AMERICAN DILEMMA In 1937, the Carnegie Corporation of New York invited Gunnar Myrdal, a Swedish sociologist at the University of Stockholm, to direct "a comprehensive study ofthe Negro in the United States, to be undertaken in a wholly objective and dispassionate way as a social phenomenon." Accepting this charge, Myrdal and a team of prominent historians, political scientists, economists, psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists painstakingly collected data and compiled exhaustive research reports concerning the status of the African American, past and present.
A major portion of Myrdal's research was formally published in 1944 as An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. Hailed by one reviewer as "one of the best political commentaries on American life that has ever been written," Myrdal's massive study traced African American history from its origins up through the early 1940's, concentrating on racism; economic, judicial and political discrimination against the black; segregation and social stratification; and the emergence and effectiveness of black protest organizations.
Myrdal's principal theme revolved around the disparity between American ideals and practices. He maintained that the "American Negro problem" was basically a moral dilemma involving a conflict between "moral valuations on various levels of consciousness and generality." He argued that America's dilemma "is the ever-raging conflict between, on the one hand, the valuations preserved on the general plane which we shall call the 'American Creed,' where the American thinks, talks, and acts under the influence of high national and Christian precepts, and, on the other hand, the valuations on specific planes of individual and group living, where personal and local interests; economic, social, and sexual jealousies; considerations of community prestige and conformity; group prejudice against particular persons or types of people; and all sorts of miscellaneous wants, impulses, and habits dominate his outlook."
By drawing attention to this "moral dilemma" and to the disparity between American theory and practice concerning blacks, Myrdal's treatise played a significant role in the rise of egalitarian racial sentiment in the late 1940's and beyond.