In 1955 the murderers of Emmett Till, a black Mississippi youth, were acquitted
of their crime, undoubtedly because they were white. Forty years later, O. J.
Simpson, whom many thought would be charged with murder by virtue of the DNA
evidence against him, went free after his attorney portrayed him as a victim of
racism. Clearly, a sea change had taken place in American culture, but how had
it happened? In this important new work, distinguished race relations scholar
Shelby Steele argues that the age of white supremacy has given way to an age of
white guilt -- and neither has been good for African Americans.
As the civil rights victories of the 1960s dealt a blow to racial
discrimination, American institutions started acknowledging their injustices,
and white Americans -- who held the power in those institutions -- began to
lose their moral authority. Since then, our governments and universities, eager
to reclaim legitimacy and avoid charges of racism, have made a show of taking
responsibility for the problems of black Americans. In doing so, Steele
asserts, they have only further exploited blacks, viewing them always as
victims, never as equals. This phenomenon, which he calls white guilt, is a way
for whites to keep up appearances, to feel righteous, and to acquire an easy
moral authority -- all without addressing the real underlying problems of
African Americans. Steele argues that calls for diversity and programs of
affirmative action serve only to stigmatize minorities, portraying them not as
capable individuals but as people defined by their membership in a group for
which exceptions must be made.
Through his articulate analysis and engrossing recollections of the lasthalf-century
of American race relations, Steele calls for a new culture of personal
responsibility, a commitment to principles that can fill the moral void created
by white guilt. White leaders must stop using minorities as a means to
establish their moral authority -- and black leaders must stop indulging them.
As "White Guilt eloquently concludes, the alternative is a dangerous ethical
relativism that extends beyond race relations into all parts of American life.