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Liberal Racism Hardcover – July 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

A kind of sequel to Jim Sleeper's earlier The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York, this is a tough-minded, provocative indictment of the failure of liberalism in the post-Civil Rights era. As Sleeper sees it, liberals once held the moral high ground because they "fought nobly to help this country rise above color." Now, however, liberals have become blinded by race and have abandoned the fight to create what Sleeper calls the "transracial belonging and civic faith for which Americans of all colors so obviously yearn." Much of what Sleeper has to say here flies in the face of politically correct received wisdom about race, but as an effort to remind Americans that all of us are fundamentally responsible for our fates, this is a much-needed corrective to race-based thinking that has proven unproductive.

From Booklist

Sleeper argues that liberals who once pushed America to think beyond color have of late gravitated toward ideas and policies that are essentially racist. Sleeper maintains that liberals make many destructive racial assumptions, including the notion that color itself determines an individual's destiny. Similarly, they frequently have lower expectations for people of color, notably in the area of crime, where they like to see African American criminals as victims. Such thinking, he believes, diverts us from the reality of crime and its causes. The media also come under Sleeper's keen eye, including the New York Times, which, in his view, regularly "gets race wrong" by accepting the above myths. Sleeper's analysis is hard nosed and penetrating, but his aim isn't to tear down. Just the opposite, as he hopes to direct progressive ideology and its practitioners back toward truly liberating traditions. Brian McCombie

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st edition (July 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670873918
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670873913
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,461,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jill Malter on March 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Liberals are supposed to believe in an inclusive society, where we take advantage of the contributions from everyone in it. And where each person has equal rights.

That surely does not mean lowering standards. A doctor still has to meet standards to practice. A university student still has to pass exams to qualify for a profession.

But it does mean letting people into that university independent of their race, religion, gender, sexual preference, creed, and so on. Maybe age discrimination would be an interesting question, but discrimination in favor of or against people of a specific skin color? That's supposed to be illiberal.

A century ago, the bar was set higher for non-whites than for whites. That was racist and counterproductive. Jim Sleeper asks if we are setting the bar so low for non-whites today that we are denying non-whites the satisfaction of equal accomplishment and opportunity. Given my Asian background, I find this question interesting.

Sleeper asks if, not out of malice but out of folly, many liberals have overemphasized black identity and thus behaved in a racist manner themselves. The author explains that conservatives still have some of the same exclusionary problems they've always had. This is not an apology for conservatism. It is a plea for genuine liberalism.

As Sleeper explains, blacks have much to profit from a truly color-blind society.

The first main topic Sleeper deals with is individual responsibility, as seen in court cases. In the past, blacks simply did not get treated justly in white courts. But there is still a threat of some of the same problems if we keep looking carefully at skin color in court cases.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Willy Cowles on May 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
Sleeper's book Liberal Racism portrays his ideas about modern american racial tensions in a brutally honest and clear manner. The book deals with liberal's failings in their ideas about race, but Sleeper is careful not to make it an attack of the left, nor a support of the right, but rather an encouragement and constructive criticsm of liberal ideologies about race. In doing this he mantains objectivity by brilliantly refusing to take sides with any political entity, supporting equally the ideas of people as disparrate as race radicals of the 1960's to Newt Gingrich. In addition to Sleeper's careful structuring of his stance, he argues the book with sharp and clear logic, his language and structure flowing beautifully not only within chapters and subjects, but throughout the whole text, as he categorically examines ideas relating to crime, voting, the media, and culture, among others. This book is a valuable text in today's modern racial context because it is not only enlightening, it offers a fresh and concise viewpoint on an often less than clear topic.
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful By John on June 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Sleeper's criticism of the corrosiveness of (generally) well-intended white liberal political interventions is astute, but his proposed solution - the (re-)adoption by all Americans of New England puritan values (capitalist vigour + personal thrift + rigid church-based moral codes), while sounding 'tough talking', is simply naive.
He assumes that vigorous free-market consumer capitalism is compatible with such traditional values, whereas the reality world-wide would seem to be the opposite: Traditional and local values get lost in a blur of glossy consumer indulgence and hedonism. What does he propose replacing this money-making, money-spending search for pleasure with? Thrift as a good in itself? But if we don't spend then the system comes crashing down, especially in post-industrial, service-oriented economies.
Moreover high personal moral values of the sort he praises in the last section of the book have always been compatible with beliefs that we now see are terribly immoral - slavery, for instance. The men who wrote that it was self-evidently true that all men are created equal owned slaves. If it seems banal to restate that, it's a reminder that one can't just step into the values of a time gone by, cherry-pick the ones one likes, and then try to browbeat the poorer members of society into adopting them: they come with historical baggage. Hence they may be impulsively resented and deserve to be seriously interrogated.
Mr Sleeper believes that the 'true' American values on which the communal spirit should be rebuilt are New England Puritan ones, but weren't the values of the Southern slave-owners equally 'truly American'?
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Format: Hardcover
The author is well intended-- but is woefully off-base when he asserts that "liberalism" failed due to 'color-blind' public policy programs. The author fails at an attempt to critique political liberalism while also failing to assert what "conservatism" has brought to the table and how racial minorities- particular African Americans-- have fared since the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Sleeper's premise seems to be that if those concerned with social equity weren't so concerned with "seeing colors" that racial minorities would "naturally" progress in economics and politics. Systemic discrimination, cultural discrimination are not taken into account at all. Bill Clinton was the President and Rudy Giuliani was New York City's mayor by the time this book was written, so the "neo-con" culture had not yet taken over the White House (though it had overtaken Congress by the mid-1990s). Sleeper, who apparently identifies as a "moderate" feels he has liberal fallacies nailed, but he's way off the mark.
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