Shelby Steele has always been fascinating to me. On one hand I find his views interesting. On the other hand I feel like his views on race are severely stunted. Like his opinions on anti-intellectualism in black culture. I don’t think black people have cornered the market on anti-intellectualism. Modern American culture, black and white is pro-anti-intellectualism. How else to you explain the election of George W. Bush and the pushback against science? The people who make museums that argue that the earth is 6,000 years old and that men and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time?
Americans often are slow when it comes to history, mathematics and reading levels across the board. Blacks have it worst than most, but don’t own this phenomenon. Anti-intellectualism has been spreading since the advent of the “idiot box,” television, now augmented with video games, internet chat rooms, text messaging (which is murdering spelling and handwriting, by the way) and insta-porn. The people want to be satiated with garbage. It’s difficult to force books upon them when most people groan at the dedication and imagination it takes to read.
Steele, like a lot of black conservatives, argues that programs like the Great Society plan, welfare, the public school system and Affirmative Action are harming black people. That these ideas are more rooted in white guilt that black advancement. Like many black conservative he has adopted some of Booker T. Washington’s notions of black self-reliance through entrepreneurship and education.
He feels that too often white Liberals and blacks turn to the government to solve their problems and inequities when the real solution lies within.
I’m attracted to this logic to a certain extent. But I’d also argue that black entrepreneurship has often been stymied by banking institutions who either deny blacks loans for starting businesses or lock them in with unfair loaning practices with much higher premiums. (Subprime loan, anyone?) And the animosity towards public education is rooted in pro-business and Libertarian ideologies, not the original reason for public education, which was to make sure everyone in American could be educated. It would make more sense to reduce the inequities in funds for schools based on property taxes. Education is still separate and unequal if you have the misfortune of growing up in a rural area, where there are no options and little funding or in the inner city which is falling apart from decades of neglect.
Naturally, this is a real back-handed compliment of a book. Obama is smart! Obama makes people feel good! Obama is a race “bargainer” bound by his “blackness” which force him to work within Liberal, defeatism presets that hurt black people!
Said Steele to ABC News:
Even though he is, in Steele’s estimation, “quite good” at “articulating black responsibility,” his long struggle to “prove his blackness” requires him to see blacks as “society’s children.”
“Obama doesn’t get it,” said Steele in an interview with ABCNEWS.com. “He wants to make black responsibility contingent on what whites do, on what the government does, and on what school systems do and so forth.”
“Good luck,” he added. “You keep advocating that and blacks will be on the bottom forever.”
Steele thinks Obama’s alleged insecurity about his racial identity explains not only his 20-year relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright but also his continued support for affirmative action and refusal to say whether he would have signed the welfare overhaul approved by former President Clinton in 1996.
It also explains, in Steele’s view, why Obama said during a recent “Nightline” interview that blacks do not have the “luxury” of being “selective” when it comes to other blacks.
Steele tends to wrap his “psychobabble” in rosy rhetoric. Also biracial, Steele feels he has an insight to Obama’s own racial/political psychology, which is a farce. He assumes that Obama adopted Liberal policies because of his blackness, not because he agreed with them.
Obama, like many black people and especially biracial people, had a choice. He could be ambivalent to race or he could thrust himself right into the thick of our racial debate. He chose joining the debate. I don’t think his entire political career is an exercise in black self-esteem where Obama is adopting “harmful” policies to fit in with the rest of us Negroes.
Steele argues that Obama doesn’t assert black responsibility when Obama has been talking self-accountability on the stump since forever.
Also from ABC.com article:
Steele raps the
“He needs to go a lot farther than the bromide about turning off the TV,” Steele told ABC News. “He has to actually try to instill a larger concept of personal responsibility in black people, and others as well, who at this point in our history, lack that concept and are suffering because they lack that concept.”
Asked about the criticism, Obama's campaign rejected Steele’s view that pushing for school reform undermines the candidate's call for parental responsibility.