Shelby Steele Now (Part 2): Promoting racism as the greatest barrier to black advancement is liberalism’s greatest source of power.
The first chapter of Shelby Steele’s book Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country is a powerful, personalized critique of the reigning liberal paradigm and a valuable perspective as our society confronts the seemingly hopeless polarization and challenge of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Today’s excerpt is about racism, victimhood, and liberalism’s greatest source of power. The entire first chapter is available online here.
If you are black and you want to be a poet, or a doctor, or a corporate executive, or a movie star, there will surely be barriers to overcome, but white racism will be among the least of them. You will be far more likely to receive racial preferences than to suffer racial discrimination.
Those who doubt this will always point to today’s long litany of racial disparities. 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 rates, household net worth, and so on. The fact that seven out of ten black women are single, along with the fact that 70 percent of first black marriages fail (47 percent for whites), means that 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 three-quarters of all black children are born out of wedlock.
But past oppression cannot be conflated into present-day oppression. It is likely, for example, that today’s racial disparities are due more to dysfunctions within the black community, and–I would argue–to liberal social policies that have encouraged us to trade more on our past victimization than to overcome the damage done by that victimization through dint of our own pride and will. One can say this stance “blames the victim” by making him responsible for the injury done him by bigotry and oppression. But there also comes a time when he must stop thinking of himself as a victim by acknowledging that–existentially–his fate is always in his own hands. One of the more pernicious corruptions of post-1960s liberalism is that it undermined the spirit of self-help and individual responsibility in precisely the people it sought to uplift. . . .
Only by supporting what was not true–that racism was still the greatest barrier to black advancement–could they prove themselves innocent of racism. Poetic truth–this assertion of a broad characteristic “truth” that invalidates actual truth–is contemporary liberalism’s greatest source of power. It is also liberalism’s most fundamental corruption.
Next post: Poetic truth is not about truth, it’s about power.
Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.