THE TROUBLE WITH FRIENDSHIP: Why Americans Can't Think Straight About Race by Benjamin DeMott
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THE TROUBLE WITH FRIENDSHIP: Why Americans Can't Think Straight About Race

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DeMott (The Imperial Middle, 1990, etc.), having explored America's inability to face issues of class, now turns his considerable intelligence to our other dirty little secret, race. There are, DeMott says, new themes developing in America's vision of its racial problems, themes that reflect the rightward drift of the country in politics and culture. With the emergence of a substantial black middle class as a catalyst, our media are now purveying a vision of race relations in America that is based on what DeMott designates ""the friendship orthodoxy."" At almost every level of popular culture, from Ken Burns's The Civil War to Murphy Brown to children's books and ad campaigns, we are presented with images of blacks and whites interacting in an easy, friendly, compassionate mode. While this is not, in and of itself, an insidious vision, it is a highly inaccurate one. It is used, DeMott says, to purvey an ideology that dissolves racial difference, historical injustice, and the true caste nature of American society in a treacly, warm milk of human kindness. Racism is reduced to a matter of personal interaction, ""keep[ing] social fact at bay."" DeMott convincingly argues for the connection between this new orthodoxy and the rise of a pernicious black neoconservatism, embodied by the likes of Shelby Steele and Stephen Carter, who batten onto the dissolution of racial difference with smug denunciations of the irresponsibility of a black underclass that chooses poverty and joblessness. At the same time, whites, liberal or conservative, can feel good about their attitudes while failing to address the reality of life for the majority of black Americans: racial stratification that produces joblessness, family collapse, crime, and inferior education and health care. DeMott argues his case persuasively in this important book, a clarion call to those still willing to consider the lessons of history before TV and advertising erase them completely.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly