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'Bromides' For Blacks

December 02, 1990

Your review of Shelby Steele's "The Content of Our Character" (Sept. 30) was a disservice to your readers. You allow the author--a specialist in fiction--to be reviewed by another specialist in fiction (Charles Johnson), though the book itself concerns the black condition--a complex question of economics, politics, history, psychology and other profoundly non-fictional matter.

Perhaps not surprisingly, neither the review nor the book come to grips with the weighty issues but opt for bumper-sticker bromides. Other reviewers were more perceptive: A black feminist law professor dismantled Steele's tissue of distortions in a few brief paragraphs. Prof. Martin Kilson of Harvard made the point that Steele ignores the simple fact that farmers, defense contractors, students et al dip liberally into government coffers, while African-Americans are advised to go it alone; the former receive "subsidies," while blacks are scorned for receiving "welfare" (though poor whites have the most to lose if such programs are gutted); all of these funds are transfer payments from the government.

The popularity of Steele in certain circles raises important questions, particularly on the matter of class in the black community. You should seriously consider broadening the list of your acceptable reviewers, especially on African-American affairs; otherwise you run the risk of seriously misinforming your audience.



Department of Black Studies

U.C. Santa Barbara


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