Part 1 set the stage for a thorough look at Shelby Steele’s views, expounded in his book, Shame. By way of brief review, BLM inspired uprisings are flourishing unabated in many cities, aided by white guilt over self-proclaimed inadequacies and insensitivities regarding race. Shame was published in 2015, with elements giving rise to disruptive protests already in situ.
Shelby opens his book as follows: “Not long ago I was the lone conservative at a panel discussion on race and politics at the famous Aspen Institute in Colorado … When my turn came I said that what I wanted most for America was an end to white guilt, or at least an ebbing of this guilt into insignificance. I then used my allotted few minutes to define while guilt as the terror of being seen as a racist – a terror that has caused whites to act guiltily toward minorities even when they feel no actual guilt. My point was that this terror – and the lust it has inspired in whites to show themselves innocent of racism – has spawned a new white paternalism toward minorities since the 1960s that, among other things, has damaged the black family more profoundly than segregation ever did.”
Although he doesn’t go into significant detail about the program, or even mention it by name, an internet search reveals it to be The Aspen Institute’s program titled “Race and Politics in America: Where are We in 2008?” The panel was composed of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Richard Thompson Ford, Shelby Steele and Charles Kamasaki. Mr. Coates posed a question to the panel: Why is it that we frame racial discussions in “either/or” terms? It’s either the white man’s got his foot on our neck or we’re slitting our own throat. Is it time that we moved beyond a fault-based paradigm?
Halfway through his remarks, Shelby realized that sitting in the front row was retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whose 2003 opinion effectively extended the life of affirmative action for another 25 years. He sensed that what he said next was going to be provocative, close to sacrilege at the liberal-learning Aspen Institute, and perhaps even discomfiting to Justice O’Connor. In a setting like the Aspen Institute, where liberalism is simple etiquette and where criticism of minorities is verboten, the black conservatives like Shelby Steele inevitably give offense; oft-times they are perceived to be opportunistic, self-hating, and sycophantic. But Shelby’s role was to tell harsh truths that challenge benevolent paternalistic dogma, not to lighten the white man’s burden or assuage the black man’s feelings. And so, true to his colors, he continued:
“Post-1960s welfare policies, the proliferation of ‘identity politics’ and group preferences, and all the grandiose social interventions of the War on Poverty and the Great Society – all this was meant to redeem the nation from its bigoted past, but paradoxically, it also invited minorities to make an identity and a politics out of grievance and inferiority. Its seductive whisper to them was that their collective grievance was their entitlement and that protest politics was the best way to cash in on that entitlement – this at the precise moment when America was at last beginning to free up minorities as individual citizens who could pursue their own happiness to the limits fo their abilities. Thus, white guilt was a smothering and distracting kindness that enmeshed minorities more in the struggle for white redemption than in their own struggle to develop as individuals capable of competing with all others.”
Here are more of Shelby’s observations, from Chapter 1 titled The Great Divide:
- Since the 1960s, white racism had lost so much of its authority, power, and legitimacy that it was no longer, in itself, a prohibitive barrier to black advancement. Blacks have now risen to every level of American Society, including the presidency.
- White racism is the least among the factors limiting black advancement. As a black individual, you will be far more likely to receive racial preferences in educational and job opportunities than you are to suffer racial discrimination. Yet blacks are still behind virtually all other groups by the most important measures of social and economic well-being: educational achievement, home ownership, employment levels, academic test scores, marriage rate, and so on.
- Seven out of ten black women are single, and 70% of first black marriages fail in comparison to 47% of first white marriages. Black women are married at roughly half the rate of white women and divorced at twice the rate. Thus it is not surprising that nearly 75% of all black children are born out of wedlock.
- In 2008, black college students were three times more likely than whites to graduate with a GPA below 2.5. This on top of a graduation rate for black of only 42%. Blacks in general have the highest dropout rate and lowest GPA of any student group in America. While these disparities had their genesis in centuries of racial oppression, liberalism conflates the past with the present.
- It is likely that today’s racial disparities are due more to dysfunctions within the black community and to liberal social policies that have encouraged black people to trade more on past victimization rather than to seize the opportunities given to us. The pernicious corruption of post 1960s liberalism is that it undermined the spirit of self-help and individual responsibility precisely in the people it sought to uplift.
- The poetic truth that blacks are still held back from full equality by ongoing “structural” racism carrier more authority than the objective truth. We continue to live under a hegemony of political correctness, more invested in the prescriptions of that correctness than in the true nature of problems that we face.
- The problem is that these prescriptions only throw fuzzy and unattainable idealisms at profound problems. Championing “diversity” provides only a vague apologia, an amorphous expression of goodwill that offers no objective assessment whatsoever of the actual problems.
- If decades of government assistance have weakened the black family with dependency and dysfunction, poetic truth argues all the more fervently that blacks are victims and that whites are privileged. Poetic truths stigmatize the actual truth with the sins of America’s past so that true itself becomes “incorrect”.
- We can’t admit today that the lives of minorities are no longer stunted by either prejudice or “white privilege”. And we can’t afford to acknowledge that the same is true for American women. Contrition and apology are “correct”; honesty is “incorrect”.
- We all know what the solutions are: mutual respect, empathy, flexibility, compromise, and so on. Great democracies always come to divides like ours, yet must resolve these divides within the contemporary world. Today’s great divide comes from a shallowness of understanding, and so everything becomes a squabble until history finally arbitrates.
Thus, as you can see, we shall need to pursue this further in Part 3.