On a trip home in California a few years back, author Shelby Steele mused on the metamorphosis of labels. In his new book White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, he writes about labels, racism and why equality is still just a dream in America. The Clinton scandal was all over the radio that day, and Steele believed the scandal would ruin Clinton's presidency. But then he remembered that Eisenhower allegedly used the "n-word" on the golf course one day, and it didn't ruin his career.
Steele thought about morality, moral authority and racism and wondered: In the years since the civil rights movement, had America "moved out of its long age of white racism and into a new age of white guilt"?
White guilt began after the civil rights movement, he says. Blacks "raised their consciousness" and demanded power as a race, rather than focusing on individual equality and freedoms. Whites, meanwhile, scrambled to show lack of racism. Of himself, Steele says, "In the age of racism, I had wanted freedom as an individual; in the age of white guilt, I was learning to want power as a black."
But white guilt didn't empower blacks at all, Steele contends. Government programs, created out of white guilt, put a "bandage" on poverty, sub-standard education and poor housing. Many blacks, on the other hand, were eager to take advantage of white guilt by accepting "help" that led to reliance on the programs and a lack of self-dependence. In a classic Catch-22, well-meaning white guilt further undermined black communities.
White Guilt is a heavy, thought-provoking, convoluted and angry book filled with ideas that aren't always explained well until later in Steele's narrative. Blacks and whites alike may agree with some of what Steele says, but there is plenty to dispute. Still, Steele has many valid points and he backs them up with stories from his own life and experiences.
If you've wondered if racism is truly dead in America, pick up this book. White Guilt is a bit of a struggle to read, but it shows us that the struggle between blacks and whites isn't over yet.