Saturday, January 12, 2008

Black Identity & Black Power

In his conversation with Bill Moyers on his JOURNAL, Jan. 11, scholar Shelby Steele said the following:

“I am black and happy to be so, but my identity is not my master. I’m my master. And I resent this civil rights leadership telling me what I should think and what issues I should support this way or that way. And that’s where, in black America, identity has become almost totalitarian... You [must] subscribe to the idea that the essence of blackness is grounded in grievance, and if you vary from that you are letting whites off the hook. And we’re gonna call you a sell out. We’re gonna call you an ‘Uncle Tom’... I was gonna have a life or I was just going to be a kind of surrogate for blackness... but you enter an exile where the group identifies you as someone who is a threat, and part of being black is despising or having contempt for people like me.”

Steele contrasts the approaches taken by Blacks in race relations. One is the “bargainer” approach that says, I will not assume you whites are racists if you will regard me as an equal individual. This is the approach of Obama and Oprah, and they are popular among whites. The “challenger” approach says, All whites are assumed to be racists, and you must give me advantages. This is the approach of Sharpton. Steele regards the essence of “Blackness” as grievance, which is the foundation of Black Power creating anxiety among whites. The challenger approach keeps alive white obligation to Blacks.

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