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Shelby Steele is a well known black conservative, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a leading right wing think tank. Steele has made a lucrative career for himself by lambasting black people and praising white people. He says that racism is all in the past, that all is right with the world and it is up to black people to admit it and stop complaining.

Recently on the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal Steele outdid himself. Steele lamented that white people just aren’t as vicious as they used to be. He believes that the legacy of slavery, segregation and American imperialism left a terrible legacy on white people. Of course, the worst impact was on the oppressed and subjugated, but Steele isn’t very worried about the legacy the past left on them.

According to Steele, ever since World War II the U.S. just doesn’t mistreat brown skinned people the way it used to. He says that white people just feel too guilty and don’t utilize sufficient vigor when blowing countries to bits. Steele claims that, “Certainly since Vietnam, America has increasingly practiced a policy of minimalism and restraint in war.” 

Perhaps he lives in an alternate universe. Every opinion poll indicated that the majority of white Americans applauded their government’s decision to occupy, kill and steal in Iraq. Most of those who now oppose the occupation do so because victory wasn’t swift, not because they truly think their government was wrong.

Steele’s theory must seem very strange to Iraqi residents of Fallujah, a city that was destroyed by the U.S. military. American troops fired on ambulances in Fallujah. There was certainly no restraint in that doomed city. His theory must seem odd to the victims at Guantanamo, who have been imprisoned for up to five years without being charged. The victims of America’s policy of rendition to secret prisons must be similarly intrigued by Steel’s assertions.

Steele does admit that white people did bad things, once upon a time, but they long ago saw the error of their ways. They have achieved a “remarkable moral transformation.” It isn’t clear how Steele developed the ability to read the minds of millions. Of course, some did transform, but more did not. The people who run the country are firmly in the non-transformative camp.

Steele’s confusion is so great that one has to wonder if he even reads the newspaper or watches the news. “There are no serious advocates of white supremacy in America today, because whites see this idea as morally repugnant.” There are thousands of self-proclaimed, uncloseted white supremacists, but Steele would explain it away by declaring that the Klan and Aryan Nation are not “serious.” Is a member of the United States Senate serious enough for him? Senator George Allen of Virginia had a noose displayed in his office until quite recently and had himself photographed with a confederate flag pin in his yearbook. Allen is running for president.

Of course the Klan, Aryan Nation, and wannabe red neck Senators are not the only white supremacists afoot in the land. White supremacy takes many forms. It exists when legislatures across the country de-fund black public school districts in favor of funding white districts. It exists when college educated black patients with health insurance are deprived of the most aggressive medical treatments. It certainly exists when Iraqis are tortured at Abu Ghraib.

Steele’s assertion that there are no advocates of white supremacy is truly difficult to fathom, until the simple truth behind his argument is made clear. Shelby Steele just loves white people. There is no other explanation for his deluded words.

Steele doesn’t love all white people, just those who believe in their supremacy and their right to entitlement. If he thinks white supremacists have disappeared he need only look in the mirror. He has achieved the rare feat of being a man of color who cheerleads for an idea that has murdered and otherwise destroyed the lives of millions of people he should identify with. He believes in manifest destiny, imperialism and white skin privilege. Consequently, he exults in shame and hatred of his own people.

The Wall Street Journal and Steele have had a long running love affair. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the onslaught of federal government inaction that created so much suffering, Steele used the Journal to say that he was ashamed of black people in New Orleans. “Today it has to be conceded that whites have made more progress against their shame of racism than we blacks have made against our shame of inferiority.”

Is Steele ashamed that his government did not do its job and strengthen the levee system? Is he ashamed that the banana republicanization of America eviscerated FEMA and other agencies? Is he ashamed that his government exiled thousands of people to far away places and refuses to rebuild their city?

No, Steele is just ashamed of the black poor. Poverty is all their fault and even if a natural disaster occurs they are to blame for their circumstances.

There is a temptation to try and analyze the Steeles in the black community, but there really isn’t very much to say. Steele is in love with the worst manifestations of whiteness and is filled with self-loathing.

When reading Steele’s bizarre assertions keep that fact in mind. Doing so will prevent confusion and anger. That is very important to know because Shelby Steele isn’t worth anxiety or a great deal of thought in anyone’s mind.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BC. Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City. She can be reached via e-Mail at margaret.kimberley@blackcommentator.com. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at freedomrider.blogspot.com.

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May 11, 2006
Issue 183

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