Paved with Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America
by Jared Taylor
Carroll and Graf, 416 pp., $22.95
A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character
by Charles J. Sykes
St. Martin’s, 289 pp., $22.95
Children of the Dream: The Psychology of Black Success
by Audrey Edwards, by Dr. Craig K. Polite
Doubleday, 287 pp., $21.50
Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America
by Richard Majors, by Janet Mancini Billson
Lexington, 144 pp., $19.95
Deadly Consequences: How Violence Is Destroying Our Teenage Population and a Plan to Begin Solving the Problem
by Deborah Prothrow-Stith, with Michaele Weissman
HarperCollins, 269 pp., $12.00 (paper)
Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism
by Derrick Bell
BasicBooks, 222 pp., $20.00
Putting People First: How We Can All Change America
by Governor Bill Clinton, by Senator Al Gore
Times Books, 232 pp., $7.99 (paper)
Now no less than in the past, Americans of African ancestry remain haunting presences. They are viewed variously as a dilemma, a threat, an inconvenience, an impetus for anger, a cause for guilt and shame. America has known how to cope with immigrants, seldom welcoming them, but at least allowing that they serve a function, usually as cheap and acquiescent labor. Slaves were brought here for a not dissimilar purpose. Since Emancipation, however, the nation has never been of one mind about the place and status of their descendants.
Jared Taylor, who is white, devotes much of Paved With Good Intentions to what he regards as black misbehavior. His book reiterates a familiar litany. Citing sources in 1,339 footnotes, he decries disintegrating families, drug abuse, and violent crime, as well as youngsters who disdain school and then prey on society and one another with guns and irresponsible sex. By what right, he wants to know, do they make life difficult for themselves and the rest of us? He has, he says, taken account of the legacies of segregation and subordination, but his exasperation bursts through: surely by now, and with all the civil rights reforms, black people have had ample time and opportunities to conduct themselves like other citizens.
In Taylor’s view, all too many black leaders are “shakedown artists” who urge their followers to settle for “excuses and handouts,” thus encouraging the view that perseverance won’t pay off since the deck is stacked against them. Such self-pity, he says, generates a “denial of individual responsibility,” so not nearly enough black Americans are “taking possession of their lives.” He praises Asian immigrants as models blacks would do well to emulate.
Charles Sykes shares Taylor’s position, but in A Nation of Victims places it in a broader setting. He finds what he calls “victimism” endemic in the United States. We have become a country of complainers, inclined to picket or launch lawsuits on any provocation. He tells of a left-handed mail clerk who sued the Postal Service because its sorting cases were built to accommodate right-handed employees. A Michigan brewery worker sought compensation for the alcoholism he incurred from the free beer his company made available. These and other instances illustrate a “generalized cultural impulse to deny personal responsibility.” Some female fans took a baseball team to court for sex discrimination because it presented Father’s Day gifts only to men.
Still, one senses that these and similar stories are cited for their amusement value. Some of the harshest criticisms in A Nation of Victims are reserved for black Americans who are accused of overstating the obstacles they face. All too many continue to complain, despite what Sykes sees as a new “atmosphere of tolerance” in our economy and culture. The trouble started when black leaders moved “from seeking equality under the law to a focus on the vague and volatile concept of racism.” In Sykes’s estimate, affirmative action is based on “victimism,” since it assumes …