter gratification, and a sense of resignation and fatalism. The resulting lifeways are both an adaptation and a reaction of the black Americans to their disadvantaged positions.

Nash brings us back then to the late eighteenth century when, the United States had been growing larger and stronger as a nation. By 1853, its lands reached from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. The North was the nation’s manufacturing region, its cities bustling centers of industry and trade. The South was largely an agricultural region, with rich farmlands. Beneath the prosperity, however, there were severe problems. Disputes over the extension of slavery into new territories fueled a strong sense of sectionalism, or extreme loyalty to one’s own region of nation. Eventually sectionalism erupted in a war that threatened to destroy the nation.

There had been differences between the North and the South even before independence was gained. As the nation grew, these differences increased. Conflicts arising from these differences centered in three main issues: tariffs, states’ rights, and the extension of slavery into new territories. The North welcomed tariffs that protected its industries from foreign competition. The agricultural South opposed tariffs because they increased the prices of the manufacturing goods it imported from Europe.

Possibly, Nash marks out that the problem that stirred the forthcoming war was slavery. As well as being a moral issue, slavery presented important economic considerations. Some Americans insisted on abolition, the ending of slavery throughout the country. Most white southerners were enraged at the possibility. They believed that abolition would destroy their economy and their way of life. Moreover, many white southerners insisted that slaves were property and that citizens had the right to take their property with them wherever they went. Southerners wanted to be able to take their slaves into the new territories. They insisted that when these territories entered the Union, it should be slave states. The issue intensified the debate over slavery.

From the 1820s through the 1850s, Congress tired to balance the interests of the North and the South through a series of compromises, but the debate continued. In the midst of this debate, the Republican Party was formed on the pledge to end the spread of slavery. With the ratification of the Constitution and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the success of the American nation was allegedly assured. Or so Americans thought. For Nash, nevertheless, the “high standards of individual liberty” were exclusive to the white Americans.

When the American nation arose as a Greek-style democracy, the doctrine of inferiority or differences placed blacks beyond the pale of the American democratic creed. Although American mythology says that the Civil War was fought to free the slaves, Gary Nash contends that the political struggle that unfolded between the North and the South was primarily a contest between southern plantation elite and northern industrial, mercantile, and agrarian interests.

However, Nash argues, the new states were not democratic in the modern sense. Although they extended voting rights to more free white males, they did not abolish property requirements altogether. Women could not vote, nor could black slaves or American Indians, either male or female. Politics in the North likewise has a key role in the formation of what seems to be obstinate poverty among the blacks, even up to the present. The local ghettos in the nineteenth century happened to be governed by a minor group of leaders who took their status to their advantage. This was an essential factor to the inclination to hostility, which surfaced in the latter part of that century. This aggression might not have been so scathing had it drawn in only the economic interference of the hasty invasion of the whites or even the cultural plans of kin cohesion enlarged to manage these economic difficulties.
Nash maintains that the sole means to sort out such injustice is to pay heed to the free black community, ensuring that it speaks for every single group within the society. And making certain as well that legislators do not shelve the cultural strategies such as kin accord in the black community itself as ill-bred or immaterial; in point of fact, Nash alleged that such plans would rather satisfy the African Americans well when they discovered themselves wedged in the wave of swift economic disorder and a politically driven system.

Despite Nash’s strong criticisms against the northerners’ derisory and negligent efforts to eliminate slavery at an earlier time, Americans cannot deny the fact that in our political experiences, the successive change in political headship led to anything but an improvement in the lives of the people. For instance, when Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, he proclaimed that he did not want war, but promised to preserve, protect and defend the Union. However, in 1861, Lincoln’s leadership then astonishingly brought about the onset of Civil War. One major effect of Lincoln’s war had been the freeing of large numbers of slaves. Before the Reconstruction, blacks still voted in substantial numbers and received equal treatment on common carriers, trains, and streetcars. Even so, blacks and whites attended separate schools, and whites did not accept blacks as social equals. To Nash, the results of antislavery movements were mixed as much as the results of Reconstruction were.

Nash thought that the America’s rich resources were not fully maximized to carry out liberation needs. Heavy as equalitarian decisions can markedly get, every so often there are sensitive concerns of morality, legality, and humanity that, if not touched on, are treaded on. One of which was the injustice against African Americans. During the American Revolution, some constitutional amendments granted full citizenship to black Americans, and gave voting rights to black men. In the process, governments had improved education and had built housing, schools, roads, and railways. Gradually African Americans began to achieve a better standard of living. They saved their money, bought homes, and gave their children an education. Thousands became part of a growing middle class that the expanding economy had helped create. Middle-class communities arose in the suburbs outside the cities.

Such improvements had helped revitalize the South’s economy but not the black people’s genuine freedom. That is because while important rebuilding had been done, the old system of white dominance had not yet been ended. It was simply incongruous to the focus of the presidents’ leadership that all pointed to white glorification. Indeed, Nash also emerged opinionated on the issue of “whiteness” in the United States. With World War II came a new era of change in the South. Major assaults were directed against segregation from a good many quarters. By the 1980s, under the Reagan administration, the nation began moving down a road that has involved the dismantling of the War on Poverty and various federal programs for black minorities and the poor.

In his book Race and Revolution, an inherent debate has raged over the question of whether opportunities for black economic advancement are more affected by race or class position. Gary Nash believes that racial discrimination has become less important than social class in influencing the life chances of black Americans. He says that civil rights legislation and affirmative action programs have substantially lifted the cap historically imposed on black social mobility by segregation, resulting in greater educational, income, and occupational differentiation: Blacks with good educational backgrounds and job skills rapidly moved into the American middle class; blacks with limited educations and job skills became the victims of dehumanization and welfare dependency. Now poor urban blacks find themselves relegated to all-black neighborhoods where they are further dehumanized and socially isolated from mainstream American life.

Indeed, even if roughly four centuries have passed, Nash thinks that slavery had a variety of effects on slaves and owners up to this date. It broke the spirit of many blacks but made many others vow to resist it. Slavery caused fear and hate between most owners and slaves. But it created feelings of love and respect between some. After the Civil War, discrimination and a lack of education prevented most former slaves from obtaining a good job. Discrimination also kept them from receiving the civil rights they legally had been granted. Historians disagree over how much slavery contributed to discrimination and to other racial conflict that occurred in later years.
Solidifying Nash’s provocative observations, a look at today’s underground news could reveal that still, few nations legally allow slavery. But slavery does continue in areas of Africa, Asia, and South America. No one knows exactly how many people still live in slavery. Most of these slaves are blacks and Indians who were captured in local conflicts or were sold to satisfy debts. Slavery remains a strongly accepted custom among the people who practice it.

Therefore, some governments may not want to stop slavery, and other governments may be unable to end it even if they wished to do so. Both racial and class factors are important in shaping the current black experience. Nash construes that although blacks have made important economic and social gains over the past fifty years, they still lag significantly behind whites. A great gulf separates the two races. It attributed to the low relative status of blacks to a combination of broad-based economic factors and persistent racism.

While the state of race relations in America is not perfect, it is very different from the epoch that invented affirmative action. The sea of change in attitudes among white Americans is bad news for dinosaurs that cling to racial quotas. The whole atmosphere surrounding discussions of race is one of dogmatism and intimidation that makes compromise impossible. Too many republicans find it inconceivable that anyone could honestly disagree with them on racial issues. In other words, it is the old “sell-out” scenario. How else could anyone possibly disagree with republicans on race? By presenting and collating three commanding oeuvres, Nash succeeded in pointing out that there are indeed tensions between black and white at the national level, which is not merely a regionalization issue. Nash suggests that we can best reduce them not by talking or passively writing about them, but by reducing gaps in education and opportunity that are largely ignored while intellectuals talk grandly about race and prejudice.

Although Nash’s academic sources and cross-references are historical in nature and diametrically from historic collection, his opinions are highly flavored. He injected his every opinion with in-depth facts or vice versa. It is however not of confident opinion whether he should be proud of the memoirs he gave us on the big picture of slavery through his historic interpretation. But definitely, it will play a significant role in moving forward, facing new peacekeeping challenges, by looking back at the precedents’ mistakes.

Although clearly written with the abolitionist cause in mind, this book is not merely a political tract. Nash saw reclamation of such life’s fundamentals, as faith, family, education, the capacity for bold action, a sense of community, and personal identity, as the key to the black people’s true survival, true redemption, and true salvation. By and large, Gary Nash’s Race and Revolution is an enlightening and incendiary text. Nash’s work is read today as one of the finest examples of the slavery history. . Moreover, in its somewhat unique depiction of slavery as an assault on selfhood and in its attention to the tensions of becoming an individual, Gary Nash’s Race can be read as a contribution to the scholastic tradition of revisionism. All of these elements show how Gary Nash was an accomplished social historian and a writer, and used the best language of his day to show that blacks were intelligent, and not beneath whites in any way.

On a personal note, I would recommend that every one, no matter what their race may be, should read this book. I found this book to be eye-opening and heart-wrenching. This book has totally changed my perspective on slavery. It’s such a horrible thing that these people had to endure, and this book gives you a sense of that pain. It really grabs a reader’s attention and makes him want to read more. This book was written in such a way that I felt like I was being told the story personally instead of just reading a history book. Nash’s clever use of scholastic language takes the reader back to the plantation and right into the kitchen where slaves used to serve the whites instead of their rights being served to them. The reader becomes a helpless spectator to the injustices and struggles African Americans were faced with during their time in the revolutionary people, and at the same time becomes inspired by Nash’s brave sociologists’ spirit and his desire to give the present generation a rectified outlook into the true sense of revolution. This book serves a dual purpose, in my opinion, in that it not only gives an account of the slave life, but that of the possibility of an eventual free life. This book goes out to anyone who wanted to know what it was like to be a slave in America.


Nash, G. (1991). Race and Revolution. Lanham, Maryland: Madison House Publishers.

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