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The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America Paperback – September 23, 1998


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The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America + White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 23, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006097415X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060974152
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From the sight-lines of the university setting, Shelby Steele gives an account of race that is nothing if not controversial. Steele's nine essays derive their messages from personal experience dosed with broader social psychology. The value of this book, which won a 1990 National Book Critics Circle Award, lies in its introspection, rather than its distant calculation. Steele weeds the individual out of the group and argues for personal responsibility. He offers a unique look at the African-American experience and points a questioning finger at the children of affirmative action. The knee-jerk identification he observes "presupposes a deep racist reflex in American life that will forever try to limit black possibility."

From Publishers Weekly

Steele, seeking to improve strained race relations, demonstrates how social policies intensify rather than lessen racial differences, how blacks and whites tend to see color before character, and how blacks are often oppressed more by doubt in their abilities than by racism. This won a National Book Critics Circle award. (Sept.)no PW
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

This book should be required reading for every college student.
Miguel Delgadillo
"Whites must guarantee a free and fair society. But blacks must be responsible for actualizing their own lives" (p. 34).
Gerard Reed
It is a very good book, Mr Steele ocaisionally glosses over a bit of the subject matter.
D. T. Jones

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 53 people found the following review helpful By S. M Marson on December 9, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Prior to reading THE CONTENT OF OUR CHARACTER, one will find it helpful to know something about Sheby Steele's background. He has a Masters in Sociology and a Doctorate in English Literature. As a result, we find a well-written book with profound sociological insights. Generally speaking, sociologists are not well known for being good writers. Steele is clearly the exception.
From a sociological perspective, Steele employs an ecological system model as a tool to capture his personal experience enabling the reader comprehend his emergence into manhood in a racially biased society. Yes, I admit my description sounds like a bunch of academic hogwash. However, Steele masterfully strips away the academic jargon to create a meaningful book that everyone can grasp without being diverted by theoretical language. His use of a theory as a backdrop provides the reader with a connection - a meaningful experience.
For several decades, sociologists have been attempting to link personality with the social structure in a manner that has some practical and meaningful application. Up to this point, all attempts have been miserable failures. Here lies Sheby Steele's great success. He created this important theoretical linkage hitherto unseen in American social science.
What value does THE CONTENT OF OUR CHARACTER offer us? Steele brilliantly portrays race relations as a connection between the micro and macro human experience. In many ways, Steele succeeded to do what Parsons dreamed about in the 1940's. Steele identifies that racial problems cannot be solved merely by instituting (macro) policy change. He states that everyone has a personal (micro) responsibility to embrace the role of change agent. Most interestingly, his primary focus is directed toward African American individuals.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Rasband VINE VOICE on August 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Shelby Steele's "The Content of Our Character" is not just a book for African-Americans. It's for anyone who wants to live a better life. When I read this book I felt like he was speaking to me, individually, as a man and not as a member of a racial category. Especially valuable are his insights on self-sabotage, and the true sources of self-esteem. All of us have our own demons to face and Steele's wise counsel is invaluable in that struggle. You should approach this book in the spirit of Epictetus, or Benjamin Franklin. It really is in that same class.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Interplanetary Funksmanship on November 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
This tome by Shelby Steele was written slightly over a decade ago. However, the problems of race and class that defined much of the black experience in America at the time of its writing still hold for today. And, while I agree with Steele's general assessment of the state of black America, and especially with the solutions he outlines, I do agree somewhat with his critics, black or otherwise, who believes Steele tends to underplay the current levels of racism in our society.
However, here's the rub: Racism can be an excuse to fail, or a reason to improve one's lot to the extent that blacks are empowered to make racism less relevant to their individual and collective destiny. For what Steele is proposing is a return to the proud ethic first elaborated upon by such civil rights pioneers as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey.
I give this excellent book four stars instead of five for the following reasons: 1). As it was compiled mainly from magazine articles previously written by Steele, it is a bit repetetive, and; 2). Steele draws quite a bit on history of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, but I believe that by tracing many of our societal trends to the turn-of-the-century competing visions of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, this would have been a more well-rounded book.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By houseman@erols.com on January 2, 1998
Format: Paperback
I found Shelby Steele's essays to be even handed, thoughtful, and enlightening. This is my first reading of a race relations text as such. My insights have been shaped by personal experiences, history books, television, and newspaper accounts of the events of the 1960's, 70's, 80's, and now 90's. The insight provided by Steele's personal life events, the discussion of Bill Cosby's bargaining, Jesse Jackon's power trips, Ronald Regan's ingratiating, and quotes from Ralph Ellison have broadened my perspective regarding race in the United States. To paraphrase, he believes blacks need to shift from wartime to a peacetime identity, from fighting for opportunity to seizing it, to prosper based on your own initiative, and use the means at hand to succeed. Included is a discussion of affirmative action and the notion that its time has passed. If affirmative action's time has passed, then the need to support or provide developmental skills has not. This work has stirred me to read more African American authors and to continue broadening my persoectives.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Steele's deeply absorbing "The Content of our Character" should be required reading for every American. His frank analyses of the problems which beset black Americans is honest, and also sympathetic and constructive as well. (Of course, these days any "self-help" approach regarding African-Americans is castigated as "Uncle Tom-ish" and unsympathetic-- is it any wonder that the problems remain?). Steele infuses psychological theories into his arguments, which seem as plausible as anything I've ever read on the subject. Anyone who argues against his position would seem to favor the entrenched "victimization" stance for blacks, a position which Steele correctly notes is probably the most hurtful element to the black community's struggle for upward mobility-- certainly more hurtful at this point in time than actual racism. Steele lends humanity to the black struggle against "inferiority anxiety" by accurately identifying it and laying it on the table. It is unfortunate that his detractors unwittingly perpetuate the tragic socioeconomic disparity between blacks and whites by refusing to give credence to "reform liberal" intellectuals like Steele. As he says, only positive action, the right values, hard work, and sacrifice have ever lifted any ethnic community out of poverty, regardless of the degree and kinds of oppression imposed upon them. Isn't that the bottom line? It's too bad that we may never see a wholesale positive change in the African American community, simply because their dubious leaders frantically search for "the pea of racism under twenty mattresses," rather than go into the inner cities and encourage the right (i.e., old-fashioned) values, attitudes, and action.Read more ›
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