[Ed. – The following is excerpted from an in-depth story on the 2017 SAGE-CASBS Award lecture. To read the full story, which includes rich details from William Julius Wilson’s speech, click here.]
“So, Bill, how’s the fight on pessimism going?”
The question was posed by Margaret Levi, director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University, near the end of her introduction of William Julius Wilson, recipient of the 2017 SAGE-CASBS Award and a 1981-82 CASBS fellow. Moments earlier, Levi had quoted a 2016 Harvard Gazette article in which Wilson described his struggle to fight pessimism in the face of only modest change in the social and economic circumstances of African Americans during his lifetime.
Coincidentally, just before the presidential election of 2016, Wilson’s colleague at Harvard University, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (a 2007-08 CASBS fellow) asked him, for purposes of updating a television project, to weigh-in regarding his level of optimism or pessimism regarding the future of black Americans.
So, though a topic of concern for much of his career, the questions have weighed heavily on Wilson’s mind in recent months, in what he calls “a very frustrating period in our history.”
Aware of the opportunity presented him, Wilson meticulously offered responses to Levi and Gates throughout his SAGE-CASBS Award lecture, delivered at CASBS on June 8 to a rapt, overflow audience. The public event was presented by CASBS and SAGE Publishing. The SAGE-CASBS Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the social and behavioral sciences that advance our understanding of pressing social issues. It underscores the role of the social and behavioral sciences in enriching and enhancing public policy and good governance.
The Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard, William Julius Wilson is one of the most influential and path-breaking social scientists of the past half-century, and in particular one of the most accomplished scholars of race, inequality, and poverty. Among his numerous honors are the National Medal of Science, induction into the National Academy of Sciences, and 46 honorary degrees. His hefty 56-page CV, as Levi remarked, is “not packed with anything trivial.” In addition, as Levi detailed in her introduction, Wilson’s influence has extended beyond academics and even beyond politics and public policy debate, penetrating into the popular culture.
Wilson’s SAGE-CASBS award lecture, “Reflections on American Race Relations in the Age of Donald Trump,” put his well-earned stature and command of the issues on full display, both for attendees and C-SPAN, which filmed the event for later broadcast.
Following his lecture, which is presented in the video above, SAGE Publishing founder and executive chairman Sara Miller McCune approached the lectern and presented Wilson with the 2017 SAGE-CASBS Award plaque and check.