"One of our best-kept secrets and one of our greatest tragedies" is the undermining of the civil rights movement's universalism and moral truths by diversity theorists, who aim to "liberate whites from their alleged racism and blacks from their assumed bondage of low self-esteem," declares Syracuse University historian Lasch-Quinn. By attributing racial tensions to psychological factors, people like Price M. Cobbs and William H. Grier, coauthors of Black Rage (1968) who "believed that slavery created a set of interracial dynamics that led to a particular pathological mentality in slaves" persisting through generations into the 1960s drew attention away from bigger complexities of justice and inequality, she writes. The "rise of the therapeutic" in the form of encounter groups and sensitivity training created milieus in which psychological disorders are traced to all-pervasive white racism, Lasch-Quinn argues, rather than to social injustices that could be righted through political activism. In her view, such attitudes appear even in recent books like Beverly Tatum's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" and Other Conversations about Race. Lasch-Quinn faults diversity trainers in latter-day workplaces for relying on broad stereotypes about groups She believes that children's multicultural "self-esteem literature" can affirm children (The Black Snowman) without resorting to "boosterism" (Nappy Hair). Despite many convincing examples, Lasch-Quinn ignores recent books that could complicate her thesis, such as Ellis Cose's The Rage of a Privileged Class. And while she notes that diversity experts frame a world in which social faux pas are deemed racism, she could better acknowledge the persistence of white privilege.
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Lasch-Quinn, a history professor, probes the intersection of the civil rights struggle and modern social psychology, in particular the human potential movement. She highlights the "overthrow of the social code of segregation" and the adoption of an etiquette of black assertiveness and white submissiveness that has produced a "harangue-flagellation" ritual that does not advance the goal of racial equality. Contrary to the goals of the civil rights movement, which sought to remove distinctions based on race, Lasch-Quinn points to a cottage industry of experts on racial differences that perpetuates differentiation. She draws parallels to the behavior codes evinced by racial segregation and notes the danger that the new racial etiquette will make interaction between the races a social minefield, discouraging contact. She recalls the early history of social psychology as applied to race relations and cites books and movies that have either demonstrated the tortured landscape of racial etiquette or attempted to educate people about it. This is sure to be a controversial book among readers interested in race issues. Vanessa Bush
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