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White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  487 ratings  ·  69 reviews
In 1955 the killers of Emmett Till, a black Mississippi youth, were acquitted because they were white. Forty years later, despite the strong DNA evidence against him, accused murderer O. J. Simpson went free after his attorney portrayed him as a victim of racism. The age of white supremacy has given way to an age of "white guilt" and neither has been good for African Ameri ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published 2006)
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4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  487 ratings  ·  69 reviews

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Skylar Burris
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, sociology
These days, it seems political books become outdated quickly, and this one is over five years old. So it was a gamble for me to pick it up now, but the title keeps cropping up on lists of important political works and being referred to as foundational to political “conversions,” so I thought it was about time I read it. Fortunately, it remains fresh and poignant, and I think that is in large part owing to Shelby Steele’s ability as a writer. Most authors of political books frankly do not write i ...more
Oct 11, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: white people. and black people. and people who know white or black people.
i'm a tad confused by my natural liberal smugness and the realization that reading this and liking it might make me a conservative. i'd write more but i guess there's a pro-life protest somewhere i need to attend.
Apr 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
I had my first "honest dialogue about race with a black man" not too long ago. I was working with his guy and we had plenty of time to talk. I told him that I resent the guilt trip that I feel, that because I am white I have a kind of original sin. And that I am somehow supposed to atone for my privelage based on the sins of my fathers. It was a great discussion. Sadly, I heard this story on npr the other day about a study that showed that whites were less likely nowadays than previously to enga ...more
Dec 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Giving account of his personal history and journey and how he became, over time, a self-accepting 'black conservative', Steele confronts the civil rights debacle and insightfully deconstructs how it went wrong and why. Citing 'white guilt' and the ensuing reverse-style racism in the battle for social morality, Steele reveals how whites and blacks have together ruined the promise of the 1960's.

In frustration, Steele says that the American left uses dissociation to apear morally authoritative. He
Jul 14, 2010 rated it it was ok
George Will's blurb refers to it as an "essay", which seems about right. blew it up into stand-alone book by recapping where he was driving when he thought of the key idea, what was on the radio that day (Clinton impeachment news -- one of his key points of evidence is that Clinton survived a "sex scandal" [I remember it as a perjury-in-sexual-harassment lawsuit-case scandal, but ok:] but would never have survived a credible report of having used racist language, whereas Eisenhower supposedly fr ...more
Nov 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: igdi
Steele articulates the perspective of the now more vocal conservative black middle class products of the civil rights movement. He gives his take mostly from personal experiences and does a good job in drawing the direct comparisons as he sees them. He falls into the tempting trap that most "intellectuals" can't avoid - attacking people of opposing views with some amount of demagoguery. A theme that he returns to throughout the book is the difference in America's social mores between President E ...more
Stephen Oliver
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's difficult to find the words to describe the insight packed into this relatively small book. While I don't accept the author's implicit charge against people of faith as supporting the former order of "white supremacy" (as a whole; he doesn't seem to distinguish between groups of believing people who supported racism and those that didn't), the rest of his analysis seems astonishingly spot on.

This is one of those books where you already knew much of what he articulates intuitively--you've e
Петър Стойков
Има нещо много, много странно в расовите отношения между черни и бели в САЩ. Веднага замирисва на гнило, когато уж трябва да третираме всички като абсолютно равни, а едновременно с това не можеш да говориш определени неща, ако не си с правилния цвят на кожата. Именно заради това, само черен автор и академик като Шелби Стийл може да напише подобна книга, с която да каже истината за междурасовите отношения в САЩ, без да бъде изяден с парцалите, низвергнат и оплют от медии, активисти и всички остан ...more
Spider the Doof Warrior
I give up. It's not that he's a conservative. It's that he keeps going on and on about moral authority and I don't even get what that means. He complains about liberal elitists, then proceeds to get annoyed with someone for suggesting an "ethnic" literature course. It was wrong for the chick to assume he'd be on board just because he's black, but it's equally wrong for him to assume that just because they are ethnic writers he's never heard of they are automatically mediocre. It's like his dig o ...more
Oct 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Packed with illuminating insights into American race relations and the culture war. WHITE GUILT may not teach you anything new, but it will doubtlessly help clarify your thinking on a wide array of issues. I also found the author's terminology (terms such as "moral authority" and "dissociation") useful for expressing certain of my political opinions more coherently. The book may be a tad dense and repetitive at times, but it's something I think every American should read.
Guaranteed to make a lo
Apr 12, 2010 rated it liked it
Have to read this for a class. Interesting, but he seems a little 'harsh' against his own race....more to come.
Will Walkup
Jan 19, 2018 rated it did not like it
Well written exercise in delusion. The only white guilt justified in these pages is that held by Steele’s cohort. And I’ll give him that—he did a good job of defining white guilt. Unfortunately, his conclusions surrounding this concept cross the lines of negligence and border on conspiracy. Each critique leveled at the imagined white guilt ridden elite is a straw man, the next one weaker than its predecessor. Overall, a remarkable waste of time.
Sheryl Tribble
Nov 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I thought this passage was spot on:

“But how did the delegitimizing of white supremacy expand white guilt? The answer begins in what replaced white supremacy: the view that white Western supremacy came not from an innate racial superiority but from an innate capacity for evil, that the wealth and power of whites did not prove God’s favoritism for them but rather proved their special talent for dehumanizing others on a grand scale – their will to go forth and dominate others, to exclude, and even
Sep 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
One of my favorite interns this summer, who is now studying law and social justice at UCLA, opened my ears to the discussion of modern day race issues in America. The passion and emotion he displayed in our many conversations on the subject inspired me to pick up the book White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.

I didn't agree with all of Steele's assertions, but I did read the book from front to back in one sitting (my flight to Cleveland). The p
John Nelson
May 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelby Steele is one of this country's most incisive writers on social issues, especially those having to do with race. This book is titled "White Guilt," but it might be more appropriate to call it "White Upper Middle-Class Guilt," because the malady described is concentrated almost entirely among that sub-group.

Writing in clear and lucid prose, Mr. Steele describes how affluent, privileged white liberals, dismayed at the still existing but receding imperfections of America and Western culture
Apr 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I had been searching for a book with a different perspective than what I had been seeing all over media for years, which mainly consisted of the oppression of African Americans. This book addresses the black power that has been present in society since the end of the civil war era, as well as the "white guilt" that fuels it. The author explains white guilt to be the necessity for a white individual to prove their lack of racism to people of color. This gives people of color the opportunity to pu ...more
Jenny Shipp
The title caught my eye as I couldn't imagine what it would be about. It is very interesting, short and simply written but it is a complex concept. I have been thinking and thinking about it. I am interested in my own inner stereotypes about all kinds of people and particularly black people as I grow older and see historically where my images came from. I am a child of my time. I saw the civil rights movement on television and I went to a newly integrated Junior High School that was fraught with ...more
Dec 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Steele accounts his life long journey as a freedom loving, well educated man, who upholds the principles of hard work, personal responsibility and meritorious efforts. The "catch" is Shelby has black skin. Steele takes the reader through his personal evolution from a young man in the radical 60's and how societal, cultural, and legislative forces influenced his behavior and actions. Steele was able to recognize these forces and understand that both blacks and whites are to blame for continuing b ...more
Brian O'Callaghan
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I started reading this book after reflecting a bit on events in Ferguson, MO and my own home of Madison, WI. This book has given me a vocabulary for grappling with the shortcomings of a "progressive" mindset when dealing with racial matters.

If racial equality is the goal, one should ask
1) What are dominant current strategies?
2) Are they working?
3) If not, have they been given enough time to work?

Before I read this book, I identified cultural regression on race and gender issues. I didn't have an
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Ah, how do you become a black conservative? Through this well-written narrative, Steele tells his story of transformation from a black militant to a black conservative. But more importantly he describes how "white guilt" have driven the post civil rights era. The one point that he makes, which I agree with, is that in the late sixties, the movement could have gone either way, blacks and whites working together to improve the lives of blacks through personal responsibility, education, and entrepr ...more
Clara Roberts
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Steele says that Whites thru slavery and then Jim Crow laws possessed authority that gave structure to our society. When the Civil Rights laws were passed in the 1960's "the loss of authority generalized well beyond (racial supremacy), so that whites also lost a degree of their authority to stand proudly for the values and ideas that have made the West a great civiliztion despite its many evils." White have assuaged their guilt by a transfer of money to militant blacks with little or no oversigh ...more
Lee Tyner
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
An incredibly thought provoking book on race. the author allows the reader to see issues on a daily basis in ways previously not noticed nor thought about. Of the many books and articles I've read on race, this one is near the top and is for all readers, and all political parties. I wanted to give it 5 stars but parts of it are maddeningly repetitive. An excellent 150 page book that is 208 pages.
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely necessary to understand modern post-colonial society of former imperial metropoles, France, of one, and the new internal structure of minds and policy there, resulting from American anti-segregation, black rights and anti-racism movement.
Excellent book, I won't give you more details as it would spoil your impressions, and render the author invisible to you, you'll see what I mean.
Ellenbeth Wachs
Jul 19, 2009 rated it did not like it
The author felt that writing in a pompous and condescending way would make his premise seem more valid. While I agree with the basic ideas of his book, the audience he needs to direct this to wouldn't understand a paragraph of his writing. Using bigger words and longer metaphors doesn't make you sound smarter, it makes you sound like an ass trying to sound smart.
Josh Brown
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Every page of this book makes either an ad-hominem argument, attacks a straw person, or falsely generalizes from anecdotes. Every page. It dismisses wide swathes of scholarship as “cliche” or “lowering the standards” without even bothering to justify its claims with research of social scientific evidence. It sounds compelling, and a lot of what it has to say about specific manifestations of white guilt in individual instances are compelling enough, and offer object lessons in how white people of ...more
Wesley S.
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era" by Shelby Steele, describes how Steele has encountered racism within his own life and how, as he has grown, civil rights has grown as well, and with them, a whole plethora of new problems. As racism was ending during the civil rights movement, white guilt emerged from the feelings that came along with such liberation and created an entirely new stigma around whites. In order to combat the stigma that all ...more
Frederick Glaysher
Dec 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era. Shelby Steele. HarperCollins, 2006.[return][return]The approval by voters of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative merely marks another step along the path of a much deeper cultural shift on the part of blacks and whites. The old formulas have not worked, are not working, and definitely never will work. In his book White Guilt, Shelby Steele tells us why, explains the sorry spectacle of over forty years of ...more
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eye-opening account of the growth of the 'white guilt' infection in our culture that has gripped the left in a state of dissociation without morality. The author, a black man who grew up in the 50s and 60s has a unique perspective on the events that led up to the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. Dr. Steele describes his gradual recognition that diversity as thing forced upon society doesn't do what it is intended to do, but rather has the opposite effect. He's fairly hard on the baby boomer gen ...more
Mary Sasala
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most interesting essays on race in the post-Civil Rights era.

I was recommended this to be a liberal look at race. It is not, its the story of a black, liberal intellectuals gradual shift to the "black conservative".

I'm not a huge fan of personal stories, preferring stats and logical arguments, but that wasn't what this was and it worked.

Very short, 180 page very easy to read. Recommend from high school students to higher.
Erin Bottger (Bouma)
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A ground-breaking book that got to the heart of the matter of race issues today in America.

Steele understands how Whites and Blacks together reversed a century of progress in re-racializing America following the Civil Rights Movement. The problem, as he defines it, is spiritual and not economic or political.
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Shelby Steele (born January 1, 1946) is an African American author, columnist, documentary film maker, and a Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, specialising in the study of race relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action. In 1990, he received the National Book Critics Circle Award in the general nonfiction category for his book The Cont ...more