May 19, 2006
Bestselling Author Shelby Steele Addresses Independent Policy Forum
OAKLAND, May 19The 20th century collapse and de-legitimization of white supremacy was one of the most important events in recent history, said well-known race-relations scholar, Dr. Shelby Steele, at a May policy forum at the Independent Institute. However, America moved out of its long age of white supremacy and into a new age of white guilt, said Steele who discussed his new book White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era (HarperCollins, May 2006).
With the passage of both the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, America finally "acknowledged that it had done something very wrong, that racism was wrong, that slavery was wrong, that segregation was wrong, that white supremacy itself was wrong,” said Steele. But, he pointed out, this loss of white moral authority also gave rise to a phenomenon in American culture he calls "white guilt." White guilt is an extremely influential force, he said, not because people feel guilty but because living under the constant threat of being stigmatized as racist forces them to always prove the negative.
As whites lost moral authority, blacks gained it. Citing examples from his own life, Steele said, "with this new moral authority there was the power to better defend myself against racism, but there was also a new, abusive power very similar to the abusive power that had been wielded against mea power of racial privilege deriving solely from the color of my skin. The power to shame, silence, and muscle concessions from the larger society on the basis of past victimization became the new 'black power.'"
After having lived so long under slavery, black independence came "as a smack, not a kiss," said Steele. Freedom was not the Promised Land sung about in spirituals but was instead experienced with humiliation and a sense of inadequacy, he argued, as black Americans were ill-equipped for anything but dependence. "Responsibility was our tether to oppression," said Steele, and "we began to define our situation with what is called bad faith…it's excuse-making, a way you spare yourself."
"To up the ante on white guilt this new black consciousness led blacks into a great mistake: to talk ourselves out of the individual freedom we had just won for no purpose whatsoever except to trigger white obligation."
Dr. Steele challenged black Americans to begin living in "good faith" and encouraged black leaders to stop relying on the "manipulation of white guilt," an act that achieves only a false sense of advancement and has cyclically catapulted black Americans back into much the same disadvantaged position in which they started out. He also urged white Americans to reject white guilt and accept the fact that since 1965, "white America has made one of the greatest moral evolutions in all of human history."
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