The Path to Change
The paradox of white blindness and an inability to acknowledge minorities as people is one of the real life problems set forth in the book White Guilt - How Blacks & Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele.
What has happened in America that derailed the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., into a practice that not only dehumanizes blacks, but separates the races even further? What has changed in our sensibilities or foundations?
Mr. Steele begins to answer this and other questions by recounting some of his own history. Growing up in a segregated world, he was well aware of his standing among both overt racists and those who simply followed society's standards. Numerous well-paying and visible jobs were not attainable, but a strong work ethic was deeply instilled.
Working as a bus driver, he went to hear Dick Gregory, the comedian and social activist. It was an event which changed his life.
"What was new for me on that hot August night was that Dick Gregory was not fighting to end racism as King had always done; he was giving the ideas we needed to enlarge it.. Gregory was redefining racism from a barrier to determinism in order to expand the territory of white obligation."
This was an important shift in the Civil Rights movement, one which changed the focus from responsibility and aspiring towards personal character and achievement to dependence. Mr. Gregory and others within the movement leveraged the guilt whites had for the millennium of racism and slavery.
Instead of working to break down the barriers of regarding a person by their skin color, this new attitude actually focused upon skin color rather than the content of one's character. But, lest you believe this is a quick and simple leap, Mr. Steele articulates his premise fully and with a logical progression that is accessible to all.
He walks us down this path of change explaining how the lack of moral authority opens the doors to a radically different approach.
"Standing there in that church I realized that no one - least of all the government - had the moral authority to tell me to be responsible for much of anything."
Specific examples and the evolution of these ideas are well defined. He fully embraced this new militancy, hence he is able to explain first-hand how the events and ideas bloomed.
"By the night of my encounter with Dick Gregory the goal of the civil rights movement had escalated from a simple demand for equal rights to a demand for the redistribution of responsibility for black advancement from black to white America, from the 'victims' to the 'guilty.'
The horrible secret behind this guilt is one of responsibility and more importantly, personal ability. This new militancy embraced a focus that the black man was still unable to make it on his own.
"[I]t was really a strategy to redistribute responsibility to American institutions, it literally argued that blacks could not be fully responsible for their own advancement - this simply to make the point that whites had to be more responsible for it. Black leader after black leader argued that we could not pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps, because we 'don't have any bootstraps.' But this humiliating plea for white intervention only projected whites as powerful and blacks as helpless."
Three points are most important in this treatise: moral authority, responsibility and ability, and finally, disassociation. Moral authority has been used to stymie any voices which confront the status quo of requiring all action and cost to be placed upon those guilty of our civil rights violations - whether past, present, or future.
By implication, any group that has not suffered racism, (even if the sufferings are past generational) has no standing to voice problems or solutions. Recent speeches by Bill Cosby outline many of these problems and how our current politically correct atmosphere ensure only a minority of voices can or will be heard.
Responsibility and ability focus upon the individual and desire of all humans to achieve. Mr. Steele points out that the current methods and actions in our Civil Rights pursuit are antithetical to individual achievement. Instead, the focus becomes one of inability and humiliating dependence. Only when we as individuals achieve our own personal best can we truly see and aspire towards equal standing.
Finally, and most disturbing, is the concept of disassociation. Rather than face real, individual human beings, we instead view a race. By doing such, we never have to face the individual. We never hold a person accountable, and they are humiliated into accepting a skin color moniker rather than an actual identity.
Disassociation allows an elitist superiority which condemns others who have the audacity to disagree while still distancing oneself from the irritation of actually knowing an individual. It allows one to claim they are not a racist while ensuring they do not actually have to interact with anyone of another skin color.
Mr. Steele recognizes the issues behind our current approach to Civil Rights are far more complex than white guilt. But, this aspect is tremendously important. He articulates the vacuum caused by such guilt and how it can be leveraged to issues such as feminism, the environment, and a multitude of other 'evils' within our political and sociological paradigm. He notes how we pacify ourselves by distancing our personal lives from those to whom we are helping.
As with so many well-reasoned and articulated books, Mr. Steele informs us of what we already knew, but were unable to put into our own words. Being a teacher, he reiterates his points multiple times with a variety of examples, thus both educating and reinforcing the primary points in a fashion that will stay in your mind and thought process.
This book will give the reader not only the insight lacking in our politically correct world, but a foundation for altering the status quo and treating everyone as a human being rather than a racial emblem.