From Publishers Weekly
Speaking the language of moralism, individual freedom and responsibility, contrarian cultural critic Steele builds on ideas he earlier articulated in his National Book Critics Circle Award–winner The Content of Our Character
(1990). Today's problem, Steele forcefully argues, is not black oppression, but white guilt, a loose term that encompasses both an attempt by whites to regain the moral authority they lost after the Civil Rights Movement, and black contempt toward "Uncle Tom" complicity with white hegemony, resulting in a shirking of personal accountability. Steele makes a passionate case against the "Faustian bargain" he perceives on the left: "we'll throw you a bone like affirmative action if you'll just let us reduce you to your race so we can take moral authority for 'helping' you." But progressive readers will object to his assertion that systemic racism is a thing of the past—and to his praise of the Bush administration's philosophy on poverty, education and race. Though Steele takes a hard, critical look at affirmative action, self-serving white liberals and self-victimizing black leaders, he stops short of offering real-world solutions. (May)
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Steele asserts that the primary focus of the civil-rights era was a legitimate quest to remove racial barriers. In the shift to the black-power era, Steele sees a paradigm shift, away from racial uplift and agency, where blacks assume responsibility for themselves, to a "race is destiny" mode. As the counterculture merged with the civil-rights movement, America was exposed for its racial hypocrisy and, consequently, lost its moral authority. Here, "white guilt" became the moral framework for America. Steele argues that liberal whites embraced guilt for two reasons: to avoid being seen as racists and to embrace a vantage point where they could mete out benefits to disadvantaged blacks through programs such as affirmative action. Steele believes blacks made a deal with the devil by exchanging responsibility and control over their destiny for handouts. He sees a deficiency in black middle-class educational achievement, further raising questions about claims of lack of equal opportunity. Despite these omissions, the cultural analysis of America's loss of moral authority for its exposed racism has resonance today. Vernon FordCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved