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Beyond Victimology

Shelby Steele's The Content of Our Character, a collection of essays, is mainly an attack on affirmative action, black separatism, and other such programs, policies, and trends that flourish in American universities and that Steele opposes, first of all, because he regards them as racist. By virtue solely of race, these programs reward blacks and other minorities and punish whites—for example, by awarding jobs and university admissions to blacks, while denying them to whites. Race, Steele believes, should never be "the source of power, privilege, status, or entitlement of any kind."

But Steele contends further that such programs are counterproductive. Generated by white guilt, by the desire of whites to redeem themselves from the imaginary guilt of participating in the long, sad history of the oppression of blacks by whites, these programs, he argues, derive from the notion that because blacks have suffered, because they are "victims," they are therefore "different," "special," and "unique" beings for whom "normal standards and values do not automatically apply." "With lower test scores and high school grade point averages than whites," blacks are admitted to universities and, once there, are accorded privileges that university administrators would never allow white students. "Administrators would never give white students a racial theme...

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