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Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America

NCJ Number
Shelby Steele
Date Published
187 pages
This book confronts the issue of racism in current day America.
The author takes a narrative approach to discussing the issue of race in America, which focuses mainly on Blacks in the middle class. The contention is that discussions of race and racism in current day America have become not only boring and stagnant, but also unacceptable and embarrassing to a certain extent. Racism has become boring in as much as it is discussed using preconceived notions that have circulated around society for a number of years and offer nothing fresh. It has become a virtually taboo topic as evidenced by the discomfort exhibited by both Blacks and Whites when the topic is broached, particularly if the discussion sways from the usual rhetoric the public has become accustomed to. The author discusses issues such as race-holding, which he describes as the mechanism triggered by fear that ensnares Blacks “in a web of self-defeating attitudes that end up circumventing the new freedoms” won over the past several decades. Also discussed is the way that “integration shock” throws Blacks into the old comforts of segregation through three tendencies: the tendency to avoid opportunities, the tendency to withhold full effort in areas where few Blacks have succeeded, and the tendency to self-segregate in integrated situations. Racial vulnerability in today’s society is described as springing not from the “wounds of oppression” but from the “woundedness we still carry as a result of it.” Moreover, racial vulnerability has become a far greater problem because of the staunchness with which it is denied. Issues concerning “White guilt” are considered, as are affirmative action policies and their impact on Blacks, which may result in a kind of demoralization. In the end, the author leaves the reader with the contention that “it is time for Blacks to begin the shift from a wartime to a peacetime identity.”


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