Blacks in the White Establishment?


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A Study of Race and Class in America

Richard L. Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff

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“The next thing the girl said was, ‘I’ve never been near anyone black except for my maid.’ And I thought, I’m going to have problems here.”—Bobette Reed Kahn


What were the feelings and experiences of the young blacks from economically impoverished backgrounds who in the 1960s were placed in white upper-class prep schools? What do their current attitudes and achievements reveal about the importance of race and class in America? In this sensitive and engrossing book, a social psychologist and a political sociologist report on the early graduates of A Better Chance, a program designed to recruit and prepare minority students for entry into exclusive boarding schools, elite colleges and universities, and ultimately positions of power and prestige. Zwegenhaft and Domhoff’s book is a vivid testimony to the costs and the rewards of this innovative attempt to transcend racial barriers.


As Zweigenhaft and Domhoff relate, these young men and women faced difficulties in the dramatic transition from black ghettos to the most exclusive boarding schools in the United States. Yet most not only endured but flourished. We hear their stories about the orientation programs they attended, their experiences in prep schools and colleges, the overt and covert forms of discrimination they faced, and the problems they encountered when they went home again. They discuss the pressures they felt, the friendships they made, the marriage partners they selected, and the frustrations and gratifications in their occupational lives.


The question of the relative importance of race and class in the United States is an ongoing controversy among policymakers, educators, and social scientists. Zweigenhaft and Domhoff’s study sheds light on this debate—it concludes that while the importance of class has increased in the past few decades, race is still the paramount factor in the personal and social identity of blacks.

"A fascinating and well-told story of black mobility into the White Establishment sponsored by elite private schools during the 1960s and 70s."—E. Digby Baltzell, Professor Emeritus, Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

"A fascinating analysis of the interplay of race and class, from the halls of America's elite private schools through college, graduate school, marriage, and adult careers. The books sheds new light on the debate over the relative importance of race and class in the United States. It is carefully researched and very interesting to read."—Caroline Persell, New York University

"Blacks in the White Establishment is a needed and valuable volume. It focuses on an important but rarely asked question: What are the long-term effects of such popular interracial efforts of the 1960s as the prep schools' 'A Better Chance' program? Zweigenhaft and Domhoff provide illuminating answers that highlight extraordinary subtleties in both racial and class relations in modern America."—Thomas F. Pettigrew, Professor of Social Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and University of California, Santa Cruz

"Zweigenhaft and Domhoff provocatively explore the lives of selected black former students who entered 'A Better Chance,' an extraordinary educational program that catapulted them in the 1960s from economically impoverished backgrounds to white upper class prep schools. . . . This book makes clear that the racial divide that separated Americans is still intact. The inspirational journey of these men and women, however, reminds us of the possibilities of Black Americans when they are given a chance."—Joyce A. Ladner, Howard University

"Universal failure is the common white image of black youngsters in urban ghettos. In this on-of-a-kind book Zweigenhaft and Domhoff directly question the validity of that image and refute the allied notion that poor black kids are too handicapped to make it in the elite white world."—Joe R. Feagin, University of Florida

"Compelling. . . . One is left with an accurate and truthful portrayal of one of America's most successful educational programs. . . . The stories are many, the successes are stimulating. But what makes this provocative book a must read for black and white students intent on attending prep school is its frankness. You get the whole story. No punches are pulled. . . . What makes Blacks in the White Establishment? A Study of Race and Class in America extraordinary is that its stories come from the heart of the youngsters who were provided this 'golden opportunity.'"—Garry D. Howard, Philadelphia Inquirer

"This book is of interest primarily for what it has to say about the ongoing debate over the relative importance of race and class in the United States."—S. Keith Graham, Atlanta Journal Constitution

"An interesting, well-written work."—Library Journal

"What a splendid idea for a book! . . . Its rags-to-riches stories and its insights—into racial contact, the emotional and intellectual resources of welfare children, and the daily round of prep schools—are detailed, instructive, eminently readable, and restore hope in the possibility of social interventions that reduce racial inequality."—Booklist

"Filled with direct quotes and anecdotes. It will interest readers concerned with race and class in America."—Booklist

"A fascinating study. . . . [A] convincing and gripping [study]. . . . Sobering conclusions."—Stephen G. Kurtz, The Washington Post Book World

"[A] well-written, readable book."—Choice

"Filled with poignant anecdotes told in the words of the participants, this is a very readable academic work, made all the more significant given recent affronts to affirmative action nationwide."—Lisa Jones, Village Voice

"Carefully documents the personal journeys of those who were a part of ABC. We learn about their summer program experiences, prep school years, undergraduate and graduate school training, friendships, dating and marriage patterns, as well as where they are in their present careers. . . . In the clearly written and persuasively argued final chapter, Zweigenhaft and Domhoff suggest that race is still more important than class, even for those blacks who have acquired upper-class styles."—Leslie B. Inniss, Political Science Quarterly

"An engaging portrait both of how prep schools engage in socialization to power and of just how pervasively race channels and constrains the lives of even those Blacks admitted to such places as Andover, Choate, Exeter, Groton, Middlesex, St. Mark's, and St. Paul's. . . . Blacks in the White Establishment? may be the most theoretically provocative study ever written about how race, class, and schooling intertwine. . . . A valuable read for students of race and ethnic relations and of high interest to students of education and social psychology. I strongly recommend this book."—Lawrence Bobo, Contemporary Sociology

"This book should be disturbing to almost everybody worried about racial tensions in the United States."—Dennis O'Brien, America

"In this important and readable look at race relations in the upper echelons of American schooling, a social psychologist and a political sociologist report on the early graduates of A Better Chance, the program designed in the 1960s to recruit and prepare minority students for entry into exclusive boarding schools, elite postsecondary schools, and successful and influential careers."—Education Week

"The account of the initiation of young blacks into élite culture is movingly told. . . . This is an interesting and well-written book that should stimulate further research and will stimulate furious debate amongst those who believe that enhanced opportunities for mobility are no substitute for institutional change."—Robert Moore, Sociology

"Fascinating reading. . . . This book is obligatory reading for those who maintain an interest in the educational future of blacks in this country."—Ezra E. H. Griffith, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

"This book should be disturbing to almost everybody worried about racial tensions in the United States."—Dennis O'Brien, America

"Engaging and provocative."—Marcia G. Synnott, Journal of American History

"The book is excellent not only at providing a social and historical account of Black experiences at a particular type of private school, that is, the elite prep school, but also with tying the account to the overall status of race and class in the United States."—Bruce Anthony Jones, Educational Studies

"This is a wonderful book-a fascinating study, a thoughtful discussion, a good read, and a provocative example of guerrilla research. . . . an elegant book that comments insightfully on schooling, American race relations, and ethnic and class identities."—Robert Crain and Luis Genao, Educational Researcher

"[This] book is a very important contribution and should be widely read, especially by those who espouse or are being swayed by culture-of-poverty explanations for declines in life chances for African Americans."—Catherine V. Scott, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Winner of the American Society for Hispanic Art Historical Studies’ 1994 Eleanor Tufts Award

Chosen as an Outstanding Book on the subject of human rights by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America
ISBN: 9780300209822
Publication Date: June 10, 2014
208 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4