November 27, 2007

Shelby Steele's book on Barack Obama

Former English professor Shelby Steele has a book coming out on another fellow with a white mother and a black father, Barack Obama. John Rosenberg's Discriminations blog reports on Steele's recent visit to Toronto:

"... he believes Barack Obama will not win the Democratic nomination for the presidency, in large part because he is caught between pleasing blacks and whites and can never please all Americans at once....

“He needs a self. There’s no self there. I think it comes from a lifetime of being bound up and playing one side, and another side, and never feeling that he had the right to be his own man,” Mr. Steele said in a hotel bar this week. “This is the tragedy, certainly, of the black intellectual class in America. They don’t think they have the right to be individuals, so they’re all just predictable, victim-focused, old line. It’s a generation that’s failed to really take us further. Obama is a part of that. There’s nobody there.”
....
He argues blacks in America typically wear one of two “masks”: They are either challengers or bargainers. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are challengers: Such blacks assume whites are racist until they prove otherwise. Bargainers, on the other hand, make a deal with whites by not rubbing their faces in a history of racism — think of Louis Armstrong or Oprah, he says.
Mr. Obama is an archetypal bargainer, says Mr. Steele, whose forthcoming book on the Democratic contender, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win, will be released in time for the primaries.

“The question that hovers over Obama to this day: Is he really black enough? If white people like you, it’s very likely you’re not black enough. Black people are very suspicious of that. To prove himself to black people, he has to be a challenger,” Mr. Steele says.

“White America loves him because they think he’s a bargainer. And so if he goes with whites, blacks don’t like him and say he’s not black enough. If he goes with blacks, whites say, ‘He’s not the guy we thought he was.’ So he’s a bound man.

David Broder says:

Steele writes that "the Sixties stigmatized white Americans with the racial sins of the past -- with the bigotry and hypocrisy that countenanced slavery, segregation and white supremacy. Now, to win back moral authority, whites -- and especially American institutions -- must prove the negative: that they are not racist. In other words, white America has become a keen market for racial innocence."

Steele likens Obama's success to the fame and fortune won by Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. But the earliest of the crossover heroes he calls "iconic Negroes" was Sidney Poitier.

And it reminded me that in his political biography of Obama, author David Mendell reported the reaction of a focus group of liberal, North Shore (Chicago area) female voters, middle-aged and elderly, when shown a videotape of Obama speaking in his 2004 Senate campaign. Asked whom Obama reminded them of, the answer was "Sidney Poitier." No wonder Hillary Clinton's pollster, Mark Penn, is worried by The Post's report that Obama has tied Clinton among female voters in Iowa.

But while all of the others mentioned by Steele were entertainers of one kind or another, Obama is the first to carry the "masking" technique of the "iconic Negro" into the realm of politics.

Steele contrasts Obama with "challenger" types such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, whose appeal was strictly within the black community and who were seen as threats to the Democratic establishment.

Steele, who shares with Obama the lineage of having a white mother and a black father, writes sympathetically of the pressures that drove both sons to choose to live their lives as blacks while operating in largely white institutions.

"The problem here for Barack, of course, is that his racial identity commits him to a manipulation of the society he seeks to lead," Steele writes. "To 'be black,' he has to exaggerate black victimization in America. . . . Worse, his identity will pressure him to see black difficulties -- achievement gaps, high illegitimacy rates, high crime rates, family collapse, and so on -- in the old framework of racial oppression."

Theoretically, being black ought to free him to take the opposite stands without being denounced with the R-word, just as it has for Shelby Steele.

But, as Obama explained at tireless length in his 1995 autobiography, the preppie from paradise had obsessed his whole life over being black enough, so I doubt if he will do more than make pro forma gestures and do something serious, like dump the Afrocentrist radical Jeremiah Wright as his spiritual adviser.

I've read countless articles mulling over whether he is black enough, but I've never seen one that asked why in the world the 7/8ths of the electorate who isn't black would want Obama to be black enough.

I mean, Mitt Romney, who is the second generation quintessence of mainstream corporate Republicanism (his father George Romney was CEO of a car company, a governor, and cabinet secretary), has to jump through hoops to prove that being Mormon doesn't mean he'll do something weird if he somehow gets elected, while Obama's racial religion gets a free pass. Most of the coverage of Obama assumes that everybody hopes he proves he's black enough, which strikes me as about 179 degrees the opposite of the truth.

Perhaps Obama's humiliating loss at the hands of black voters in the 2000 Congressional primary helped him grow up and get over his obsession with his missing Kenyan father, but, as far as I know, nobody has ever directly and asked him about whether he's stopped obsessing over being black enough.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is bizarre - I myself am farily neutral about the guy so far, but before he can get my vote he has to prove to me that he isn't "authentically black". It was "authentic" black poiticians who turned D.C., Detroit, Philly, Cleveland, etc. into wastelands. Why on earth would I want a President who runs on that record?

Anonymous said...

I'm perplexed by this designation of Louis Armstrong as a "bargainer."

Armstrong is the most important popular and innovative musician in American history. Nobody else comes close.

He enjoyed enormous public success and wealth. He defined Dixieland, and was arguably the inventor of the modern jazz form. The world marched to Armstrong's beat, not vice versa.

Isn't it kind of crazy to try to stuff a man of such overwhelming genius and depth into these discussions of racial typing?

Armstrong was a god. His life and his art transcend petty arguments about race.

Dennis Mangan said...

"He argues blacks in America typically wear one of two “masks”: They are either challengers or bargainers."

Unless and until blacks in this country can be merely "people" or "citizens", ugly racial politics will continue. I fail to see why Oprah or Armstrong, just because they fail to rub white America's nose into their history, become "bargainers". Seems to me they've grown up, unlike Obama and perhaps Steele.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I sure do hope that either Ma Clinton or the Magic Negro is the Dem nominee.

It means we'll have another Republican Prez. Too bad he won't be Tom Tancredo with maybe Ron Paul as Veep.

Steve,I think your worrywarting about Obama Bin Barackin and that po' boy's identity crisis is a sort of liberalism masked as anti-Leftism. My attitude is, one Obama's pretty much the same as the next, that's that, enough said.

Anonymous said...

Blacks seem committed to Obama's failure. It will prove once again that the USA is fundamentally racist.

Anonymous said...

Great to hear Steele has been thinking about Obama.

On a small point, I'm with Shouting Thomas where Louis Armstrong is concerned. Premier American artist of the 20th century. If any arts figure was beyond category it was him. And I've read a few books about him, and I can't recall him ever playing the "bargainer" role. What I mainly recall is that late in life he got a lot of shit from younger blacks because they saw him as playing a smiley cartoony role instead of always foregrounding racial anger and civil rights.

Hmm: Is that all that's meant by "bargainer"? That he wasn't racially aggressive and confrontational? But doesn't that presuppose that in the end it's all about race? With Armstrong though pleasure and music came first, and god bless him for that.

Anonymous said...

“This is the tragedy, certainly, of the black intellectual class in America. They don’t think they have the right to be individuals, so they’re all just predictable, victim-focused, old line. It’s a generation that’s failed to really take us further. Obama is a part of that. There’s nobody there.”

I think Shelby's onto something here, especially with the "victim-focused" line. There's a strong current of collectivism in identity politics. Objective truth isn't valued.

As for the lack of identity comment, I think this is a bit harsh. There's a stiff penalty for not toeing the party line in the black community. You no longer get to be black. So to completely embrace the kind of reasoning he was taught to do in law school, Obama has to relinquish his ties to the black community. ( I'm reminded of one of my Spanish professors who confessed to the class that he'd seen a therapist about his inability to lose his Cuban accent despite having lived in the US for decades and being able to speak languages other than English without an accent.) While it makes Obama less likely to have crossover appeal, his need to be part of the black community is evidence of identity not lack of it.

That being said, if Obama would ignore the unending demands for conformity from the black community and appeal to mainstream political sensibilities, I think he'd get the black vote by default.

Anonymous said...

Good example of a two-bit challenger.

Anonymous said...

Very disturbed by the way he characterized the sixties as leading white people to be branded as guilty,and strive now(uhm,endlessly?) to prove they are not racist. Disturbed because its true--and I find that abhorrent. "Racist" is a 'Stalinist' word,used to dominate people and shut them up. Its one of the big three that I would like to see dumped fom the lexicon:along with 'sexist' and the big Kahuna,'anti-semitic'. "Homophobia" is a poor attempt to give gays a stalinized word,and it didnt really catch on.As for Barack,I would ask if he is 'white' enough! PS:Which reminds me,why is singer Alicia Keys so 'black-identifide'? Is it a pose?Is she whiter than she lets on?Certainly her hair and features bear the mark of bein' white---what about her heart???

Anonymous said...

... Mr. Steele said in a hotel bar this week ...

you know right here this entry will be good reading: the juiciest quotes always sprout from the hotel bar.

“White America loves him because they think he’s a bargainer. And so if he goes with whites, blacks don’t like him and say he’s not black enough. If he goes with blacks, whites say, ‘He’s not the guy we thought he was.’ So he's a bound man.

a 'bound' man?! interesting choice of words. too bad there's no video. is somebody liquored up?

steele imagines chains are everywhere like certain jews imagine barbwire is everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Josh -- you certainly WILL find anti-semitism. Mostly among Blacks, Muslims, and the Left. Inconvenient but there it is. Anti-Semitic hate crimes outnumber anti-Muslim hate crimes (according to the Justice Dept. Stats) by a substantial order of magnitude. [Too lazy to go look it up, but it's there.]

Jewish students in UCI report routine harassment by Muslim and Leftist students merely for their Jewish identity. I'm sure you'll find anti-Black, gay, and what have you crimes as well, though statistically not as many and not indicative of a society wide problem.

I would agree that the "racist" and "nazi" accusations by being applied so long to anyone the Left and various ethnic grievance groups disagree with ("Speaking English is racist" asserted one Spanish-speaking parent at an LA School District meeting about which language, English or Spanish, would be used in meetings). If all Whites are racist forever, as the University of Delaware says, it has no meaning.

Anti-Semitism DOES have meaning, because it has foreign sponsors (Osama, Ahmadinejad, most foreign Muslim leaders) and a large domestic component -- Black Muslims, the Black community at large, and of course the Volk Marxist Left (the current debased Marxism of ANSWER and Moveon and Kos).

What this means is, IMHO, Obama has less pull than he thinks outside the hothouse of Dem Primaries. Most Americans could care less one way or the other about washing away the "sins of racism" or proving they are not racist. Heck Mexican immigration threatens to make Whites a minority fairly rapidly and if anything you'll see adoption of Identity Politics like every other threatened group.

What's interesting is the separatism inherent in Steele and Obama's writings. Which is inherently self-limiting when appealing to a national, pan-identity group audience.

Anonymous said...

( I'm reminded of one of my Spanish professors who confessed to the class that he'd seen a therapist about his inability to lose his Cuban accent despite having lived in the US for decades and being able to speak languages other than English without an accent.)

this is classic stuff .... hilarious gringo-envy. did the therapist diagnose a case of gringophobia? how about suppressed la raza rage syndrome?

see what problems 'the man' has caused the latin world? thank god: only about 100 hundred more years until we have a peaceful beige planet.

the 'saletan solution' is the only solution that can end war, world hunger and provide lasting prosperity for all. we can see how mixed-race barack obama and shelby steele embody alon ziv's idea of superior hybrid fitness. physically, emotionally, and intellectually it is quite likely that these are the new 'supermen'.

mnuez said...

OT -

Relevant to the genetic makeup of people at the top of intellectual pyramids I'm surprised that Colin, Svigor and other intellectuals "in the know" haven't had a look at the fine game of chess.

Chess, you see, is another field of human endeavor where participants at "choke points" in the "power structure" all "row in the same direction" so as to make it seem that Jews are disproportionaly better at the game by an order of ten than just about anyone else.

Show me a picture of world class chess champions over the course of the past century wouldja.

Colin, you're about as smart a character as I could hope to come across but by God are you intellectually rotten. Sviggy's a bit lower on the intellectual ladder so I'll leave him alone.

Oh, and once we're talking about chess + Jews all "rowing in the same direction" for each others' benefit, I think Bobby Fischer deserves a mention. Also, the fact that Israel's strongest, most vociferous and most dangerous (not to mention smartest) public opponents are Jews.

Even in anti-semitism we out-brain the Colins of the world.

mnuez
www.mnuez.blogspot.com

Svigor said...

So then where are all the Jewish leaders of the European ethnocentrist movements? Where are all the brilliant Jews in the vanguard of the pro-Christian and/or pro-family filmmaking movements? Biding their time? Waiting for the right moment to make their move?

Jews are (the most) prominent Israel critics for the same reason the best movies lampooning blacks are made by blacks.

Svigor said...

What is Bobby Fischer - half Jewish? I suppose that's the good half Noonez? Or were you just taking the piss to stir up us evil racists (how dare we want for ourselves what Jews have for themselves?)?

Anonymous said...


Hmm: Is that all that's meant by "bargainer"? That he wasn't racially aggressive and confrontational? But doesn't that presuppose that in the end it's all about race?


MB, yes and yes, those seem to be exactly the implied assumptions. (well, maybe not that it's always about race, but at least that people think it's always about race)

Anonymous said...

It was "authentic" black poiticians who turned D.C., Detroit, Philly, Cleveland, etc. into wastelands

No, the deterioration of such cities had more to do with largely impersonal forces such as deindustrialization and outsourcing of blue-collar factory jobs to Asia and Latin America than it had to do with any politicians, whether "authentically" black or not.

Anonymous said...

Svigor -- the Jewish non-contributions to European culture rest at Auschwitz. Also Marienbad. Or Sobibor. Etc.

Europe's willing lobotomy.

WRT Louis Armstrong, when he came back to New Orleans decades later, he was treated shamefully under Jim Crow and refused admission to the hotels (he had to stay with a local). His performance was segregated. He left the next day and NEVER RETURNED.

So much for a "bargainer." Louis Armstrong never took garbage from any man.

More insulting revisionism from people who never lived under Jim Crow and have no idea of what that was like (see: August Wilson and "Jelly's Last Jam." Jelly Roll Morton always considered himself a black man, contrary to Wilson.)

Anonymous said...

David Broder is a bore - His Steele's view of Jackson is out of date.

Jesse does business with Wall St. He is closer to Sandy Weil than to Malcom X,

Anonymous said...

Ironic that "bargainer" Shelby Steele used a false "bargainers" dichotomy to justify his latest attempt to maintain his perceived bargainer status - He would have been better off if "challanged" himself and let the Broders go their own way.

Louis Armstrong - Bargainer? Gimme a break.

Anonymous said...

You know, when I first heard of Shelby Steele I was somewhat impressed, but there was something about him that bothered me. It was half way through the second article of his I read where I had one of those "Of course!" moments.

He's an intellectual cry baby. He's a Professional Black Man.

Actually, to be more precise, he's a Psuedo-Intellectual.

Am I the only one who is so WEARY of the, by now, moldy syllogism of...

I'm Black
Blacks suffered (because of Whites)
Therefore I am an expert on Race relations, Ethics, and the Human Condition. I can never be wrong, especially when talking to a White man. Since the White man is guilty he has nothing to say, since he has nothing to say he should NEVER EVER gather in large groups.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!

In the first place, Shelby Steele is half WHITE.

I can not imagine going through life pretending I am not half of something when quite clearly, I am!

And yet, he puts his best Poker face on what for him is obviously an unpleasant fact.

And though he can be insightful, he's mostly an annoying mix of glum and complacent. Something like, "If you're looking for the final word on Race in America, here it is."

He makes the mistake of all self-satisfied psuedo-intellectuals, ie; the more he thinks he's right the further he drifts from the shores of reality.

Why do we listen to these guys? Him or Obama. They are two men whose common bond is that they have devoted nearly all of their adult lives literally ignoring half of what they are!

What must THAT be like?

Who knows? Them I guess.

But mostly, who cares?

Anonymous said...

Jesse does business with Wall St. He is closer to Sandy Weil than to Malcom X

Indeed. Jesse is anything BUT a "challenger." He is a "bargainer" (what Malcolm would have called a "house n***er) through and through.

Anonymous said...

That's a nasty way to characterize Jackson - Btw, he would be right and Malcom would be wrong.

Do you prefer Malcom because he is a Muslim, while Jesse is a Christian?

Jackson is a protean figure and he has done a lot of interesting things.

Anonymous said...

Do you prefer Malcom because he is a Muslim, while Jesse is a Christian?

I have nothing against Christians. Nat Turner was a Christian. I do have something against Uncle Toms