Form and Content
In his first book, The Content of Our Character (1990), Shelby Steele wrote that it is a mistake to identify white racism as the principal cause for current problems in the African American community. He further asserted that a “victim-focused identity” produces excessive pessimism, thereby discouraging individuals from achieving their full potential. Steele expands on these themes in his second major work, A Dream Deferred (1998), in which he also argues that racial policies since the 1960’s have been aimed more at the “expiation of American shame” than at the achievement of true racial equality. The book consists of four chapters: “The Loneliness of Black Conservatives,” “Wrestling with Stigma,” “Liberal Bias and the Zone of Decency,” and “The New Sovereignty.” The first three chapters were first published in the book, whereas the fourth appeared earlier in Harper’s Magazine.
In the treatise’s first chapter, Steele begins with the premise that the strategy of the current civil rights leadership is to cause whites to internalize a sense of shame (or “white guilt”). In order to promote this “peculiar liberalism generated by shame,” moreover, it is important for African American leaders to convince a significant percentage of the population that the legacy of white supremacy is the major reason for continuing racial disparities in family income, educational achievement, and related matters. These leaders, according to Steele, expect that such ideas will help promote the expansion of affirmative action and other policies that provide compensation for the evils of slavery and institutional racism. Since they want African Americans to present a united front in advocating these orthodox doctrines, they look upon conservative dissidents as a threat. Such dissidents, therefore, can expect to...
(The entire section is 762 words.)