The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America by Shelby Steele

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is almost 20 years old but it should still have influence in the discussion on race today. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that much has changed for the better in the 20 years since Steele wrote this book. If there were no references to specific current events of the late 1980s you would probably have no idea whether this was written last year or 20 years ago.

Steele approaches the issue of race from two perspectives: being human and being black. And I should elaborate on the human perspective because he writes from the perspective of an American human and that is important to his take on race issues. I empathize with the human perspective and I happen to emphatically agree with his assertions about being an individual responsible for your own outcomes. I can only sympathize with his perspective of being black and express compassion for wrongs suffered that I have never had to experience.

Generally, I think that Steele tries to put his membership of the human race ahead of being a member of the black race. His repeated references to individualism makes that clear. There are times, however, when he seems to put being black ahead of being human and I found there to be some inconsistencies when he did. Even though he celebrates the opportunities available to him as an individual he empathizes with the collective black problem of feelings of victimization and entitlement. In other words, there is tension between his being both individual and being a part of the “collective” black American. We all may have tensions in our own lives between individuality and being a member of a group, but he asserts that none of the problems borne by the blacks can be understood by whites (or any other minority race for that matter) and I have no argument to offer to the contrary.

The bottom line is that Steele discusses the matter of race with a sincerity lacking in most public discourse. It would be refreshing to hear his perspective in the nightly news instead of the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Our goal ought to be to view every man and woman as the individuals that they are and to empathize with the struggles that they’ve endured no matter what the color of their skin.

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