Monday, October 10, 2005

The age of white guilt: and the disappearance of the black individual




I posted this awhile back. Since there is not much in the news to bitch about, I thought I would recycle for the newer Zone readers who may have missed.
By Shelby Steele
Harper's Magazine, November 30, 1999

Not long ago C-SPAN carried a Harvard debate on affirmative action between conservative reformer Ward Connerly and liberal law professor Christopher Edley. During the Q and A a black undergraduate rose from a snickering clump of black students to challenge Mr. Connerly, who had argued that the time for racial preferences was past. Once standing, this young man smiled unctuously, as if victory were so assured that he must already offer consolation. But his own pose seemed to distract him, and soon he was sinking into incoherence. There was impatience in the room, but it was suppressed. Black students play a role in campus debates like this and they are indulged.

The campus forum of racial confrontation is a ritual that has changed since the sixties in only one way. Whereas blacks and whites confronted one another back then, now black liberals and black conservatives do the confronting while whites look on--relieved, I'm sure--from the bleachers. I used to feel empathy for students like this young man, because they reminded me of myself at that age. Now I see them as figures of pathos. More than thirty years have passed since I did that sort of challenging, and even then it was a waste of time. Today it is perseveration to the point of tragedy.

Now consider what this Harvard student is called upon by his racial identity to argue in the year 2002. All that is creative and imaginative in him must be rallied to argue the essential weakness of his own people. Only their weakness justifies the racial preferences they receive decades after any trace of anti-black racism in college admissions. The young man must not show faith in the power of his people to overcome against any odds; he must show faith in their inability to overcome without help. As Mr. Connerly points to far less racism and far more freedom and opportunity for blacks, the young man must find a way, against all the mounting facts, to argue that black Americans simply cannot compete without preferences. If his own forebears seized freedom in a long and arduous struggle for civil rights, he must argue that his own generation is unable to compete on paper-and-pencil standardized tests.

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