IDEOLOGICAL DIVISIONS in civil rights theory too often form along politically partisan lines. Facts are cherry-picked, and formal analyses are shaped to fit preordained political perspectives. Yet, when one steps away from the politics, when one pursues the unvarnished truth, one is humbled by the enormous complexity of the subject matter. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of race, especially the problems of African Americans. The end of government-sanctioned racial oppression, fading historical memory, the emergence of genuine class stratification within black society—especially the rise of the black upper and middle classes—the concomitant influx of poor immigrants of color, and the inertia of structural barriers that limit opportunities as well as the grudging recognition of dysfunctional behaviors within the black community have converged to make civil rights theory an extremely complex enterprise today. Inclined to provide facile answers to complex problems, political partisanship is very seductive in this climate. But the price of the ticket is quite high: we settle for comfortable positions over painful truths.
This book attempts to provide a nonpartisan approach to civil rights theory. My ambition is to facilitate penetrating and productive discussions about civil rights theory, particularly as it pertains to African Americans. (I shall in due course explain my reasons for limiting my inquiry to blacks.) To achieve this objective, I have created a rhetorical device called the “theory of completeness.” This is a theory about modern civil rights theory. It holds that civil rights theory today, in the Age of Obama, must be complete if it is to be taken seriously; that is, it must put forth an external and internal diagnosis of and prescription for the civil rights problem it seeks to address, be it civil rights pertaining to blacks, browns, women, or other groups. To suggest that there is an internal, or cultural, side to the race problem pertaining to blacks may seem like blaming the victim. That certainly is not the case. All I am saying is that given the death of Jim Crow and the concomitant increase in racial opportunities, it is now possible that cultural factors may offer some explanation as to why African Americans continue to face serious racial problems so long after the civil rights movement. Thus, in post–civil rights America—the decades since circa 1972, the end of the civil rights movement and Jim Crow—and most especially with the election of the first black president of the United States, internal factors must be considered along with external, or structural, conditions.
There are several reasons why this book focuses on African Americans. Lim-