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A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America Paperback – October 6, 1999

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  • White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era
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Editorial Reviews Review

Shelby Steele's first book, The Content of Our Character, sparked outrage over its indictment of liberal American policies and attitudes towards race. A Dream Deferred expands Steele's critique, comparing government interventions (like affirmative action) to the most damaging practices of slavery and segregation, Soviet Communism, and Nazi Germany.

While Steele zealously praises civil rights victories, terming the movement that effected them "the greatest nonviolent revolution in American history (one of the greatest in all history)," he concludes that a simultaneous outcome--the stigmatization of whiteness--has led to disaster. Shamed whites try to prove their innocence through redemptive acts, according to Steele, and he has always disdained the "moral self-preoccupation" of post-'60s white liberals, which "made them dangerous to blacks--ready to give them over to an 'otherness' in which nothing is expected of them."

Steele, a self-described black conservative, complains, "The great ingenuity of interventions like affirmative action has not been that they give Americans a way to identify with the struggle of blacks, but that they give them a way to identify with racial virtuousness quite apart from blacks." He contends that victimization is the greatest hindrance for black Americans: while white liberals see blacks as victims to assuage guilty consciences, blacks parlay their status as victims into a currency that turns out to have no long-term buying power. Steele's conclusion: the only way for blacks to stop buying into this zero-sum game is to adopt a culture of excellence and achievement untrammeled by set-asides and entitlements. --Lise Funderburg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In these essays, self-described black conservative Steele (The Content of Our Character) denounces what he calls unsuccessful liberal intervention to promote equal opportunity for African Americans. The author, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, argues that blacks have been twice betrayed: first by being oppressed by slavery and segregation, second by government-mandated group preferences that rob blacks of their self-esteem. Such programs he sees as rooted more in white guilt than in a desire to help blacks become more competitive in our society. He points out that blacks relying on their own initiative have managed to excel in music, sports and literature. On the other hand, he sees programs of affirmative action, set-asides, group preferences or welfare payments as the product of white assumptions of black inferiority. Steele's solution to problems such as inner-city joblessness, teenage pregnancy and high crime rates is devotion among blacks to principles of personal accountability, hard work, delayed gratification and other forms of individual effort, though he doesn't spell out how to implement these goals. His analysis tends to be repetitious or based on sweeping generalities without research data; however, he then charges that contradictory evidence is the result of bias among academics. This is a contentious work that is likely to reignite old arguments, but then Steele should be used to that by now. U.K. first serial and translation rights, HarperCollins; dramatic and audio rights, Carol Mann; author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (October 6, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931043
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931049
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,199,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful By John McWhorter on August 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I agree heartily with Shelby Steele that black America has been forced into a detour by the set-aside culture. However, Steele as of now couches his arguments in a way that will only preach to the converted, when in fact he could have wider influence. Steele appears to consider black leaders' addiction to set-asides as a "political ploy" when in fact it is based on a genuine misconception that racism is a decisive hindrance to all black lives. Many black readers, in response to Steele's points about democracy and incentive and contingency, consider such things irrelevant in the face of Rodney King, profiling, and the myth that most black people are poor. As it happens, Steele's points are valid even in the face of these things, but I wish he would write a third book where he took them by the horns. Otherwise, people he might have some impact on are more likely to reject him as not knowing "what's really going down".
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 21, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Discussions about race" is almost an oxymoron. The positions most people hold are already fixed and there isn't much of the ability to hear the other side that is required to have a true discussion. Too often we simply look for writings and speeches that support our pre-existing notions, praise them as we find them, and think to ourselves, "If only the other side would just see as clearly as I and this author do this problem would not exist!" Or we find an author with whom we disagree and attack him so fiercely because we somehow feel that if we can debase the author we can debase the view with which we disagree.
Shelby Steele has been misused in both those ways. He has chosen a hard road because he writes sincere, thoughtful, and passionate essays that do not merely support or oppose widely held beliefs. Yes, he is attacked as if he were merely a water carrier for the GOP or praised as if all he were about were attacking affirmative action. He is far more subtle than this! Please take the time to read him carefully because there is so much more to gain from his writing, whether or not you end up agreeing with him.
This book consists of one very long and three shorter essays. I hate to summarize the ideas in the essay because they are more thoughtful than any summary I can give and the mere mention of the subjects involved will likely provoke a polarized response to a position already held. What I will say is that if you force yourself to put aside your already firmly held views ad read these wonderful essays with an open mind, you can find insights that can move you to new thinking and attitudes.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 9, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you read THE CONTENT OF OUR CHARACTER, you're likely to think that A DREAM DEFERRED is published by the Department of Redundancy Department. Yes, there is no doubt that A DREAM DEFERRED is an elaboration of THE CONTENT OF OUR CHARACTER. However, I for one, have not tired of Steele's central thesis. In addition, Steele is a brilliant writer. I never tire of good writing.
A DREAM DEFERRED reminds me of a rather poignant experience I had with an Ohio State University doctoral student. Three of us were sitting together over some coffee. Two of us were white male graduates, while the third was a Native American graduate student. He lamented the racial discrimination he faced with one particular professor. My colleague and I were quite distressed with the comments from this young man. We had some power and could do something about this unsavory situation. With some prodding, the young man eventually told us who the professor was. Upon hearing the name, puzzlement came over our faces, then a smirk. We were both familiar with the professor in question. He was terse, pompous and arrogant - all common characteristics of doctoral faculty. However, he was NOT a racist. We were able to convince the young man that his experience was not racially motivated but rather the professor was simply a jerk. No, he wasn't a racist; he merely treated everyone like trash.
A DREAM DEFERRED provides the basis for whites to understand the predicament faced by many minorities. They have difficulty distinguishing between social activities that are racially motivated and social activities that emerge as stressful but have no elements of racial bias. Steele suggests that whites must stand firm. Funny thing is -- Steele is well aware that most white will not follow his directions. African Americans must take the lead.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Alif A. Williams on October 31, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Steele has made me re-think the wisdom of blindly accepting the "party line" of black politics in America. I do not agree with all of his ideas. However, many of his views are worthy of careful consideration by blacks and white. Regretably, many blacks will not even listen [and do not want others to listen] to alternative views like those expressed by Mr. Steele. Mr. Steele should continue to make us think critically about other views of this thorny issue. I find Mr. Steele to be brilliant and a valuable asset to the black intelligentsia in America and the world. Keep up the good work. I am black person who has lived all my life in the "slavery border" State of Missouri (where active racism is alive and well). I have never thought of myself as a conservaitve. However, I look forward to reading and purchasing other books written by Mr. Steele in the future.
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