Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment is a compelling introduction to the ideas of black social critics who oppose the most prominent voices of black America's leadership. In their analysis of the vanguard, which provokes the ire of the civil rights establishment, J.G. Conti and Brad Stetson focus on four men: Thomas Sowell, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution who targets Marxism, the knowledge class, and entitlement programs; Shelby Steele, author of The Content of Our Character, who discusses the experience of American blacks from an existentialist viewpoint; Robert Woodson, founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, the best known advocate of interior activism; and Glenn Loury, a conservative political economist at Boston University whose primary theme is the distinction he makes between the enemy without (racism), and the enemy within (dysfunctional behavior that perpetuates poverty and dependency). In speeches, in their writings, and in interviews with Conti and Stetson, these thinkers discuss how the construction of public policy has devolved into a kind of ethnic cheerleading that exalts race and ethnicity above personal character and behaviors in determinations of what is fair.
The spectrum of these critics' opinions includes neoconservative, libertarian, populist, and democratic social thought, but Conti and Stetson have identified commonalities that structure their discussion: members of the black vanguard reject the notion that racial faithfulness requires ideological homogeneity; they argue that a chilling silence has been spread around a ghetto-specific culture of poverty by black advocates who fear that such discussions will play into the hands of enemies of the black community; they maintain that racism is not a sufficient cause for black poverty and other social problems experienced by blacks; and they object on moral and pragmatic grounds the civil rights leadership's reliance on the political capital of white guilt. De-emphasizing racism as a generator of poverty, they explain the proliferation of the black underclass in other ways, including structural changes in urban economies and welfare work disincentives. In Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment, Conti and Stetson break through the ideological pretension that has overrun clear thinking and the empirical data of human experience in discussions of race and culture.
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