Sunday, February 11, 2007

Book Review: "White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era" by Shelby Steele (2006)

In this 181-page essay, award-winning author and former 1960s liberal Shelby Steele argues that the major issue dominating race relations in the United States is that of white guilt. Steele defines white guilt as the overwhelming drive for individuals who live and work in white-dominated institutions such as universities, media and government to not appear racist by championing paternalistic measures such as racial quotas, something Steele is firmly against.

White guilt is also characterized by the silencing of anyone who would speak out against such schemes as well as those would urge black society to look in the mirror - Bill Cosby, for example - as being intolerant if they are white and not authentically black if they are black. The end result is that the victim mentality is affirmed, legitimized and perpetuated, with the burden of proof lying squarely on the shoulders of American society at large, whereby appearances, good intentions and claiming the moral high ground all matter far more than outcomes or, for that matter, frank discussion and any mention, implied or articulated, of the lack of an ethic of individual responsibility in some parts of urban America.

As a white male who grew up in middle-class, small town North America, the fact that I was reluctant to even review this book on a forum as innocuous as this speaks to how far the concept of white guilt has permeated society when it comes to race - and I'm not even from the US. These are tremendously important observations that need to be made. However, I have two negative comments on "White Guilt". First, Steele doesn't write for a popular audience. I may be a little thick, but it took me about half of the book to get my head around what he meant by the term itself and how he explains it in terms of the loss of "white moral authority". This concept didn't come easily to me. Secondly, the fact that he has a doctorate in English is evident throughout as his prose is a little overly cerebral for my liking. In any case, this is a challenging read for all who are interested in social cohesion in a society that sadly, is as far from being colour-blind as it was during the civil rights era.

Interview with Shelby Steele here.

Overall rating: 8/10


At 7:09 PM, Blogger Sammie said...

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Agree? Disagree? Discuss with Steele via Paltalk’s Interactive video chat service, which connects a global audience with influential guests from all walks of life.

At 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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