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Jim Sleeper. Liberal Racism Viking: New York, 1997

Reviews:

(Spring, 1998)
Danielle Skrodal <dcskrod@ILSTU.EDU>
Brian Kelly <blkelly@ilstu.edu>
Edmund Stuhr <epstuhr@YAHOO.COM>
Scott Syoen <smsyoen@ilstu.edu>
(Spring, 1999)
Adam E Sebastian <aeseba0@ilstu.edu>
 Maria Beatriz Diaz <mbdiaz@ilstu.edu>
Danielle Walker
Mylon Kirksy



Date:         Tue, 10 Feb 1998 22:44:58 -0600
 

Sleeper, Jim.  LIBERAL RACISM.  Viking: New York, 1997

Reviewed by: Danielle Skrodal
E-mail: dcskrod@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu

     Thurgood Marshall once wrote, "We will only attain freedom if we learn to appreciate what is different and muster the courage to discover what is fundamentally the same."  Unfortunately, most United States citizens, specifically blacks and whites, have not yet mustered this courage up.  In his book, LIBERAL RACISM, Jim Sleeper specifically attacks the liberals of the United States, who have brought about a color-coded racism.  Throughout the book, Sleeper exposes many of the consequences, in crime, voting, media and the uncertainty of black identity.

In 1981, Major Owens, a black representative from New York City, said, "Liberals are sometimes the worst racists." This struck a nerve in Jim Sleeper, who was a liberal journalist in the audience. Sleeper gradually realized the dimensions of liberal racism and writes, "Perhaps this book can save other liberals some time."

Sleeper's main argument against what liberals are doing wrong is comparing them now as to how they were in the 1960s. In the civil rights era of the 1960s, liberals were against categorizing people by color. Now, three decades later, they want to categorize and color-code. Sleeper calls their new policy "friendly racism." Sleeper feels, however, that it is making very few friendships with non-whites. Basically, liberal racism is patronizing non-whites because it expects less of what they are fully capable of. By expecting less, this denies non-whites the satisfaction achieving something as an equal with a white person. =20

Liberal racism has brought on many consequences, including crime. Sleeper claims that in the liberal racist's mind, murders matter more if whites commit them against blacks. He gives a powerful example of the murder of Charles Davis, a police officer in New York City. Six days before Christmas in 1996, Davis was in a check-cashing store during an attempted robbery by two young black men. He threw himself in front of the store's owner to protect him, but both ended up dying. Sleeper claims that liberals forgot this horrible murder of Charles Davis because like his killers, he was black. He was not portrayed as a martyr because his killers were not white. Sleeper also points out that according to the Federal Bureau of Criminal Justice Services, "more blacks in the United States are killed by other blacks in a single day than are killed by whites in a week." Even with this startling statistic, liberals are still not giving the Charles Davis' of the world any respect or tribute because of his color

Liberal racism can also be practiced by blacks. Sleeper discusses three prominent black men, Al Sharpton, William Kunstler and Johnnie Cochran. Al Sharpton began criticizing Mayor Rudolph Giuliani right after he was elected mayor of New York City. Sharpton felt that Giuliani was against black people. When Sharpton learned that a police officer had gunned down a black minister's son in Brooklyn, he rushed to the scene with cameras to prove a point about white police officers against young black men. His rushing stopped when he learned that it was black police officer that shot the young black man. Here is yet another example of where the color of the killer and victim matter.

William Kunstler was an attorney who only once defended anyone who committed a crime against a black and that man was Chinese. In 1994, Kunstler was trying to defend Colin Ferguson, who was the black man that opened fire on a Long Island Rail Road train. Sleeper asked Kunstler if he would have defended him had he gunned down blacks and not whites. He admitted he wouldn't have because they wanted to start the idea of "black rage" as a defense. This also shows the color-coded thinking of a liberal.

Another attorney we are all familiar with is Johnnie Cochran. By using racism, he turned the O.J. Simpson murder trial into the racism trial of L.A. police officer Mark Fuhrman. Sleeper wrote, "If anything, Simpson's criminal acquittal based on Cochran's argument recalled the dark days when white juries often acquitted white killers of blacks such as NAACP leader Medgar Evers."

Another consequence is the issue of voting rights. On March 15, 1965, Lyndon Johnson told Congress, "It is wrong-deadly wrong- to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote." Of course, this led to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Sleeper brings up the point that in the original Act, racial districting was not allowed. According to Sleeper, the liberals lost their cause when many activists "decided that whites' perceptions and interests would remain so irreconcilable with non-whites' that few whites would ever vote for blacks or Hispanics." The activists figured the only way to "empower" the non-whites vote would be to draw districts to suit each race. Sleeper compares the new districts to "wild ink spills." Sleeper gives an example of the 12th congressional district that was created in 1992 for Hispanics. It was called the "Bullwinkle District" because it "jumps from lower Manhattan across the East River to Brooklyn, and then runs overland for miles along corridors only a few blocks wide into Queens." Sleeper feels that districts like these do not "empower", but is something only a racist could endorse. Angel Diaz, who lost in the 12th district race in 1992, said, "It's irresponsible to the American way of life to tell me I must agree with [the district's defenders] because I'm Puerto Rican." Diaz helps illustrate Sleeper's point that the liberal's idea of drawing lines for non-whites is definitely not "empowering" them, but doing the opposite.

On the other side of the coin, Sleeper also acknowledges some saving points of the redistricting. Sleeper mentions many instances where black incumbents faced their reelection in newly drawn districts with more white voters. One example was Sanford Bishop of Georgia. His original district was 52% black. His new district was lowered to 35% black. In the end he won with 54% of the vote. Sleeper feels that liberals and other activists were wrong about districting and the voters. He wrote, "their unspoken goal remains not integration but proportional representation that has no place in an America that is overcoming its racism, past and present."

Another consequence of liberal racism that Sleeper discusses is the media. More specifically, Sleeper focuses on the New York Times. He claims that many observers are complaining that the Times' cultural and political coverage has been less responsible and its commentary "are skewed by racial and sexual groupthink" Sleeper goes back to the issue of the black incumbents getting reelected in new districts. The Times never covered the election results, yet the paper had previously protested about the new districts. Sleeper called attention to the issue by writing an article about their silence in the New Republic. Three weeks later, the Times covered the story behind the election results. Sleeper criticizes the Times as "functioning more as a social policy missionary than as a newspaper."

Another consequence Sleeper touches on is the uncertainty of black identity. Sleeper believes there has been much confusion in recent years. He sees the confusion in the cheering after O.J.'s acquittal, Ebonics, the commercialization of Kwanzaa and the discouragement of interracial adoption and marriages. W.E.B. DuBois illustrates much of the confusion when he asked at the turn of the century, "Can I be both [an American and a Negro]? Or is it my duty to cease to be a Negro as soon as possible and to become an American?" In the mid-1970s, blacks found ROOTS to help fill their void. Alex Haley, the book's author, said, "My people need a Pilgrim's Rock." Now, ROOTS is seldom mentioned. Sleeper attributes the reason to the discovery that Haley had taken the story from folklore and even copied some from THE AFRICANS.

ROOTS did have an impact on many African Americans. Many went on a "Roots" trip back to Africa. Sleeper talks of a few who made the journey and came back disappointed. Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood made a trip to Ghana and on his customs form identified himself as an "African American". A Ghanaian official was so offended that he crossed out "African" and yelled, "You are American." Sleeper illustrated these points in a chapter because it shows how the blacks feel like they need to find their own identity. Sleeper feels we should all just become Americans.

Jim Sleeper does a good job in presenting the argument against liberal racists. He brings up many interesting points. Many of his points came from the politics and media of New York City, which I have never really heard about. Most of the points he made were interesting to me because I would have never thought of them or realized them in the manner that he did. I found it most interesting the contradiction he brings up about the liberals in the 1960s and the liberals of today. I felt that was a point very well made. It really makes you think.

On the other hand, I did feel that Sleeper should have discussed affirmative action. This is an extremely important issue, which he really didn't say too much about. He could have tied that in to liberal racism. My only other complaint about the book would be that he does not offer any answers about what can be done to combat liberal racism. He says the liberal's preeminent challenge is "to dissolve the color line by ceasing to treat whiteness and blackness as vessels of hope." He never goes on to say how this can be done. Maybe this was not the point of his book.

Danielle Skrodal
dcskrod@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu

Date:         Tue, 10 Feb 1998 23:52:17 -0800
From: "Brian L. Kelly" <blkelly@RS6000.CMP.ILSTU.EDU
Subject:      Book Review "LIBERAL RACISM" Jim Sleeper, Viking Press,

              1997 (Brian L. Kelly)

Liberal Racism
reviewed by Brian L. Kelly

Have you ever considered what it would mean to be called a liberal racist. Well, if you have or you just want to know what it is, Jim Sleeper can tell you in his book "Liberal Racism". Sleeper takes his reader on a journey into his meaning of this phrase and also later gives his take on race relations today.

Sleeper first heard the term used in 1981, at a speech by a black Congressman, Major Owens to an audience of journalist and liberal activists. Owens said "liberals are sometimes the worst racists". This statement shocked Sleeper and made him reconsider the way he thought as a liberal. Only later did he fully understand the meaning of what Owens had said that night. Sleeper goes on to state that "'liberal racism' patronizes nonwhites by expecting less (and getting) less of them than they are fully capable of achieving." He says that white liberals have lost their focus in race relations, and have been taking steps to reverse the great civil rights laws of the 1960's, such as affirmative action.

Sleeper then takes on some leaders in african-american community, especially lawyer William Kunstler and Reverend Al Sharpton. He says that Kunstler used certain cases to gain fame for himself and continually used race to win cases. Kunstler never defended anyone that harmed a black, except for one Chinese man Pang Ching Lam. Lam had been brought up on charges of murder when he killed a black intruder in his store. But in an interview with American Lawyer, Kunstler said "I'm not sure if Pang had been white, that I would have taken the case". Sleeper responds "Had Pang been white, and had the black intruder killed him, Kunstler would probably have defended the intruder." Sleeper depicts Kunstler as a man who would defend blacks without caring if he believed they were innocent or not. But who would defended blacks because they were black, and if they were black they were innocent. Sleeper also talks about the Reverend Al Sharpton, and his support for a black woman that claimed to be attacked and raped by two white men, Tawana Brawley. The black population of New York City was outraged at hearing this story. Weeks later the woman, recanted her story, saying she was never raped. But even after she recanted her story, she was still supported by Al Sharpton and included in a racial rally. Sharpton is characterized much in the same fashion that Kunstler was, by Sleeper.

A very interesting part of Sleepers book is when he talks about racial gerrymandering and how it effected the Congressional Elections of 1994 and 1996. Sleeper talks about the reaction to several court cases that struck down districts that were made along racial lines. Many blacks were outraged by these decisions. Some blacks made statements like "The noose is tightening" and that the decisions were a form of "ethnic cleaning". Strangely though, all the black candidates that ran in their new majority white districts, won. Was this due to their incumbency or to a lack of racism? Sleeper never says for sure.

Sleeper's favorite target for liberal racism is Andrew Hacker, the author of Two Nations. Sleeper characterizes Hacker's book as a great "example of liberal racism". He criticizes Hacker for his portrayal of blacks as " a confused, defeated, and disturbed collection of people, obsessed with what white people have done for them and incapable of doing anything for themselves." Sleeper also disagrees with Hacker's belief that "racism has forced blacks to internalize a despair so deep that their norms and values are different from ours.", by saying that white repentance and reparations will not solve the problems. Sleeper also brings up points about the misconceptions Hacker made in his book. In his discussion of crime, Hacker said that "a disproportionately high number of (blacks killed by policemen) are by black officers, which suggest that departments tend to give black officers assignments where they encounter suspects of their own race....There is a tendency to use blacks to control blacks." Sleeper responds by saying that black cops should be assigned more to black neighborhoods. This, Sleeper says, is a true contradiction.

Later, Sleeper talks about how the media has played a part in causing racial tensions. The story that I remember the best is about New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Sleeper believes that in the 1993 mayoral race in New York City between Giuliani and incumbent black mayor David Dinkins, that the media made Giuliani out like he was trying to play "the race card". Giuliani did nothing of this sort though. Yet the media continued to take a stance as if he was playing the race card. An example of this is seen when "Giuliani called the election a referendum on Dinkins’s competence", a New York Times reporter wrote that Giuliani was trying to "give voters a race-free excuse for voting against Mr. Dinkins." The Times then went public with support for Dinkins. When Giuliani won the election, Sleeper said the newspaper lost as well. He said that there "coverage and commentary had distorted the city." And "Democracy is diminished when people with authority, especially the moral authority of a great newspaper, proclaim that racial differences, which they can barely define, are and should be "significant" in public and corporate life."

After the fourth chapter of the book, Sleeper changes his focus. In the first four chapters he had really focused on what was "liberal racism" and who guilty of it. From the fourth chapter of the book on, Sleeper really changed the focus. He starts, by making his own little critical review of the widely popular TV miniseries "Roots", that was adapted from the book by the same title by Alex Haley. He is very critical of the book, saying that it was good in idea, but factually very inaccurate. He writes "Roots was denounced as a scholarly ‘fraud’ by the historian Oscar Handlin" Sleeper then goes on to talk about how the TV version of "Roots", inspired many blacks to go on roots trip of there own, back to Africa, which he felt was a positive. He said that many blacks who said that they had thought of the possibility of resettling back to Africa, had their eyes opened. On a customs form one of these men put "African-American" instead of American. "A Ghanian official crossed out the ‘African’, saying, firmly, ‘You are American’."

 The rest of the book is dedicated mainly to Sleepers views of the racial tensions of today and a look at some of the characters of the past such as, W.E.B. Du Bois, Randall Kennedy, and Glen Loury. He makes very good points on each of these black authors/activists. He shows why these men have a lot of views the have, by their upbringing and their experiences.

In the conclusion, Sleeper talks of a "country beyond race". This is an idea that is very utopian, in reality, but is a very positive thought. Sleeper says that "Liberals must lead struggles against discrimination and abuse. But for those struggles to succeed, in all other endeavors liberals must let race go."

In my opinion, this book was a very informative experience in the first four chapters or so. After that, Sleeper really loses focus on what he focused on doing in the first few chapters, which was on "liberal racism". After that he goes out on a tangent into other fields. The book is worth reading though. I really liked the way the book was written, in structure of the chapters and in it’s readability. I suggest that if you have an interest in this topic, you read this book.


Date:         Thu, 12 Feb 1998 10:02:30 -0800
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From: Edmund Stuhr <epstuhr@YAHOO.COM

Subject:      Rev: Liberal Racism (Stuhr)

Review of Jm Sleeper, _Liberal Racism Review by Edmund Stuhr Date: February 11, 1998

Racism, it is something that has plagued our country for many decades. It is something that is always at the top of our country’s "Things To Take Care Of" list but never gets done. It is something that has had no answers. It is something that has many definitions. So what does mean racism to you? What is composed in racism? Is it power or is it the hate for another’s race? It could be a combination of many factors and that is what Jim Sleeper has done in his book Liberal Racism. He has molded a theory about racism that shows that racism is much more than groups of people banning together to prove their ideals to be correct. He shows that the people who claim not to be racist (usually claim that they are liberal) actually are the ones who are making racism a bigger problem than it truly is. He provides examples of media coverage to events that have gone through Congress to the personal lives of some historic individuals who have been involved with the attempt to combat racism.

To help me give you, the reader, a better understanding of the book, I think that giving you a brief description of the author and what he has done in the past might be of some help. Jim Sleeper is a graduate of Yale and has a doctorate from Harvard. He is a veteran newspaper columnist who has written articles for The Nation, The New Yorker, Washington Monthly, and The New Republic. These are all considered to be liberal magazines and newspapers. What is meant by the word liberal in this case is to say that these magazines are geared for readers who are interested in the Democratic mind set. The magazines that Sleeper writes for want to stop racism and other social problems that we have in our country. Sleeper is well versed in the political field of racism and he shows his controversial way of thinking in his book.

 He starts out by giving a broad description of what he thinks the problem is in this country. He writes that the problem with people trying to help stop racism is that they are making such a big deal about the issue that they are forgetting about what they were initially trying to do, stopping racism. Sleeper’s only real definition of liberal racism is this, "Only gradually did I realize that liberal racism has several dimensions. Sometimes , prompted by misdirected and self-congratulatory compassion, liberal racism patronizes nonwhites by expecting (and getting) less of them than they are fully capable of achieving. Intending to turn the tables on racists double standards that set the bar much higher for nonwhites, liberal racism ends up perpetuating double standards by setting the bar so much lower for its intended beneficiaries that it denies them the satisfactions of equal accomplishment and opportunity."

Sleeper does a lot of finger pointing at the proclaimed liberal newspaper The New York Times. Sleeper writes up on a certain article that made big headlines. The article was about a well admired police officer who had sacrificed his life by jumping in front of a cloud of bullets to try and save a store owner who’s store was being held up at gunpoint. The article was not because of the bravery of the police officer but because the police officer was black and the store owner was Jewish. Sleeper stabs at The Times because he says that if the two men were of the same race it would no have as big of a story. Sleeper is also criticizing the fact that by The Times making it an issue of race reminds us that colorization of people is still evident in our country. Just because the two men were of different skin color should not make the issue bigger than it was, it should be an issue because the police officer was trained to protect and serve his community and that he did. The issue of race has always plagued The NY Times. In another story that made big headlines was about a black man who had raped a white women. The incident had happened in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of Central Park. This is a horrible crime indeed, but what the newspaper did not even report on was that a black women was raped by a black man approximately ten minutes before the other rape. The rape of the black women was put on the back burner and put to sleep. No one who read The Times that day would ever read of the rape of the black woman. Sleeper once again lashes The Times by claiming that these issues are all black and white issues, and that that should not be the main concern. The main concern should be that the crimes that are happening are not happening because of someone’s ethnicity, these crimes should be reported because the are horrible crimes and the people have a right to know.

Sleeper believes that the world needs to stop being color-blind in order for racism to go away. This is an idea that he writes on throughout the book. Sleeper then goes into how the government has thought of ways to help minorities into Congress thinking that with more minorities in Congress racism will lose. Congress thought if they were to redraw the district lines for congressional voting, representatives from those districts would be of the same race of those who live in the district and this would help the fight against racism. This indeed did happen. Many more representatives from different ethnic backgrounds were voted into office. Then for no apparent reason Congress redrew the lines back to the original barriers. The next election proved the first redrawing of the lines to be wrong. All of the incumbents, with the exception of two, were reelected. Sleeper is building on the idea of color-blindness. He is saying that if all but two representatives were voted back in, why did they try to make it an issue of race in the first place. Sleeper also claims that this was a form of affirmative action that didn’t work. Affirmative action is an issue that Sleeper is firmly against. He believes that affirmative action is something that promotes the separation of people due to racial background. He believes that if someone needs help getting a job it shouldn’t be because of their skin color, it should be because that the need help no matter what their ethnic background is.

I believe a critical chapter in the book was the chapter entitled ,"Way Out of Africa". It is a chapter based on the whole grassroots idealism. Sleeper makes it clear that racism is an American problem rather than a problem that the whole world suffers from. He goes back in history and explains the movie Roots and how it started a trend of many African-Americans going back to Africa. For many people who did this found out that it was not all cracked up to be. He writes of an experience of an individual who was at the airport terminal showing his passport to customs and claimed that he was an African-American. The customs agent responded with a comment along the lines of, "No you are not. You are an American." Sleeper also touches upon the fact that many famous black writers and entertainers felt more comfortable living in Europe rather than in Africa. This chapter at first seems out of place, but I found out that there was a deeper meaning to it than on the surface. I believe that Sleeper was trying to say that America is the root of the problem With America becoming so much more culturally diverse, people can’t accept the change. Racism is not much of a problem in other countries around the world because the citizens of these countries have open minds and can accept change. The underlying difference between these countries and ours is the factor of color-blindness. They have and we don’t.

Sleeper also brings in the presence of Randall Kennedy and W.E.B. Dubois to the stage. He explains the pasts of both men and explains how they have been accused of not being loyal to their race. Sleeper defends both Kennedy and Dubois because he believes that these two men tried to help end racism by not associating with their race. Neither man really associated with any race. Both men believed in the theory of color-blindness and lived by their words.

I enjoyed Sleeper’s view on racism. He isn’t concerned with what others think of it. He uses a very brash form of writing that is a combination of fact and his own opinion. One problem that I had about the book was that he had a lot of pages dedicated to Randall Kennedy and W.E.B. Dubois but didn’t relate a lot of it to liberal racism. Sleeper raises the idea that liberal racism is even a bigger problem than regular racism and that the only way to solve the problem is color-blindness. We should not be concerned about black on white crime but we should be concerned with crime itself. We shouldn’t worry about black and white issues, we need to be concerned with issues without race being a factor. Sleeper doesn’t tell us how to be color-blind which is good because we have to learn that for ourselves.


Date:         Thu, 19 Feb 1998 09:06:44 -0600
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From: Scott Syoen <smsyoen@ilstu.edu

Subject:      REVIEW: Liberal Racism (Syoen)

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To a large number of people, the civil rights movement failed to attain many of the objectives it set out to achieve; many people believe that America is in numerous ways just as racist today as it was at the days of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Certainly, tension between the races has not disappeared. Why not? Why was the promise of King's "I Have a Dream" speech, so symbolic to many Americans of the sort of society we are working toward, never completely fulfilled? In _Liberal Racism_, Jim Sleeper maintains that we have failed to make this progress perhaps especially because liberal America has abandoned its original principles and become, in many ways, as racist as those whom liberals originally denounced.

Sleeper, it must first be recognized, is a liberal. Thus, Liberal Racism is intended to be a constructive criticism; he hopes to point out where liberals, in his mind, have gone astray on racial matters. Where liberals originally worked toward an America where race is irrelevant, they now advocate policies that serve only to deepen the racial divide: "multiculturalism" and "diversity" programs, racial gerrymandering, and media coverage of racially charged issues all fall within Sleeper's aim. Specifically, his targets range from white liberals like Andrew Hacker to critical race theorists like Derrick Bll to people whom Sleeper terms "race hustlers," such as Johhny Cohrane and Al Sharpton. The liberal insistence that race partially or totally defines who we are is Sleeper's primary target, and is the source of the title of the book.

Instead, Sleeper advocates placing emphasis on a "common civic culture" that all Americans, of whatever race, ought to share. Drawing on the classical liberalism that is the basis of the Constitution and Bill of Rights (however the Founders turned a blind eye to how truly broad the equality they advocated must be), we should put aside differences in skin color and heritage in favor of emphasis on the extensive similarity in our goals and values. It is on this foundation that we should begin to construct a new approach to racial issues, or rather return to that which was adhered to in the earlier days of the civil rights movement.

There is, of course, a pat response to his arguments: Easy for him to say. Sleeper, after all, is white. He has only secondhand knowledge of the plight of black Americans, and cannot truly understand the full extent and effect of racism in America. Perhaps anticipating such a charge, Sleeper quotes extensively from minority authors and activists, going so far as to devote an entire chapter of Liberal Racism to the lives and views of two prominent black intellectuals, Glen Loury and Randall Kennedy, whose views Sleeper substantially agrees with. Kennedy, in particular, advocates a totally colorblind society, in which Americans would disregard entirely the idea that race influences our personalities; even Sleeper seems hesitant to go so far.

Sleeper is directing his writing at a white, liberal audience; yet curiously, he says little about perhaps the most prominent racial issue common to most of his audience: affirmative action. Although many of his arguments could be applied to the topic, his seeming unwillingness to directly take a stand on an issue so close to the hearts of most liberals is somewhat curious. Perhaps this was one sacred cow Sleeper still hesitated to slaughter; or, perhaps, he recognized that the issue is so complicated and fraught with ambiguity that dissecting it is not as simple as slapping a "liberal racist" label on affirmative action's supporters. Whatever the reason, the lack of a discussion in this area is a gaping hole in Sleeper's book.

Further, it can be argued that he concentrates too much on New York as a microcosm of the greater debate raging throughout the country. The Big Apple, it must be recognized, houses a broad mix of people, backgrounds, and opinions, but it is hardly representative of Middle America. A broader look at policies and attitudes beyond the confines of Sleeper's home town would probably have served him well.

To his credit, Sleeper does provide good arguments against some of the liberal standbys that he considers indicative of liberal racism. In particular, he makes a strong case against racial gerrymandering, on both ideological and practical grounds. Even if one is unconvinced that racially motivated districting is inherently racist, the thought that it serves also to concentrate Democrat-leaning minority voters into a smaller number of districts (a tried-and-true gerrymandering tactic known as "packing"), which ultimately benefits the Republican party, should give pause to Democrats who favor such districts. To further bolster his case, Sleeper notes that after the Supreme Court struck down racial gerrymandering, not a single black incumbent lost their Congressional seat; this, he believes, dispels the idea that racial gerrymandering is needed because majority-white districts will not elect minority representatives.

Sleeper's analysis of racial gerrymandering is, in many ways, also indicative of one of the more profound faults in the book: Sleeper oversimplifies the issue greatly, all but ignoring the immense advantages any incumbent candidate enjoys over challengers. Instead, he dismisses such an important facet of elections with a wave, maintaining that since the districts were newly drawn, there were no incumbents. This is nearly dishonest: the advantages incumbents enjoy, including name recognition, favorable local press coverage, and franking mail, would definitely have applied to the incumbents he mentions. Further, one election hardly suffices to present a definitive analysis of the impact the abolishment of gerrymandering will have on racial representation; a frank appraisal will have to wait a few years until more information is available, and a pattern can emerge. Sleeper may be right when he maintains that black candidates can win in majority white districts, but as of yet he has very little empirical evidence to back up such an assertion.

Finally, Sleeper's analysis of the "back to Africa" movement warrants analysis. He spends an entire chapter of _Liberal Racism_ on this topic, and it appears somewhat out of place with his consistent theme of attacking what he labels "racialism." Instead, he concentrates much of his effort on Alex Haley's _Roots_ and the effect that novel had on many African Americans. Sleeper takes Haley to task primarily for academic dishonesty and ahistoricism. He notes that Africa is not, and never really was, the idealistic place that Haley portrays; Sleeper points out that often, slaves were sold into the trade by their own tribesmen, the descendants of whom are often still at war with one another today.

Amazingly, though, Sleeper seems not to recognize that *every* culture romanticizes its past, and, if anything, _Roots_ was simply a long overdue implementation of such a practice by a people who had been removed forcibly from their culture. Every American schoolchild is taught that America's foundations were laid in 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and brought to fruition when the idea that "all men are created equal" formed the basis for our government. It is only recently that Columbus' failings have been noted by mainstream academia, and that the fact that Jefferson owned slaves even while he penned the Declaration of Independence has been made prominent. Now, undoubtedly, Sleeper could criticize the aforementioned teachings on the same grounds that he criticizes _Roots_, but his book seems to single out as exceptional what is really an extremely common cultural practice.

Sleeper intends this chapter to highlight one of the main themes of _Liberal Racism_, his contention that we actually have a great deal more in common than we tend to think; specifically, we share a common civic culture, and we all place similar value on the principles of classical liberalism. If anything, his point might actually have been strengthened by highlighting the similarities between traditional American myths and Haley's African mythos. Instead, he comes off as regrettably one sided; he seems to be trying simply to smear something which touched a chord with a great many black Americans in order to get them to see his point of view. Rather than trying to persuade people of their similarities, he appears to be attempting to persuade them that they're just wrong.

By the end of _Liberal Racism_, one is left to wonder what, if anything, Sleeper suggests as an alternative. He abhors racial divisions, whoever they are proposed by; we get the message. But such divisions are often forced upon minorities by the racism they encounter every day. Sleeper seems not to recognize that racial identity in America may be more than base tribalism; it may be a banding together of people with common experiences in a society that has not yet shed the legacy of an undeniably racist past. Would he disagree that this commonality exists? If not, would he just tell people to ignore it? He seems unwilling to admit the extent to which we must recognize the divergence of experience in America, even while attempting to better the situation.

Ultimately, Sleeper's book is best viewed as a well-meaning, and sometimes overly simplistic, indictment of liberal policies. And, in many cases, Sleeper makes points that liberals would do well to consider. Not everyone will agree with Sleeper; many people will consider his view of racial issues selective and naïve. Yet he is voicing the concerns of many both within and outside of liberalism, and should at least be listened to, if not blindly followed.



From: Adam E Sebastian <aeseba0@ilstu.edu>
2/9/99
Subject: Liberal Racism (Adam Sebastian)

Jim Sleeper, Liberal Racism, (Viking Press, 1997).
Reviewed by Adam Sebastian.

If you are American, how many times a day do you think of yourself as one? Do you know what it means to be an American? What types of bonds do you have with other Americans? Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance, the forth of July, and all the American history you endured in school, can you say that in your deep down self-image you identify as an American foremost? I suspect that most Americans would answer these questions very negatively. Those Americans living in foreign countries might be reminded of themselves as Americans frequently, but for most of us, this is not the case. Being an American does not come to play in our daily course of life. Yet, Jim Sleeper believes Americans should rally around their common American bonds. Sleeper feels American diversity is growing and the common American bonds can promote togetherness in this diversity. Although Sleeper feels this way, he never fully explains one of these American bonds in his book, Liberal Racism.

This book is a criticism of how liberals have lost track in their fight Against racism. Sleeper claims that liberals have lost their classic liberal ideals in favor of a racial based view of politics. Liberals have forgot that race can be transcended by impartial reason. Liberals today look at racial differences as ones that are profound and far-reaching. The expectations of the person depend on the race of the individual and not their inner character. Much less is expected of a non-white than of a white. Sleeper calls this liberal racism. This racism, fed on by white liberal guilt, denies non-whites equal opportunity and accomplishment. This white liberal guilt does not allow an open sharing of thoughts; instead, liberals fail to recognize non-whites as equals to whites. Sleeper claims that this was an unintentional move by liberals, who in the 1960's had the right idea in integration.

In the 60's, with the ideals of Martin Luther King, liberals focused on integration and stressed our equality as people. Sleeper believes liberals should have kept this focus, but instead began to stress diversity and color-coding. Color-coding is characterizing a person primarily by their race. This view diminishes a person's other characteristics and often lumps them into a racial stereotype. Sleeper points out liberal racism and color-coding in the justice system, in voting districts, and in the media.

In the justice system Sleeper acknowledges racial faults in the past but is concerned with attempts to make non-whites seem so deprived by racial differences that they are innocent of their actions. Sleeper brings up the black rage defense as an insult to blacks. This defense introduced by William Kunstler and Ronald Kuby, in a 1994 case of a black man opening fire on passengers in a Long Island train. This defense claims that racial differences experienced by blacks can cause uncontrollable rage. Sleeper claims this is a sure sign of liberal racism in that it demeans black people's ability to control oneself. The law should be colorblind and not allow excuses because of race, that is not equality. In addition, Sleeper objects the liberal racist idea that whites can not be impartial jurors for a case involving a non-white defendant. This color-coding of people insults their reasoning capabilities and ability to transcend race in favor of justice.

In terms of voting, Sleeper finds liberals have begun to use identity politics. Identity politics is a term used for politics that stress a person will vote for the candidate that has the closest identity. By the liberal racist viewpoint this is not to say that these voters are not voting by the issues, because a person of the same identity is likely to have the same views of his or her racial or ethnic group. In the 1980's there was a trend to interpret the 1965 Voting Right Act, not as just an universal enfranchising piece of legislature, but also as to not discriminate racially by actually making minority-majority districts. These minority-majority districts were often made in places where no voting rights discrimination had previously happened. In any case, this lead to districts that were oddly shaped and encompassed minorities in many different communities. The districts often lead to campaigns that were just put on for show with one candidate easily being a sure winner. This in turn brought down voter turnout. When the Supreme Court started finding these districts unconstitutional, liberals were outraged. They imaged with redistricting into a more equal racial composition; non-white politicians would be voted out of office. Between the 104th Congress and the 105th Congress the House of Representatives went form having thirty-eight black members form having thirty-seven, with six fewer majority-black districts. Whites can vote for blacks, politics is not all racial. Yet, Sleeper fails to give enough time to the fact that the blacks running were mostly incumbents, which might have had a factor in the elections. Nevertheless, Sleeper adheres that the liberal racist view that race can not be transcended is wrong.

With respect to the liberal media and its part in liberal racism, Sleeper Takes issue with the New York Times. Sleeper talks of the differences of the Times coverage of the Million-Man March with that of a Promise Keepers rally. In the Million-Man March coverage, the Times criticized others fixation on the nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan as a demagogue. The Times coverage of the march stressed the goal of the men to rebuild their comminutes. However, in the Promise Keepers rally the Times itself fixated on the leaders as demagogues. Sleeper claims that this is an example of the liberal media's double standard of liberal racism. Sleeper emphasizes the Promise Keepers integration at the rally that was not brought up in the report. The Times only saw the Promise Keepers as white and ignored their overall desire to rebuild their communities and grow closer to God. Sleeper claims that integration is not given enough effort in the liberal media and their effort of diversity just keeps us separated as a common people. Another problem Sleeper sees in the Times policy managed diversity. This is a policy to increase diversity in the reporting of the news. Sleeper feels that humanist principles should guide reporting more than racial ones. He also asks is there a black, white, or Hispanic voice or way of reporting. It is the individual's style of reporting not the overall groups that comes out in journalists. He than uses the media to make a much lager indictment of American society. Sleeper goes as far to say that often institutions, such as the Times, treats "disparities in black employees' performance as 'cultural' differences" (85). He feels that it is racist to expect less of non-whites and that it is only an excuse not to fix the fundamental problem, the educational system.

Sleeper calls on common bonds to transcend race. Theses bonds should be emphasized over race. Yet one does not have to forget their race. Although one must be totally impartial in the justice system for instance they can express their racial self at home. This appears to be the traditional classic liberal dichotomy of the public and private sphere. With this dichotomy comes the question can someone forget her or his identity in the public sphere? Often the answer is no. Sleeper might argue that if the common American bonds are strong enough one might think of their identity as purely American. Yet is there such a thing as a pure American. Sleeper suggests there could be if emphasis is on common bonds, but this would take a couple hundred years and much effort to shove pure Americanism done people’s throat, that is if we could find out what pure Americanism exactly is. Sleeper hints at focusing on the common hopes and dreams but to me Americans’ hopes and dreams aren’t common enough for such a strong bond. Perhaps the answer lies in the communities we live in. It seems possible that if enough connections could be fostered in each community this could build a whole network of American social capital. This seems at least more plausible than the broader common American bonds. Yet, Sleeper doesn’t seem to want to promote bonds through communities but wants emphasis on all-inclusive American bonds. Perhaps as a classic liberal he wants to center on the law or the constitution. Maybe we as Americans can come together as a people under the same law or social contract. Yet most Americans are not this philosophical and I’m sure some would say they never signed that social contract and therefore can not solely connect through that. Sleeper appeals to the American identity. Although this might appeal to those who were alive in the 50’s, it will not appeal to the young who don’t have this ideal and don’t see one people, one culture.

Sleeper needs to realize that he is based only in abstract ideals that not many can relate to. He needs to drop the common bonds and focus on good old plain equality. There are no common American bonds that are going to bring everyone together, but everyone can understand total equality for all. This is the perfect thing to rally around and would be compatible with his views. This is much more comprehendible and substantial than common American bonds. I do feel that there is liberal racism out there. Of course even Sleeper recognizes there is more racism than just liberal racism and such things as the educational system must be fixed, but if America is going to be for total equality it can not say that there are profound racial differences. Race can not be the end all be all of a person.




Date: Wed, 10 Feb 1999 13:05:01 -0500
From: Maria Beatriz Diaz <mbdiaz@ilstu.edu>
Sleeper, Jim (1997). Liberal Racism. Penguin Books Inc. New York M.
Beatriz Diaz
 

        Martin Luther King's dream about an American society in which a person's race would not matter is far from reality. Since the 1960's, black people historically have suffered from racial separations with the dichotomy that features heavy black support of white liberals who advocate the idea of code-color in the public lives of African Americans. In his book Liberal Racism, Sleeper assesses liberal racism as the diminishment of black people. This assumption represents for Sleeper a departure from the Civil Rights Movement issue on race. Liberals see people of color as victims in the sense that minorities have failed to establish and keep essential standards of accomplishment due to the deleterious effects of racism. Liberal racism manipulates and reduces non-whites to eternal subjugation and servitude.

        Cultural consistency, in very simple terms, regards the notion of black families adopting black babies and white families adopting white babies(and so on) so as to retain cultural sameness. Under this rule, those of one race cannot adopt babies of those of a different race. In my opinion, Sleeper's discussion about cultural consistency in terms of the adoption of black babies by black parents tends to obscure and mask one of the most significant issues with respect to black-white relations in the United States: white privilege and power as unquestionable contaminants of social relations.

         Sleeper's point of view about the issue tends to cloud the fact that the black children, in the first place, do not have parents because they have been destroyed by an ominously racist system, present at all levels of life in the United States, in one or another way. In addition, the reason why this issue is not as important as a racist judicial system that arrests black development is because black children do not pose a threat to whites in the same way adult men do. Further, whites having lived apart from blacks for almost five hundred years are not likely to endorse a sudden compulsion to begin integrating the races through regulatory systems that mandate it. Therefore, racism cannot be clearly perceived in circumstances that feature agreement between the National Black Social Workers Association and the white system that prefers segregation of the races anyway. Blacks are only perceived to possess power to make or influence laws only under conditions in which they agree with whites. Sleeper's argument about cultural consistency would be most entertaining in the context of white privilege.

 I maintain the position that to simply refer to the liberals' position on cultural consistency as racist and ridiculous does not necessarily mean Sleeper, if given the power and opportunity, would repeal cultural consistency statutes. Sleeper renders no discernible answer to the problem of cultural consistency. What policies, for instance, should America adopt to assure transracial adoptions in a racist society? In addition, what proportion of white Americans who enjoy white privilege would be interested in adopting black babies at the expense of their social position in society? When did Sleeper become truly interested in the fate of black babies? His empty attack on liberal racists does not convince the more sophisticated reader (one who does not apply literal interpretation to the content of Liberal Racism) of his sudden development in wanting to secure the interests of black people. In Liberal Racism, one finds lots of ambivalence regarding his discussion of liberals and cultural consistency. For example, whom is Sleeper referring to when he mentions liberals in the following passage: "When an Irish family tried to adopt a black baby abandoned in a Brooklyn hospital, liberals saw a threat to black integrity..." (p. 5). What this reader desperately wants to discover is precisely who those liberals are. Sleeper seems to suppose all liberals agree with the regulation that forbids white families from adopting black babies. Do the conservatives support the regulation? Is he certain most blacks support the regulation given his discussion of the National Association of Black Social Workers position of the issue of cultural consistency? Much more exhaustive research needs to be done to flesh out scholarly answers to the aforementioned questions, research Sleeper fails to do himself.

Once serious incidents of white racism are discussed, then cultural consistency can be seen in its own vacuity. For example, black babies not given up for adoption to white prospective parents is an important issue but certainly not nearly as profound and astounding as the issue of black prisoners framed and convicted by powerful white prosecutors and district attorneys who hide evidence and badger and threaten witnesses to secure erroneous convictions. At the bottom of these cases, one finds racism in its most abject form as it possesses the power to determine the fate of individual citizens. Of course, this kind of virulent racism, in its entirety, is never shown in the media, creating a consciousness vacuum in the majority of American people regarding the horrible consequences of racism. Sleeper's notion of cultural consistency influences the American mind in much the same way as the media in that it subtly obscures the consequences of a racism that can be deadly and destructive to minorities in America. Therefore, cultural consistency is a meager issue in comparison with a number of documented cases in which black prisoners have endured many years behind bars and were later exonerated on the basis on evidence that was hidden or contaminated by white racist prosecutors. In the case of Jeronimo Pratt who spent sixteen years behind bars, jurors heard evidence by prosecution witnesses whose stories proved to be inconsistent and incredible. In the end, the evidence showed conclusively that at the time the white teacher was killed, Jeronimo Pratt was engaged in a phone conversation in Oakland, California. The murder occurred in Los Angeles.

         In another particular case in Pennsylvania, Mummia Abu-Jamal now sits on death row for the murder of a white police officer. In a recent review of the case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the incredibility of every single defense witness including all the witnesses testifying that a different person was the murderer or that another man was seen running from the scene of the crime. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court again erred in finding that every witness presented by the prosecution and the police, including those who changed their stories and as a result received favors from the police, was completely credible. This court found that there was nothing wrong in the use of peremptory challenges to prevent blacks from serving as jurors. Such challenges have outlawed by the US Supreme Court. Therefore, they were illegal. Judge Sabo, who heard the case, ruled against the admissibility of evidence that would have freed Mumia Abu-Jamal. During the trial, Judge Sabo erred in failing to allow Mr. Abu-Jamal to act as his own lawyer; this is a flagrant violation of the law. New evidence clearly shows that the district attorney's office has improperly withold evidence and threatened witnesses. To get the bottom of the unscrupulous conduct by Pennsylvania authorities, Mr. Abu-Jamal's lawyer asked Judge Sabo to order the district attorney to produce files which clearly show the aforementioned corruption, but Judge Sabo refused. Finally, if the federal court fails to step in to correct the said errors and to provide Mr. /abu-Jamal a fair trial, he will be executed by the state of Pennsylvania without having been provided a fair and impartial judge and jury.

         Significant racism and power are inextricable linked in the United States.  With respect to the two aforementioned cases in which African-Americans were condemned to prison and probable death, one can easily see the power that lies in the hands of white judges, white police officers, white district attorneys, and white prosecutors to decide the fate of black citizens. On the other hand, it is clear that black citizens do not possess the power to make laws and policies that determine the fate of black children seeking foster homes even though the appearance of black power persists in the white psyche. Therefore, the issue of cultural consistency is merely one that obscures the real issue of white racism that destroys black lives. This masking of the issues with petty discussions about cultural consistency prevents the kind of discussion about race that would lead to solutions that would effectively halt or impair any possibility that innocent black men would be falsely imprisoned in the future. Thus, Sleeper's cultural consistency constitutes merely a sideshow issue of relative insignificance in the face of the fact that approximately 800,000 African-Americans, of the 1.7 million prisoners in the United States, languish disproportionately in prison as they constitute forty percent of the prison population. Given such a large prison population of black men, it perhaps would not be too much of a mental stretch to surmise many of the black babies need foster homes in the first place because their fathers are in prison and their mothers have been made unfit by rampant acts of racism and discrimination.

         Sleeper refers to racial gerrymandering as another example of categorizing people by color. By creating minority-majority districts, the new plans envigorated white communities that were Republican districts, and imperiled the chance that white Democrats would win seats in the South since black votes would then go to black candidates rather than to the Democrats who relied heavily on the black vote. This service to Republicans was made by liberals. Sleeper believes that the way for blacks to be elected to Congress is not unnaturally dividing districts by race, but by presenting strong candidates for election. It was demonstrated that blacks could win in majority-white districts when black representatives were re-elected even after the redistricting had occurred. While it is true blacks were re-elected after their districts had become majority-white, Sleeper still fails to put the issue in perpective with a historical look at black representation in Congress before 1965. Again, what he chooses not to discuss tends to obscure the big picture. As Andrew Hacker affirms in Two Nations, the lack of black representation in the southern states made possible the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 because of the impossibility of black voters to elect "representatives of their choice" (p. 235). Many Black citizens clearly wanted to be represented by other black people who shared the black experience of being discriminated against on a daily basis. In short, black voters, harried and oppressed through five-hundred years of various combinations of slavery, segregation, and racism, simply did not trust white people in the representation of their interests. In 1965, when the Voting Act Rights Act was passed and signed into law by President Johnson and the Congress, no black representatives existed to put their stamp on that piece of legislation. By 1994, owing largely to the Voting Rights Act, thirty-nine black people held seats in the House of Representatives. When Sandra O'Connor in Show v. Reno considers the unconstitutionality of racial gerrymandering given the possibility it may propel the country toward balkanization, she and the other consenting conservative justices align themselves with Sleeper who utilizes the conservative notions of Abigail Threnstrom to bolster his argument about what it means to have the right to vote. This conservative view does nothing more than obscure the real issue of historical underrepresentation of Blacks in Congress and the racism and discrimination out of which such circumstances evolved.

If conservatives destroy completely racial gerrymandering, one of the brainchildren of liberal racists, which created thirty-nine black seats in the House, eventually blacks would possess no representation at all and balkanization, under this scenario, would prove likely. One would do well to remember what occurred in America's fledgling beginning when colonists were taxed heavily without proper representation. The result, of course, was the American Revolution. On the issue of racial gerrymandering, in my opinion, Sleeper tends to present himself as a conservative with no clue as to how to ameliorate minority representation in Congress or how to improve on the results the liberal racists have brought to us.

         The country, having already been balkanized into a kind of domestic cold war as a result of continuing whiteness or white privilege, has made more racial progress under liberal administrations than under conservatives ones in the last fifty years. One dares as the question: If Sleeper's conservative views about racial gerrymandering had been held by those in control of the executive and legislative branches of our government over the last fifty years, how many Black and Latino representatives would now be in Congress? Simply to complain about racial gerrymandering without a viable solution to the problem of minority representation in Congress serves to obscure realities of inequality and racism that merely keep the current American social caste system in place.
 



Liberal Racism by Jim Sleeper    Reviewed by (Danielle Walker)
 

          " Liberal Racism." What comes to mind with that title? Racist unjust feelings toward people of different races? Feelings that perhaps so called liberals possess? Well, if one were to guess that is what Jim Sleeper means by that title they would be partially correct. "Liberal Racism" is an analysis by Jim Sleeper of people who call themselves liberals. "Liberal Racism" is not a very flattering analysis of present day liberalism. Sleeper argues that liberals cab be some of the most prejudiced people around today. He thinks that liberals have an obsession with color.

 When Sleeper discusses color and unjust raciaI feelings, I should point out that he is limiting his discussion to two main racial groups, blacks and whites.

           Sleeper feels that both groups try and avoid the racial problems by acting as if many racial situations do not exist. He thinks that some white liberals are uncomfortable around other ethnic groups and attempt to disguise their fear by avoiding contact. Black liberals do the same thing to a greater extent Sleeper argues. Jim Sleeper throughout this entire book emphasizes that the liberals' tendencies to avoid racial situations is one of the reasons why racial problems have continued on, he claims that people "tip-toe near the color line" instead of crossing over it.

           Liberal racism to Sleeper is a consequence of the liberals' problem with color that has several dimensions. He argues that while he does not think liberals mean harm, they are in fact causing widespread damage. He thinks people harbor a lot of prejudiced attitudes targeted at blacks that causes an oppression for them. In order to come out of this oppression blacks and whites need to believe that blacks have the ability to succeed. Many liberalists influence blacks negatively by unintentionally presenting racial barriers by emphasizing in different ways that blacks are confined to live with the past consequences of racism.

 Sleeper points out for example that many blacks are not expected to perform as well as whites in acheivement tests. In some cases, the formats of tests are altered so that it will be easier for blacks. Sleeper claims that this is a huge mistake, and that many people including liberals believe that simply because they are black means that they cannot acheive. When people have beliefs based on color that are not based on fact he refers to this as color-coding. With color-coding people automatically assume they have knowledge of a person based on race. Sleeper strongly warns of the consequences of color coding. He uses slavery as an example of this danger.

 Slaves were degraded and ridiculed viciously because they were blacks. Whites did and still view blacks as unimportant compared to themselves. They stereotype and blacks sometimes buy into these stereotyoes and allow people to discriminate against them. This Sleeper strongly emphasizes throughout the book.

               Over time people have spoken out against black oppression emphasizing that blacks must not dispare. Martin Luther King spoke out emphasizing determination. Sleeper believes that King was influencing people positively, but that his message of acheiving equality has gotten distorted throughout time. In this book he examines liberalism movements of the past and present. He argues that the idea of liberalism has become distorted and that is one of the reasons that racism has prevailed. He thinks that the world needs more people similar to Martin Luther King. The civil rights movement was a time of progression, whereas the nineties is a time where people are unproductable racial wise. Sleeper claims that people need to develop a sense of awareness that setting equal standards is a way of allowing people to acheive.

                Another dimension of liberal racism according to Sleeper is the negative influence of what he refers to as media liberalism. He discusses The New York Times as being the chief source of media liberalism. Based on his readings of The New York Times Sleeper feels that The Times has attempted to influence how people should regard people of different races. Sleeper describes how newspapers selectively choose what to cover.

 He states that The Million Man March did not accurately cover the whole story, he felt that more attention should have been paid to the people themselves individually not the movement in whole. He contrasts the coverage of this story to the coverage of the movements of The Promise Keepers. The Times gave a lot of coverage on the individual people themselves, which annoyed Sleeper. He uses these situations as examples as to why he thinks media liberalism can be biased in what they cover. By limiting coverage of issues, the media does not present a complete story.

 Sleeper views this incompletion as a means of distorting actual situations, and perpetuating distorted views of racial groups, which allow liberal racism to continue. He felt that the Promise Keepers being white made a difference on what was covered.

                I did not find that this book was necessarily easy to understand. There were times when I did not understand whether what he was saying was a fact or an opinion. He criticized liberals strongly for causing great harm in their ideas but he does not accurately compare or contrast them to other groups, so in my opinion he may not be accurate in just how much harm they can cause compared to others. His entire arguement about liberal racism is based on the problems between whites and blacks.

 Other ethnic groups have had racial oppressions, so why does he not mention them? I think that he should have at least made it clear why he chose to omitt other groups. To me his omission makes "Liberal Racism" incomplete.  When people think of racism they think of various racial groups. Perhaps a more acurate title would have been "The Liberal Racism Between Blacks And Whites."



Jim Sleeper, Liberal Racism (Penquin Books, 1998)

reviewed by Mylon Kirksy

 
“Intending to turn the tables on racist double standards that set the bar much higher for non-whites, liberal racism ends up perpetuating double standards by setting the bar so much lower for its intended beneficiaries that it denies them the satisfaction of equal accomplishment and opportunity. Liberal racism also assumes that racial differences are so profound that they are almost primordial. The term “racialism” is sometimes used to denote this belief that racial differences are so essential to our understanding of ourselves and society, and at times I will use it to refer to such thinking. But the fascination with racial differences that prevents many liberals from treating any person with a non-white racial physiognomy as someone much like themselves only begets policies and programs that reinforce nineteenth-century assumptions about race that are patently racist. It is time to call this mindset what it is: liberal racism.”(p.4)

This passage is the central theme in Jim Sleeperīs book Liberal Racism. The author is conveying the message that liberalism has lost its focus. The author argues that liberals of today are creating laws and policies that help to further deteriorate the relationship between Blacks and Whites in this country. Jim Sleeper refers to himself as a “Classic Liberal”, that is, he believes in principles that are similar to those of the 60īs Civil Rights Movement. Having said that, Sleeperīs main argument is that liberals need to revert back to the mind-state of the 60īs Civil Rights Movement where liberals were promoting the ideology of integration and color-blind laws and policies. Submerged in this theme, Sleeper points out various mistakes, if you will, with the actions of liberals that, in essence, have helped to perpetuate and create a racially divided society.

 He is writing this book for liberals so that he may address his concerns with their current practices and illustrate how acting in “classic thought” would have been, and still is, a better idea than what “modern thought” emphasizes now. One of the main problems that Sleeper points out has to do with emphasize that liberals put on race. He notes that politics have become so polarized by race that people no longer identify with issues, rather, issues identify them; this condition is known as color-coding. The idea is that politicians believe they can look at an issue and predict what racial group would find that issue important. For example, if I said that Affirmative Action was an important issue to me, politicians, and increasingly others, would predict, without knowing my race, that I was Black because they think of Affirmative Action as primarily a Black issue.

 Sleeper argues that liberals began creating policies and laws that paid too much attention to race. The first example that Sleeper points out involves wrongs with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He explains that the VRA in and of itself was not a bad act to have passed for Civil rights legislation.

 However, he maintains that its original intent has been misinterpreted. The original VRA was created to increase minority representation as well as help discourage racial districting (gerrymandering) that prevented minorities from having a voice in the sea of the majority. Ironically, as Sleeper points out, the interpretation of the Voting Rights Act now involves gerrymandering as a means to promulgate minority participation in government. Legislatures are designing districts that are almost entirely the same race so that they can insure that the person elected will be of the same racial group as the people they represent. The problem that filters from this is that it causes those white members of the neighborhood to become grouped together forming a new and larger community that also elects same race officials. Worse than that though, it creates a condition where in larger elections (like state elections) there is more representation by the majority that subsequently ends up out voting minorities. It is this policy that Sleeper says liberals took a wrong turn on. Liberals end up contradicting the principle of integration by propagating and emphasizing separation by using racial re-districting. As an alternative, Sleeper says that liberals should put faith in Americans that they would elect the best candidate for a position regardless of their race.

In a passage pertaining to the Voting Rights Act, he makes this argument: “The VRA helped to change White votersī attitudes too: In 1966 Massachusettsīs electorate, 80 percent white, made Edward Brooke the first Black U.S. senator since reconstruction…In 1972, Andrew Young was elected to Congress by a mostly White district in Atlanta” (p.46). Sleeper goes on to cite a few more examples of mostly White districts electing Blacks or a minority to office, like in the case of former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun and Governor L. Douglas Wilder, to illustrate that racism is not nearly as profound as it use to be and that society is much more color-blind in the way of political interests. Another issue that Sleeper discusses in his argument against current liberal ideology is American Identity. He says that Americans should come together and form civility under common interests. He believes that the social as well as the political realm in the United States is much too racially balkanized. As a solution, Sleeper says holding on to individual cultural and ethnic identities in areas such as lawmaking and the public sphere, must disembodied in order to create a more harmonious and assimilated “American” identity. He believes that holding on to a particular identity other than that of the feeling of being “American” creates competing interests and leads to segregation and polarization tendencies. Specifically, Sleeper notes: “Blacks who have thought most deeply about and productively about this are shedding a defensive blackness to join with Whites who disown both their own past supremacy and their counterproductive guilt. They would have us forget Alex Haleyīs Africa, except as citizens of the world…they would have us become Americans…the time is approaching when Americans of all colors will have to give their racial banners descent burials and kiss their hyphenations goodbye” (p.117).

As I reflect on the position of Jim Sleeper in the book Liberal Racism, I come to an agreeance on his central theme, which is that liberals have gone too far in their actions and have alienated many of the principles for which they ideologically stood for. More specifically, I agree with Sleeper on points he makes about re-districting, and color-coding. I believe that racial districting, regardless of its intent, perpetuates and feeds a feeling of separation between the races. It indirectly belittles the faith in American objectivity by implying through its implementation that we are not a society of fairness and open-mindedness when it comes to race. I understand that racism is alive and well in our political and social agendas, but by not challenging it or trying to disseminate its effects, I would be, as well as society, allowing it to oppress me and establish a self-fulfilling prophecy of perpetual doom. I would like to be optimistic and put faith in America because I see togetherness as the only practical solution. If you notice, I did not use the word assimilation, because I disagree with the way that Sleeper interprets and defines the word. Sleeper is implying that to assimilate you must be color-blind.
However, I believe that assimilation done right means that you must be color cognitive. With that cognition individuals must make an attempt to learn, adapt and change their mind-state toward other racial groups to one of acceptance of cultural difference. At the same time, individuals and society as a whole must concentrate on what they have in common that will unite them in spirit and identity. In order to discuss disbanding racial identifiers, one must sufficiently discuss why they exist in the first place and deal with the underlining issues of superiority, which Sleeper does not do, in this book. I also agree with Sleeperīs comments on color-coding. On the same bone of contention as racial districting, color-coding leads to stereotypes and a condition of mental stagnation of individuals. It gives individuals a reason not to deal with the reality of difference in our multicultural nation, which results in the condition of ethnocentrism and isolation. What people need to understand is that race is socially constructed and is not the sole definer of oneīs person.

 Color-coding does not allow for individuality, it dehumanizes the individual by ascribing to an entire race one way of thinking about an issue. For as much as I found myself agreeing with the author, I found myself disagreeing with the solutions or lack there of he gave to solve certain dilemmas. For example, I do not agree with his argument about how to solve the problem with districting. Although I understand that the current system has flaws, it has produced results that I do not believe would have otherwise happened. Sleeper says that re-districting should not occur, which I agree with, however he sites examples of times it did work that are weak and inadequate for proving his argument. The examples he has shown are only a hand full of success stories in the last 33 years or so.

 The fact is re-districting has produced far greater results as far as representation of minorities in government is concerned. Another point on that issue is that there were almost no cases of integrated districts electing minorities before the Voting Rights Act, which illustrates the weakness in his “have faith in Americans” argument. Secondly, I have a problem with the fact that Sleeper decides not to discuss racism in terms of other racial groups other than Blacks and Whites. I think that Sleeper is polarizing a large study with a small sample. I realize that it would be difficult to encompass all minority groups or discuss all racial distinctions, but he should have either mentioned more about them and the implications of them on his argument, or done the smarter and titled the book accordingly. Lastly, I would have appreciated Sleeper issuing practical ways of initiating changes in the current ideology of liberals so that the ideology of today was more like the one of yesteryear. Because he sites liberals as being inconsistent in philosophy, I feel that he should have done more to show how to create or initiate change rather than critique to the extent at which he did. As a final note, Sleeper should have also giving more credit to conservatives for the problem of “liberal racism” existing since it is obvious that they have helped contribute to and encourage its existence.