From the author of the award-winning bestseller The Content of Our Character comes a new essay collection that tells the untold story behind the polarized racial politics in America today.
In his new book Shelby Steele argues that a second betrayal of black freedom in the United States--the first one being segregation--emerged from the civil rights era when the country was overtaken by a powerful impulse to redeem itself from racial shame. According to Steele, the liberalism that grew out of the 1960s had as its first and all-consuming goal the expiation of America guilt rather than the careful development of true equality between the races. This "culture of preference" betrayed America's best principles in order to give whites and America institutions an iconography of racial virtue they could use against the stigma of racial shame. In four densely argued essays, Steele takes on the familiar questions of affirmative action, multiculturalism, diversity, Afro-centrism, group preferences, victimization--and what he deems to be the atavistic powers of race, ethnicity, and gender, the original causes of oppression. A Dream Deferred is an honest, courageous look at the perplexing dilemma of race and democracy in the United States--and what we might do to resolve it.
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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 FunderburgAbout the Author:
Shelby Steele is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. The Content of Our Character won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction in 1991. Steele is the author, most recently, of A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America.
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