What Shelby Steele has right?
He explains various stories from his life and is willing to be vulnerable. He gives perspective to the black experience.
What Shelby Steele has wrong?
Shelby Steele claims he doesn’t believe America is endemically racist. He then goes typically on to recant several instances of racism in his own life and the lives of his children. Steele had to turn down a tenure position at the U. of Utah his first year teaching due to racism encountered as a black man married to a white woman. He was offered a non-tenured position in California, but the fact that he had to turn down a tenure position was huge.
Steele continually says racism does not keep a person from achieving goals. That has been true of his life, he is very talented and could be mobile. However, most people don’t have anything they are exceptionally good at or unlimited mobility. Let’s say Steele had the responsibility of caring for a sick relative in Utah or did not get several other job offers. He would have had to accept the U. of Utah job and suffer racial harassment or divorce the woman he loves. That is the reality for most black people; we are having to navigate around prejudice while striving for goals. Most people generally could not achieve every goal with that many hindrances.
Racial harassment inflicts trauma on black people that makes it difficult to focus on tasks. Steele tells stories of racial slurs painted on buildings at University and people would yell “nigger” at him while walking down the street. A person with the mental stability of Steele can go about their day unaffected by this treatment. However, some people can’t compartmentalize the many instances of racial harassment they endure or levied at their race as a whole. This harassment has an indirect effect on a person’s ability to achieve. Some people have the mental strength to compartmentalize the harassment, some develop the talent, and others never gain the ability.
According to Steele, black people don’t support a conservative agenda because they have a “grievance identity.” The “grievance identity” is a name for an inferiority complex that provides unity for a culture. However, Steele doesn’t talk about the many conservative movements going on in the black community now. The most significant and most famous is the Nation of Islam (NOI). The NOI preaches a belief in a supreme being is paramount and a person should adhere to a strict moral code to ensure stability in life. A secular conservative movement that is also popular is the push to build black business. The most famous of the pro-black business leaders is Boyce Watkins, his lectures are available for free on the internet. So there is a sizeable conservative movement in the black community.
The problem is not with conservatives it is with Republicans. The Republican party has implemented the Southern Strategy to entice former Dixiecrat voters to their party since the 1970’s. The first key opposition came with the 1968 Voter Rights Act, and the movement has grown since. Lee Atwater provides a summary of the Southern Strategy in a 1981 interview with Alexander P. Lamis. The text can be found below:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
So the Republican party has been using racial “dog whistles” to attract racist for years. The Willie Horton ad campaign of 1988 was the most famous and blatant implementation of this plan. In the Horton campaign, the story of a large black felon raping and killing a white woman was used to scare white voters into voting Republican to removing Democratic programs used to free prisoners. The “law and order” rhetoric of the Republican party has often had racial undertones.
Recently, Republican attacks have become more blatant. Trump and his rallies get the most press coverage. Audio from the rallies shows people yelling slurs from the crowd. Trump did not stop them, and none of the Republican establishment denounced the activity.
Trump is not the only Republican with overtly racist statements. St Petersburg mayoral candidate told activist to “Go back to Africa” in 2017. Jesse Helms in office from 1973 – 2003 once said: “crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced.” Also, in 1983 most of the opposition for making MLK day a holiday came from Republicans, 86 of the 90 no votes.
With all this being said, Democrats have also made racist statements and implemented racist policies. That is why black voter turnout in 2016 was 59.6% compared with national average of 61.4%. During mid-term elections, the number drops to the 40% range. Part of the reason for black voter disenfranchisement is racism endemic in both parties. To say the disenfranchisement is the result of an inferiority complex when ample evidence exists that there are severe problems in both parties is naive. Americans are conditioned to believe black people are irrational and emotional. The belief that black people are irrational leads people to ignore the many reasons black people have not voted. This racial bias has caused Steele to attribute black support for the liberalism as irrational and ubiquitous. Neither is the case.
Steele bases his opposition to Affirmative Action on the fact it fuels an inferiority complex he calls “grievance identity.” In the sample of articles studied, no psychological studies verified the pathology was endemic in black society or government set-asides cause the pathology or embolden it. He only provides anecdotal stories from personal friends and colleagues.
Even if the “grievance identity” is real, it can be avoided by the individual not putting their race or gender on the application. The demographic section of college or job applications are voluntary and if the person feels getting a job because of their demographic could hurt their self-esteem, they can opt-out. The current Affirmative Action system does not need to be changed to avoid perpetuating “grievance identity.”
The other common argument Steele makes is Affirmative Action is intended to salve the conscious of white people for the wrongs of the past. This assertion is not correct. The goal of Affirmative Action is to counter bias in the workplace that is happening now.
Vox reported on a university study that revealed whites are 36% more likely to get callbacks than equally qualified black applicants. A 2004 U. of Chicago study proved resumes with traditionally white names got 50% more callbacks. Administrative Science Quarterly surveyed minorities that remove references to their race on their resume. The study showed that “whitening” a resume increases chances of callbacks by 50%. The results were the same for companies with active diversity initiatives.
Racial bias is also very prevalent in schools. A Johns Hopkins study shows that white teachers 40 % less likely than black teachers to expect a black student graduate from high school. If the teacher shows this bias, it could hurt the student’s enthusiasm in class. A U. of California study showed white teachers were more likely to perceive a black student’s behavior as disruptive. The bias in perceived student ability leads teachers and professors to treat students differently. Wharton conducted a study showing white males were 25% more likely to receive an e-mail response from teachers than other demographics.
Ultimately, something needs to be done to even the playing field. Steele believes the discrimination laws should be enforced with criminal penalties. Making discrimination a criminal defense is something Steele only talks about to black media. He did not mention making discrimination criminal in any interviews with whites in the sample of articles in the BLA survey. If he were to explain on conservative talk radio that he feels discrimination is a criminal act, it would be doubtful he would be invited back.
An Integralist does not have to be for Affirmative Action. However, racial bias is a real hindrance to the advancement of black people. An Integralist will want something done about this. The Integralist would also be clear to all audiences they speak to as to what measures he or she feels should be done.
The idea that black people have to choose a “bargainer” or “challenger” strategy refutes the notion that America is not endemically racist. If America was not endemically racist and the racism couldn’t prevent a person from achieving goals, then black people could just live their life without a clandestine strategy. Black people could just go through life, and if someone wronged them, they could say they were mistreated, and it could be handled as an isolated incident. The fact that either a black person needs to pretend that nothing is wrong or always use race to manipulate through guilt would only be required in a racist society. Steele does say some black people are independent, but independence takes extreme courage. However, one must ask, why is courage needed to be independent. Why does black autonomy threaten society? If the answer is not racism, then what and who are threatened.
The idea that a “bargainer” has more success than a “challenger” calls into question Steele’s entire philosophy. One has to question if he is only speaking on how magnanimous white America is to attempt to flatter them. The flattery will lead to rewards in the form of radio airtime and articles in prestigious journals and papers.
Steele taking a “bargainer” position could also explain the vitriol with which he deals with liberal black leaders. All of his analysis of liberal black leaders center around the idea that they are maliciously manipulating people for personal gain. He never considers the liberal leaders have a different philosophy which they feel would help black people. Even if the liberal leader’s ideas are wrong, the leader could have positive intentions and motivations. However, when whites are accused of racism, the benefit of the doubt is always extended. Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman even received Steele’s benefit of the doubt. If Steele can defend Zimmerman, he could at least say Michael Eric Dyson doesn’t have all the facts.
When on conservative talk radio, Steele often says, “Blacks should stop begging for crumbs from white people and demand better behavior from each other.” He then goes on to list negative statistics of unemployment, fatherlessness, and crime. Steele claims nothing is being done about these things in the black community. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are many initiatives in the black community to promote fatherhood, academics, and family planning. Many of these initiatives are sponsored by the black church. When Steele says nothing is being done about issues in the black community, it calls into question how often he is in the black community.
Instead of pointing out problems in the black community and attacking other leaders, Steele could build his conservative movement. If he creates a program that improves black children’s SAT scores, he could convince black people that Affirmative Action is not needed. It is completely understandable that black people fight to keep a system that counters bias if they are not presented with an alternative. Attempting to build something is much more difficult than trying to tear something else down. No one benefits from rambling on about how bad SAT scores are for black children. He has tremendous access to research being a fellow at Stanford. Also, he has communication outlets at the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal.
Where is Steele on the Spiral?
Don Beck listed Shelby Steele as an Integral thinker in the book, The Crucible. Since Don Beck is a founder, his analysis surpasses mine. However, I would like to point out, when this assessment was given when Steele only had one book out and one documentary.
Shelby Steele doesn’t fit the definition of Integral according to The Crucible in that.
- He doesn’t have a big picture view of Affirmative Action. Many of his arguments are easily refutable
- He doesn’t use an informational learning system. In that, he doesn’t use studies to back up his theory only anecdotes.
- The fact he says discrimination is a criminal offense in black media, but not conservative talk radio shows he is still concerned with status and authority
- Doesn’t exhibit “flex flow” problems solving when dealing with liberal/leftist black leaders. He assumes they are malicious and dismisses them. Dismissal is not an optimal strategy for converting followers
BLA lists Shelby Steele as Orange. He is “goal centered” in that he is chiefly focused on the economic improvement of black people. As a conservative, he wants “First Order” change in regards to racial set-asides and discrimination law. He focuses on I and We space solutions in that he calls on black people to hold each other accountable for the professional development and family planning.
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- black-turnout-in-1964-and-beyond 10-17-2017www.nytimes.com
- Voter Turnout Always Drops Off For Midterm Elections But W hy 07-24-2017www.pewresearch.org
- Black Voter Turnout Fell In 2016 Even As A Record Number Of Americans Cast Ballots 05-12-2017 http://www.pewresearch.org
- Teacher expectations reflect racial bias, John Hopkins study reflects 03-30-2016 https://hub.jhu.edu/
- Study: Anti-black Hiring Discrimination is as Prevalent Today as it was in 1989 09-18-2017 http://www.vox.com
- Hiring bias study: Resumes with black, white, and hispanic names treated as same 05-04-2016 http://www.chicagotribune.com
- Minorities Who “Whiten” Resumes Get More Job Interviews 05-17-2017 http://www.forbes.com
- Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Disruptive Behavior: The Effect of Racial Congruence and Consequences for School Suspension 11-2015 Adam Wright
- Wharton Study Shows the Shocking Result When Women and Minorities Email Their Professors 05-01-2014 http://www.mic.com