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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America

By Shelby Steele
HarperPerennial, 175 pp, 1990

I've heard a lot about this book, but it first appeared while I was a senior in high school. Back then, I wasn't much concerned with politics, so I missed it. Now, 11 years later, I've finally read it.

It's quite good. Steele is bright and perceptive. His thesis is this: While racial discrimination and, to a lesser extent, white racism, still exist, they are no longer capable of holding any black person back. Blacks now possess opportunity in this country that they've never had before, and it's time to start seizing it. No more excuses, no more blaming "society" for everything. It's time to embrace the classic cultural values that lead to a happy life - property ownership, hard work, personal responsibility, education, stable family - and reject the self-defeating angst and anger at some mostly fictional white bogeyman.

For the sake of brevity, I have greatly simplified Steele's argument. He actually gets quite deep, to the point that he sounds more like a shrink than an English professor. His theories are controversial but powerfully reasoned and hard to refute.

If you like ideas, and challenges to the status quo, read it. If not, avoid it, because it will just make you mad.

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