Friday, September 19, 2008

A Traitor to Whose Race?

A Bound ManI’m about halfway through Shelby Steele’s new book, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win. Mr. Steele, like Barack Obama, was born of a white mother and a black father. He has an intuitive understanding of the pressures experienced by a mixed-race American to embrace fully his blackness, with all the social and political stances that such an identity implies.

He has ended up in a different place from Mr. Obama — he has rejected the path of racial grievance and does not blame white society for all the problems experienced by blacks.

Here’s an excerpt from the book, taken from pages 50 and 51:

I used to laugh when my own mother — married to my father until death them did part — would say, “You know, interracial marriage is not for everyone.” She was never impressed to meet another interracial couple, never patted them on the back for being courageous. People had to truly know themselves, she believed. They had to accept both the freedom to live as they chose and the price they would pay for doing so. What seems clear is that Barack Obama is a man who truly wants to be black, a man who is determined to resolve the ambiguity he was born into.
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Does this disqualify Obama for the presidency? It may. There is a price to be paid even for fellow-traveling with a racial identity as politicized and demanding as today’s black identity This identity wants to take over a greater proportion of the self than other racial identities do. It wants to have its collective truth — its defining ideas of grievance and protest — become personal truth. And then it wants to make loyalty to this truth a reflex within the self, within one’s own thoughts, so that all competing thoughts are conceived in disloyalty. A perfectly internalized censorship. To be “authentically black” is to think more as a black than as one’s self.

So Barack Obama has worked hard to keep from being a “traitor to his race”, and may have surrendered his authentic self to do so. In contrast, Shelby Steele, according to the standards of the race-grievance hustlers, is most assuredly treasonous to his blackness.

But more than one race is involved here.

Who is a traitor to which race?


Anonymous said...


Back in the joy of my youth, in the Bronx of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, basketball became the preferred way to waste my time. Eventually, my skills led me and some friends to travel to other neighborhoods in search of new competition. Some of these neighborhoods were more “diverse” and less safe than my own. News of my travels reached my father and I was subsequently summoned to a "Denis, me boy-o" meeting in our living room.

My father had grown up in Ireland and came to this country in 1927, in time for both the Great Depression and World War II. He was a practicing Catholic and, to my knowledge, had no particular bone to pick with black folks. When he found out where I had been traveling to play ball, he shared the following advise with me; "right or wrong, don't ever expect them to take your part against their own."

It was good advice then, as now.

spackle said...

Back in the early days of the show Law & Order there was an episode when the assistant DA said to his assistant ( a black man dealing with a racially charged case). "You have to decide if you are a lawyer who is a black man or a black man who is a lawyer". He chose the latter.

ChrisLA said...

Shelby Steele has written some profound books on race relations in the U.S., including "The Content of His Character." But Shelby, like Jesse Jackson, is a beneficiary of "white guilt," a sort of reverse discrimination. Both Steele and Jackson have been advocates of affirmative action and indimidation to achieve minority objectives. Those tactics are sooo 1960's!

Obama, on the other hand, does not carry the baggage of racial discrimination. He has been successful through his own abilities and hard work. He doesn't believe race is a factor in his election as President. No wonder Steele and Jackson are so negative about Obama. If Obama wins, it will show that all minorities can succeed on their own merits and that the "white guilt" strategy is a relic of the past.

I hope the voters prove Steele wrong.

xlbrl said...

Whatever the merits of Steele, your understanding of Obama is the product of your dreams--and his, not of your statements.
He has not been successful through his own hard work--
He admits to being in a drug induced high-school daze, to being an indifferent student at Occidental, has spoken not a word about his time at Columbia--where there are also no records provided and no questions on the subject permitted, and he is the only "editor" of Harvard Law Review to never have written for the Review, and the only one not to have gone on to clerk at the Supreme Court.
He is the only individual to obtain a teaching position, and even to be offered a tenured one at The U. of Chicago as a law professor, who neither brought with him or left a single paper of his work. There isn't any.
This is a man with friends.
He wrote the pedestrian half of Dreams of my Father, while Bill Ayers--one of those friends, wrote the other, quoted, passeges. Ayers is the ex-terrorist down the street who Obama barely knew, and author of Fugitive Dreams. There is a lot of hope and change in that book also.
So it is we see Obama reduced to speaking in uhs and duhs when not on the telepromped script written by his puppeteers.
He is the ultimate affirmative-action airhead.
But I have taken care not to say he has no abilites, because he has the ability to be the blank slate for many to fill with their own needs, and to play that back to them. A cotierre of people spotted that right away, and have been directing him since.

Afonso Henriques said...

"Who is a traitor to which race?"

I am strongly disturbued by feeling what I feel, but someone is screaming repetedly in the back of my head:

his momma, his momma, his momma, his momma, their mother, his mother...

It would be interesting to know when preservationism and will to sage guard "Europe" ends and un-healty racism starts... such a dilema.

Afonso Henriques said...


"right or wrong, don't ever expect them to take your part against their own."

I kind of ended up learning the same, only the on other side of the Atlantic and in the late nineties. The sport also was different: football.


Chris LA, you scare the hell out of me.