The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America - Shelby Steele The reactions to Shelby Steele's The Content of Our Character ) show us another example of the polarization of race and adherence to long-held political positions. A quick analysis of various book review media indicates that comments on the book were predictable depending on the writer's previously held posture. Those who have a commitment to entitlement and affirmative action found much to disparage; those on the traditionally conservative side fighting any kind of preference loved it.
I think that's a shame because Steele, a black English professor, well entrenched in middle class values, in this collection of nine essays, wants blacks to come to grips with the last twenty years and then move on. He argues that those on the bottom rung of the ladder, regardless of color, require development, i.e. assistance in reaching their personal capabilities. Steele suggests that affirmative action has come to be regarded as an entitlement, that is, "they owe it to us for past injustice." The difficulty is that entitlement allows whites to continue to regard blacks as inferior. "They can't do it on their own, haven't got the intelligence, or just aren't capable," are sentiments of many whites who support preferential treatment. He blames blacks as well for holding attitudes reflected in the following statement, "I'm doing well considering my background." Steele declares that what should be expressed is the more positive, "Am I doing everything I can considering my background?"
Language he considers representative of the problem. The use of "Afro-American" v. "Black American" is evidence of "a despair over the possibility of gaining the less conspicuous pride that follows real advancement." I suppose this could also be said of the women's movement and handicapped advocates who theorize that changing the words will change behavior and attitudes, a tenuous argument at best.
Power must not be sought through victimization, asserts Steele, for while it leads to collective entitlement, it demoralizes individuals.