Lasch-Quinn (History/Syracuse Univ.) contends that the civil-rights movement has been hurt by its advocacy of diversity training, multicultural education, and other therapeutic programs that have failed to tackle the intractable problems of poverty and violence.
The author maintains that the movement, as represented by Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, appealed to the better angels of the American psyche. That movement, however, while once based “on a powerful set of moral and political premises,” has failed to achieve its goal of a “democratic nation able to transcended racial and other cleavages; a revived civic culture; and a truly humane social order.” The later generation of racial theorists, who assumed control of the movement in the years following King’s assassination, came out of an academic culture and were preoccupied with questions of individual growth, emotional health, and personal gratification (rather than political change based on law and morality). They confused rather than clarified discussion of race. Lasch-Quinn contends that the terms of the debate changed when the civil-rights coalition collapsed in the early 1970s, and she sees the development of the new approach as a response to powerful changes in both popular and academic culture. The vast expansion of psychotherapy in the late 20th century led to the adoption by activists of such therapy-based remedies as the Encounter movement and the T-Group (a racial identity theory that envisioned a separate “black psychology”). There was also the influence of New Age beliefs in “empowerment,” as well as the rise of “diversity training” (which has become a fixture in nearly 65 percent of US businesses) and “multicultural education” (with its emphasis on self-esteem). She concludes that the civil-rights movement has blundered by casting “racial oppression in terms of incorrect attitudes or estranged emotions,” thereby confusing the very points of contention and actually bringing on a resurgence of racism.
An original and impressive presentation that does much to illuminate the current racial situation.