An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy is a 1944 study of race relations authored by Swedish Nobel-laureate economist Gunnar Myrdal and funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York. The foundation chose Myrdal because it thought that as a non-American, he could offer a more unbiased opinion. Myrdal’s volume, at nearly 1,500 pages, painstakingly detailed what he saw as obstacles to full participation in American society that American Negroes faced as of the 1940s. Ralph Bunche served as Gunnar Myrdal’s main researcher and writer at the start of the project in the Fall of 1938.
It sold over 100,000 copies and went through 25 printings before going into its second edition in 1965. It was enormously influential in how racial issues were viewed in the United States, and it was cited in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case “in general.” The book was generally positive in its outlook on the future of race relations in America, taking the view that democracy would triumph over racism. In many ways it laid the groundwork for future policies of racial integration and affirmative action.
Myrdal believed he saw a vicious cycle in which whites oppressed negroes, and then pointed to negroes’ poor performance as reason for the oppression. The way out of this cycle, he argued, was to either cure whites of the prejudice he believed existed, or to improve the circumstances of negroes, which would then disprove whites’ preconceived notions. Myrdal called this process the “principle of cumulation.”
At the center of Myrdal’s work in An American Dilemma was his postulate that political and social interaction in the United States is shaped by an “American Creed.” This creed emphasizes the ideals of liberty, equality, justice, and fair treatment of all people. Myrdal claims that it is the “American Creed” that keeps the diverse melting pot of the United States together. It is the common belief in this creed that enables all people—whites, negroes, rich, poor, male, female, and immigrants alike—with a common cause and allows for them to co-exist as one nation.