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I grew during segregation in an all-black segregated neighborhood with segregated schools,

etcetera. I was raised by a great father, my hero, who I much admired. So, I never really

had anxiety in the way that someone like Obama would have.



Shelby Steele: The Why Obama Can't Win

Interview with Kam Williams


Shelby Steele is a controversial public intellectual who often finds himself at the center of controversy because of his conservative stances on such issues as Affirmative Action, reparations, welfare and other government entitlement programs. As an African-American, this makes him a much in demand media darling who Republicans wheel out whenever they need a black man to weigh-in on a hot-button issue.

Consequently, he’s been a popular guest on the TV talk show circuit where he has generally been reduced to speaking in soundbites. For this reason it was very enlightening to see him recently speak at length in What Black Men Think, a brilliant documentary by Janks Morton which afforded Shelby a fair opportunity to air his political philosophy. In that context, he seemed sincerely concerned about alleviating the plight of black folks, and not merely a right-wing apologist.  

By profession, Steele is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America, which won the National Book Critics' Circle Award. He is a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine, and his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, Newsweek, and The Washington Post.

For his work on the PBS television documentary Seven Days in Bensonhurst, he was recognized with both an Emmy Award and a Writers Guild Award. In 2004, President George W. Bush, citing Steele's 'learned examinations of race relations and cultural issues,' honored him with the National Humanities Medal.

Here, Shelby talks about his provocative new book A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited about Obama and Why He Can’t Win.

 *   *   *   *   *

Kam Williams: Hey, Shelby, how are you?

Shelby Steele:  Pretty good, how are you?

Kam Williams: Thanks for the time.

Shelby Steele:  Sure.

Kam Williams: Well, I found much of what you had to say in your new book thought-provoking. But do you have any second thoughts about your Obama prediction, or about making it the subtitle of your new book? 

Shelby Steele:  Well, I don’t know if I did that well, here. [Chuckles] You know, you’re sitting there trying to come up with a subtitle. This wasn’t the best one. Nevertheless, I still think it may be difficult for him to go all the way.

Kam Williams: If he gets the nomination, you can be sure that McCain and the Republicans are going to mount a serious campaign.

Shelby Steele:  Right, there’s a long way to go. But that wasn’t the point off my book, obviously, so I regret that title.

Kam Williams:“Why Obama Can’t Win” sounds like an attention-grabber dreamed up by somebody in the marketing department. But let me ask you about your first book, The Content of Our Character. I actually agreed with much of what you had to say in that book, but it seemed that soon thereafter you became a media darling among conservatives who were quick to co-opt some of your words as a rationale for dismantling Affirmative Action. Did you sense how you might be being used in this fashion?  

Shelby Steele:  I take responsibility for what I write. I came to have really strong views about Affirmative Action. In the next book I wrote, “A Dream Deferred,” I took on the issue a lot more directly. But it’s always there, even in White Guilt. So, here you are, where people are inviting you to speak about what you really believe. That’s how that went. Certainly, in the media, there have not been many black voices that have argued against Affirmative Action with any decent logic.   

Kam Williams: I reviewed your book White Guilt, where you said “I walked right into stigmatization as an Uncle Tom.” How did that make you feel to be seen this way?  

Shelby Steele: Well, this is interesting, and I think it relates to my Obama book where I talk about “bargaining” and “challenging” and how we, as blacks, entering this great American mainstream wearing a mask because, when you’re a minority, you don’t have the same power as the majority. That’s something that has just been a part of our survival mechanism. Well, I tried not to wear those masks, not to give whites the benefit of the doubt or to hold them on the hook, but to simply speak as an individual. I knew that if you’re going to do that in a society that has this history, this past, and this way of relating through masks and so forth, that you’re going to get some blowback. So, I was not surprised, and I fully accept that you can’t write the way I’ve written and not get blowback. You will. And in fact, you learn from it. It sharpens me and I hope it makes me a better writer.  

Kam Williams: To be honest, after loving your first book, I was disillusioned by the way that you seemed to become a Republican spokesperson for the anti-Affirmative Action movement. However, I recently came to appreciate you again when I saw you in Janks Morton’s documentary What Black Men Think. It really showed you in a new light.

Shelby Steele:  Right. Oh yeah, I think it’s a really great film. One of the points it made for me, both participating in it and then later viewing it, is that you get a chance to see how these ideas that are often labeled conservative actually come out of a great concern for black America and the direction it is headed. And I think Janks’ film established that context.

Kam Williams: I agree, even though I see myself as a progressive liberal, politically. What was the extent of your involvement with the project?

Shelby Steele:  Janks came out and conducted the interview. Then he left, and I had no idea what to expect. When I saw it, it blew me away. It was a powerful piece of work. And he did it in such a way that made it palatable. It wasn’t shrill or preachy. 

Kam Williams: In your Obama book, you say he won’t win because he has to wear masks to win. Don’t the white candidates have to do that, too?

Shelby Steele:  All politicians are going to mask to some degree in order to present themselves in away they think will get them votes. What’s different in Obama’s case is that he’s wearing a racial mask, this “bargainer’s” mask, and I think very effectively, whereby he gives whites the benefit of the doubt. He’s essentially saying, “I am going to presume you are not racist, if you won’t hold my race against me.” So, his mask is a distinctly racial one. This approach is old. It’s been around for a long time. There have been black bargainers all the way back to Louis Armstrong, and I’m sure even far back beyond that.

Kam Williams: Well, when you compare Obama to Louis Armstrong that makes me think of Satchmo’s smiling and mugging deferentially with the big handkerchief. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?

Shelby Steele:  Well, Armstrong came from a whole different world 100 years ago. And he had to do things that, obviously, no black has to do today, thank God. Certainly, Obama doesn’t have to adopt those sorts of hideous expressions. Yet, at the same time, he does strike this bargain which makes white people feel this comfort with him because he is in code saying to them, “I’m not going to rub America’s shameful racial history in your face. You can look at me and you can support me with comfort.” And whites are so grateful, they come out in great numbers and they are his basic constituency. My problem with Obama is that he’s not a new paradigm; he’s an old paradigm. A new paradigm would be somebody like Harold Ford [former Democratic Congressman from Tennessee] or Michael Steele [former Republican Lieutenant Governor of Maryland], no relation, both of whom present themselves as individuals, and don’t seem to wear a mask. They don’t “bargain;” they don’t “challenge.” So, I see them as fresh, and as evidence of what I hope will be a new trend. There’s a pathos to Obama in that so much of his power and his political support grows out of this mask as opposed to people responding to him as an individual.         

Kam Williams: What I’m curious about Obama is, where did he get his black accent, if he wasn’t raised around black people, but by a white mother from Kansas? Does his voice sound authentic or adopted to you? I figured you might have an insight about this since your mother’s white, too.  

Shelby Steele:  It sounds a little hollow. Sometimes, he’s Martin Luther King, sometimes, he a black militant from the Sixties, then he’s a Baptist minister. He can be so different. There’s not yet an Obama voice. That troubles me on other levels. It’s hard to know what bag he’s going to come out of when he takes to the podium. You’re making the point that, given his background, he doesn’t have the flava’, that he’s a bit artificial and struggling to get there. Yeah, sure, that is part of what I talk about in the first half of the book. I think this need to belong has trailed him all of his life.   

Kam Williams: It reminds me of a guy who tried to befriend me in college, saying, “We mulattoes have to stick together.” I didn’t understand why he was trying to bond, because, even though I’m light-skinned, both of my parents were black and I had been raised in a black neighborhood, so I obviously had a different set of life experiences. What was your childhood like having one black parent and one white parent?  

Shelby Steele:  I grew during segregation in an all-black segregated neighborhood with segregated schools, etcetera. I was raised by a great father, my hero, who I much admired. So, I never really had anxiety in the way that someone like Obama would have. When he walks down the street alone, since no one knows who his mother is, they’re just going to see him as a black guy. That’s the fact of it. He has to be a black, yet he has an insecurity about it, and maybe overcompensates. I talk about that in the book. Part of it comes from a desire to establish your bona fides as a black.    

Kam Williams: Did you feel that you had to deny half of who you are, because the world only saw you as black?

Shelby Steele:  I think my situation was probably different from somebody younger than I who came up after segregation and maybe grew up in an integrated or mostly white suburb. I was raised in a completely black world. In those days, if a white woman married a black man, she lived as a black woman, and that was just the end of it. So, I don’t have a feeling of being bi-racial. I don’t have a connection to it. People often come up to me thinking I do have a connection to it, and I kind of let them down because I really don’t. My mother was deeply involved in a black community and when she died, these are the people who came to her funeral. Still, I do empathize with the younger people who may feel torn. I just myself have not had that feeling. 

Kam Williams: Do you think it’s possible for a black male born in America to transcend the bind of having to choose between being a “negotiator” and a “challenger,” like Jack Johnson did in his day.

Shelby Steele:  Good question. Jack Johnson was famous for not wearing any mask. Yes, I do think it’s possible today, but you will probably pay the kind of price that Shelby Steele has paid. You’ll get some blowback for it, because your own group is going to have some expectations of you. Take me, for example. I decided to live as an individual and as I grew older, and thought more, and read more and experienced more, my views became more conservative. But my group is liberal. Not only that, they say, “If you’re not liberal and not a Democrat, you’re not black. If you’re conservative, you’re a sellout.” Here, then, I’m living with that kind of a pressure against my individuality. I have to throw it off, because my experience in life tells me that the values that are now being labeled “conservative” are the only way that blacks can get ahead. So, my individuality is my gift to my people. I’m sure that, in the long run, it will be taken that way.  

Kam Williams: Is there, then, a third type of black person, different from the “negotiator” and the “challenger.”

Shelby Steele:  Yes, the individual who doesn’t bargain with whites, but deals with them as an individual. In other words, I’m not going to play a racial game. With me, you’re going to meet a guy named Shelby Steele, and you will have to get to know me as an individual. The color of my skin won’t tell you anything. I think there’s more and more of that in America.

Kam Williams: I think Obama started his campaign trying to be neutral in terms of color, but the Clintons have been trying to bait him by playing the race card ever since they lost the Iowa. 

Shelby Steele:  Right, they are. But it’s probably redounded against them. I would love to see us, as blacks, get to the place where we say, “I’m not going to play race games with you. Here I am. This is who I am. Take it or leave it.”

Kam Williams: I’d go along with your approach in a world where racism and discrimination didn’t still exist.

Shelby Steele:  I don’t let that stop me from being an individual. My honest opinion is that blacks have to fight much harder for their individuality than whites do. That’s still the case, because of this history of masking that’s been with us for so long that the idea of a black individual is still new. So, we have to fight harder for it.     

Kam Williams: Interesting. In your book you relate an anecdote about a black man who you felt obviously exaggerated the amount of racism he had faced, saying he’d been profile-stopped by the same cops 20 times.      

Shelby Steele:  I just wanted to make the point that there’s a poetic truth as well as the literal truth. Part of our identity is the idea that racism is still there and that we are vulnerable to it. So, the question is, “How vulnerable?” In other words, is it really a problem for us, or is it just a small thing. How do you evaluate racism in America on a scale of 1 to 10? My suspicion is that most blacks overrate it a bit. Not to say it’s not there, but we overrate it because this masking is part of our relationship to the larger society. This is a way we keep whites on the hook. We keep them obligated, and we keep ourselves entitled. There’s an incentive, you see, to inflate it a little bit.   

Kam Williams: I can see what you’re saying, but I also know that discrimination definitely still exists.

Shelby Steele:  Sure, and if you’re getting harassed, it’s not helpful to know that racism has generally declined in America, when you’re still experiencing it. That is a reality that we’re still vulnerable to. However, what I’ve tried to do in my work is point out the underside of it that almost gives you an investment in racism. Also, it stigmatizes us. That’s my biggest problem with it. It steals our thunder. No matter how accomplished we may be, just any little white person can come up and say, “Well, you wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for Affirmative Action.” You put power in white people’s hands, and then they use it against you. It’s a trick bag.  

Kam Williams: I’d go along with eliminating Affirmative Action, if the playing field were truly leveled.

Shelby Steele:  We have laws on the books. If somebody’s discriminating against you, I strongly advocate suing them. That’s the most effective thing you can do in terms of fighting racism. People understand that they’re vulnerable to lawsuit

Kam Williams: I think it would be even more effective if they made discrimination in housing, employment, or education a criminal offense.

Shelby Steele:  There you go. I’m with you. I wrote a piece in the New York Times back in the Nineties saying that racial discrimination ought to be a criminal offense, not just a civil one. I’m all for the criminalization of discrimination. 

Kam Williams: Wonders never cease. I never expected to find myself agreeing with Shelby Steele so much.

Shelby Steele:  If you are a minority, it is important that you have legal ways to defend yourself in the society in which you live.

Kam Williams: Do you think “negotiators” like Oprah would be enjoying their success, if “challengers” like Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn’t exist?   

Shelby Steele:  Probably not. Barack Obama ought to send Al Sharpton a check. It’s precisely the specter of a really aggressive “challenger” such as Al Sharpton, who constantly tries to keep whites off-balance, that makes whites like Barack Obama. He’s saying, “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to be an anti-Al Sharpton.” That’s what so excites whites. Yes, it’s absolutely the presence of these “challengers” that helps make “bargaining” effective.        

Kam Williams: Bookworm Troy Johnson wants to know: What was the last book you read?

Shelby Steele:  The last book that I read was a novel called The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Kam Williams: And Columbus Short asks: Are you happy?

Shelby Steele:  [Laughs] Yes.

Kam Williams: Is there any question you wish somebody would ask you, but nobody ever asks?

Shelby Steele:  Yes, about the craft of writing, but I think that might bore your readers.

Kam Williams: Not at all. What is your approach to writing?

Shelby Steele: My background is literature. That’s what my doctorate is in. So, it remains the love of my life. Whatever I’m doing, I try to write well. I try to give the reader a nice, clean well-written surface, where the writing is transparent. It probably takes me longer to write things, but it’s very important to me that the writing itself be good. I know that whatever power Shelby Steele has always comes out of the writing. I’m not the greatest television pundit or the best public speaker, so it’s my writing that’s most important.  

Kam Williams: Although I may disagree with your politics, I grant that your writing style is excellent. However, I have noticed one recurring grammatical error in your last two books, several split infinitives. Although William Safire pronounced them acceptable over ten years ago or so, they’re still like nails on the blackboard to me.     

Shelby Steele:  I split more than you know. I do it now only if I feel that it sounds smoother. I’ll also occasionally end a sentence with a preposition, which is verboten.

Kam Williams: You know what? That rule I don’t mind breaking.

Shelby Steele: Grammar does evolve.

Kam Williams: Tony Morrison called Bill Clinton the first black president. Do you agree?

Shelby Steele:  [Chuckles] Yes, the black identity is grounded in “challenging,” not in “bargaining.” What the Clintons have always done is embraced challenging. They can’t have enough photo opportunities with Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. They communicate to blacks that they agree with their challenging identity. So, in a sense, Hillary is blacker than Barack. [Laughs] Their alignment with this black identity makes them “black” in a metaphorical sense, I guess,   

Kam Williams: Do you think Obama lost an opportunity during that debate when he was asked about Bill being the first black president and he just made a joke about dancing instead of answering it seriously?

Shelby Steele:  His strategy is to get away from anything having to do with race as quickly as he can. He might have made a serious comment, but his fear is that that might open a Pandora’s Box. And then he’d be mired in race again. My guess is he wanted to make a joke, which I thought was a funny one, and move on. He doesn’t ever want to get close to race.

Kam Williams: Have you endorsed anyone yet?

Shelby Steele:  No, I haven’t.

Kam Williams: What will be the subject of your next book?

Shelby Steele:  I hope it’ll be on foreign affairs. I’d like to look at Islamic extremism and terrorism a lot more carefully. I’ll probably move away from race for a while.

Kam Williams: If you love literature so much, why not write a novel.

Shelby Steele:  I hope to. My rule is, whatever is the most urgent is what I do next.

Kam Williams: Did you read the interview I did with Stephen Carter?

Shelby Steele:  No, but I know he’s done exactly that, started writing novels.

Kam Williams: Yeah, he got a $4 million advance to write his first novel after first publishing several very successful non-fiction books. And, they’ve tried to pigeonhole him as a black conservative, like you, but he says he doesn’t mind being seen as religious, but he says he’s not political.  

Shelby Steele:  He has every right not to be.

Kam Williams: Well, thanks for the time, Shelby, this has been a great conversation.

Shelby Steele:  I’ve enjoyed it very much.

Kam Williams:I think people are going to get a kick out of hearing your ideas fully fleshed-out.

Shelby Steele:  Find another pretext to call me. We can chat again.

Kam Williams: Will do. Absolutely! Now I feel horrible about some of the things I’ve written about you in the past.

Shelby Steele:  Don’t worry about it.

Kam Williams: Well, I did enjoy this Obama book, and I loved your first one, The Content of Our Character.

Shelby Steele:  Well, thank you. That means a lot to me.

Kam Williams: I’ll be in touch.

 *   *   *   *   *

A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited about Obama and Why He Can’t Win by Shelby Steele 

 Free Press Hardcover, $22.00 158 pages ISBN: 978-1-4165-5917-7

            Book Review by Kam Williams


Louis Armstrong adapted a mask that came out of the black minstrel tradition… It communicated to white audiences that Louis Armstrong would entertain them but not presume to be their equal. The relentlessly beaming smile, the handkerchief dabbing away the sweat, the reflexive bowing, the exaggerated humility and graciousnessall this signaled that he would not breach the manners of segregation, the propriety that required him to be both cheerful and less than fully human… 

What is exceptional about Barack Obama is the same thing that was exceptional about Louis Armstrong. Neither man discovered a new way for society to racially arrange itself. But both men found a way to capture the goodwill of whites in a way that facilitated their lives and careers.Excerpted from pages 61 and 127


Only last year, I saw a movie in which characters seriously speculated about whether the United States would elect a robot or a black President first. Regardless of the answer, the intended message was that the country was nowhere near ready to vote for an African-American. 

Nevertheless, Barack Obama has managed to mount a competitive campaign for the Democratic nomination. And, should he succeed in defeating Hillary Clinton in that endeavor, the only question left will be whether he can win in November.

Already weighing-in with an answer is Professor Shelby Steele, public intellectual, black conservative and author of such books as The Content of Our Character and White Guilt. Steele, like Obama, has a black father and a white mother, so he presumes to understand Barack’s mindset better than most of us.

It is his contention that the Junior Senator cannot ascend to the presidency because he is a two-faced phony, since “he cannot be himself without hurting himself politically.” According to Steele, “With blacks he is a protester carrying forward the care’s cause; with whites he is the ‘one people’ unifier, minimizing the importance of racial difference.”

Consequently, he’s a “bound man,” a hypocritical opportunist more interested in exploiting the status quo “to move himself ahead, not to advance a new configuration of race relations.” Certainly, such incendiary allegations would be easier to stomach if it weren’t coming from an African-American who’s also a darling of the right-wing Republican Establishment.

That being said, the book does offer an intriguing theory about a dilemma faced by blacks trying to assimilate into the mainstream. It claims that African-Americans seeking such success must adopt one of two masks: either that of “The Bargainer” or that of “The Challenger.”

Bargainers strike this deal with white society: “I will not use America’s horrible history of white racism against you, if you will promise not to use my race against me.” Examples Steele gives of Bargainers are Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey.

Challengers, by contrast, leverage guilt to get power, indicting whites as inherently racist “until they do something to prove otherwise. The author says Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are your average Challengers.

The problem for Obama, and why he can never become President, supposedly, is that he behaves like a Bargainer, a latter-day Satchmo, in front of whites, but more like a challenger when trying to appease blacks. In sum, Shelby Steele makes a persuasive case in A Bound Man, yet in my mind there remains the distinct possibility that there might be a third type of black person, and maybe that’s precisely why so many folks of every hue find something about Barack so appealing.

 *   *   *   *   *

White Guilt: How Blacks & Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era by Shelby Steele

Harper Collins Hardcover, $24.95 192 pages, illustrated ISBN: 0-06-057862-9

Review by Kam Williams

Clearly a mission of the current Bush presidency has been to destigmatize contemporary conservatism. Bush has accepted that he operates in the age of white guilt, and he has brought dissociation to conservatism. He appoints minorities at every opportunity and to the highest levels of government. His faith-based initiative directly addresses poverty through the institution of the black church…

Bush is the first conservative president to openly compete with the left in the arena of ideas around poverty, education, and race. He has attempted to establish conservatism as a philosophy of social reform. But in our deepening culture war, Bush has endured a remarkable degree of contempt from many of his opponents, more contempt than even the worst Bush caricatures would justify.

I departed from the left because I simply couldn’t take the schizophrenia required to stay in the cultural and political world that I had belonged to. I escaped schizophrenia, but I walked right into stigmatization as an Uncle Tom. If I’ve learned anything from all of this, it is that if you want to be free, you have to make yourself that way and pay whatever price the world extracts. So I am quite free now.”Excerpted from Chapter 26, A Culture War

With the President approval-rating at historic lows, he should consider himself very lucky indeed to have as loyal a man in his corner as Shelby Steele. At a time when so many other neo-cons have finally come around to questioning the wisdom of the administration’s agenda in Iraq and New Orleans, Steele is still championing Bush as blacks’ best friend in the White House since LBJ.

By contrast, he claims that Clinton has undeservedly been dubbed as “America’s first black president” because of “his litany of bad habits from infidelity to chronic lateness.” Currently a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, Steele, unfortunately, devotes so much ink here to rehashing Clinton’s moral failings, especially the Monica Lewinsky affair, that the reader frequently forgets the author’s central theme.

The prevailing theory of White Guilt: How Blacks & Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era is that the social fabric of this country started to fall apart in the Sixties when whites decided to make amends for slavery and the subsequent discrimination against blacks. The problem arose when blacks then proceeded to parlay that guilt by adopting a permanent victim status which absolved them from taking responsibility for their plight.

For instance, Shelby argues that “A 70 percent illegitimacy rate among all blacks pretty much makes the case that there is a responsibility problem. To know this, as all blacks do and to have to pretend that it is not strictly true or that certain systemic forces are more responsible than blacks themselves is knowingly to lie to oneself.”

Conveniently ignoring the Administration’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, this very spirited, anti-African-American screed repeatedly blames the victims for their lot in life at every turn, and in a sadistic fashion, almost as if he savors the smug cruelty suggested by his insensitivity. He tempers his caustic commentary with constant reminders that he, too, is black, invariably juxtaposing each criticism with an autobiographical aside in which he makes flip comments concluding that if he could avoid this or that pitfall and pull himself up by his bootstraps, anybody else can.

 Euphoric in his having achieved the American Dream which has proven to be so elusive for most blacks, Steele repeatedly proclaims himself to be cured of the schizophrenia he says has a destructive hold on most other African-American intellectuals. “Tired of living a lie” in order to be black, he has found bliss in a Negro Nirvana free of the “corrupting falseness” of the pressure to identify with folks who look like him and with prevailing black points-of-view.

Since Shelby Steele has apparently found not only a psychic, but a physically comfy, suburban refuge from the rigors of what he terms “race fatigue,” perhaps this arrogant Republican apologist ought to consider refraining from delivering condescending lectures to those unfortunates still stuck in the ‘hood who have to deal with the host of woes visited on the ghetto on a daily basis, especially since he apparently no longer considers himself a hyphenated-minority.   

*   *   *   *   *


God damn Shelby Steele and his IlkKam. I congratulate your wife's flogging of Geraldine. GF is real ugly. Daily News

But we got some uglies among us disguising themselves as saviors of the Black Community. They too must be brought out into the public square and receive their nines as well. I speak of neo-conservatives like Shelby Steele.

On the perspectives of Shelby Steele (SS), and other neo-conservative blacks, I both agree and disagree, my problem with them is that they become the mouthpiece of the worst elements among white exploiters of the weak and the powerless, proving that the Left is right in their criticisms of them as betrayers. That is, the SSs lack balance. It is a deceptive imbalance concealed under beautiful, well-cultured expression. But it is not just the SSs that are disturbing but we have those liberals like Skip Gates and Cornel West and Bill Cosby who sound the same tune about problematic Black leadership and the shortcomings of the criminal black lower classes. They too close their eyes, at least partially, to the evils of those who have made them rich men.

While comfortable and rich, they give short shrift to greedy corporations and the deregulations of the economy and the ravaging government cuts that have turned urban centers and rural areas into an anarchical pit of poverty and exploitation. For instance, two of my cousins are forced to work more than two weeks in a manufacturing plant, 15 straight days, most of those days are 12 and 13 hours long. Some rebel rightly against such a regimen and seek easier means of making a living and establishing leisure to read a book.

For, damn, Kam, the regimen of my cousins is slavery time, with wages at $9 an hour. The employer does provide the attractive bonus of time and a half. But in that regimen of 15 straight days my cousins get one day off, now they're back this morning on that 12 hours-a-day killer of the spirit, not knowing when they will be off again. These are the on the ground realities that are glossed over—the un-and-under-employment, the low pay, the long hours necessary to get basic essentials for one's wife and kids. These neo-conservatives on the Right and the Left want to be sociologists and social psychologists without doing the field work, and then philosophize and denigrate those most vulnerable. In his Race Matters Cornel West slithers up to the table glib with this remark: "In fact, the major enemy of black survival in America has been and is neither oppression nor exploitation but rather the nihilistic threatthat is, loss of hope and absence of meaning" ("Nihilism in Black America," 17).

According to Dr. Floyd Hayes, III, Cornel West "locates the problem within Black  individuals. This sounds like the conservative strategy of blaming the victim. . . . West's narrow notion of Afro-nihilism as a culture of criminality . . . imagines the contemporary impoverished African-Americans no longer have the cultural armor to fight off the nihilistic threat. . . . amounts to the conservative culture of poverty thesis that blames Black folk for their own predicament and for being unable to rid themselves of it" (Cornel West: A Critical Reader, 247). According to West, "it must be recognized that the nihilistic threat contributes to criminal behavior. It is a threat that feeds on poverty and shattered cultural institutions and grows more powerful as the armors to ward against it are weakened" (Race Matters , 16). With their hi-faluting speech, let these neo-conservatives try to live in such conditions under such denials of humanity, as MLK in Chicago, and remain “cultured” and “individuals.” What cultural institution in the Black communities can defend themselves against Wall Street and the super elite, making billions of dollars to be stashed away and provided unsought tax breaks from politicians? In their wealth Steele and West and Cosby and Skip Gates can afford such philosophical selfish luxuries as refined speech and reading bourgeois novels and philosophical texts.

So SS and his ilk sound good in theory, on the surface, in their self-boosting individuality, to those who don't know what's happening on the ground. The present horrors don't have anything to do with white supremacy, directly, that's true enough. That ideology is used to excuse too much. It has already its havoc and has now set the stage for the raw exploitation of all.  It's just business as usual, the super-exploitation of the most vulnerable elements of society, at home and abroad, not under the ideology of white supremacy, but with the moral and ethical ideology of free enterprise and free trade (e.g. NAFTA) that the few have the right to exploit at whatever level they please, supported by our legislative representatives and  boosted by ignorant, thoughtless, and crass corporate media agents.

SS's sort of rhetoric disguises does a disservice to real truth-seeking efforts. And worse the man is so pious and self-righteous. He should be in racks. God, if he was only half as good as the Obamas, I might empathize. Don't get caught up in his cultured smoozing, licking you up and down. For under this free enterprise globalist, deregulated economy, even middle-class well meaning hard working, educated  people fall victims to sub-prime swindles and a host of other swindles boosted by SS's kind of debilitating and crass racial criticisms of the black community, like other poor sectors at home and abroad.

So with Jeremiah Wright, I say God damn that kind of America! God damn free enterprise that enslaves and breaks the spirit of our neighbor! God damn globalist exploitation of the weak and the powerless! God damn all powerful management rights!

More precisely, black neo-conservative criticism is a diversion, a divisive force, whose criticisms are directed singly downward rather than in both directions. The government can bail out and boost wealthy individuals and corporations but for the poor for our black urban centers, all we get is corrosive dribble, police brutality, and enterprising prisons. What criticism does he have of his Republican right wing buddies who allowed minimum wage to lie dormant for a decade, while corporations, politicians and the presidents allowed prices to continue to inflate in defense of corporate profits. Despite these crippling attacks on the economically vulnerable, I appreciate some of the cultural criticisms about the black lower classes and their tendencies toward anarchical criminal behavior directed at their overworked neighbors. They have to be more discerning: the source of their behavior is external, overwhelmingly, not internally as West and Steele argue.

All of the black community, not just the lower classes, must be educated that there is an economic war going on and that their neighbors are not their enemies, that their black spokesmen (SS, West, Gates, Cosby,  CBC members, et al) are under-the-table paid agents of social and political evil. They indeed compose a sector of their corporate and political enemies. These men are worst than blessed Uncle Tom; their behavior is an adjunct to white collar criminality and white collar evil. So SS is no Christian Uncle Tom, I wish he were. He’s worse. He's one of the devil’s minions in a business suit.

So I say God damn SS and Cornel West and Skip Gates and Bill Cosby. Send them straight to the hottest sectors of the hottest hell!—Rudy

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I personally do not find Steele's terminology ("challenger/bargainer") simplistic. But terms are not as important as the explanations and actions that the terms identify, which is what terminology is supposed to achieve, especially when we witness at least two apparently opposites gambits that we should name in order to understand them more fully. So until we come up with better terms for this double-psyche among some Blacks, I'll stay with them. What I do find simplistic is Steele's imagining that he used to be a bargainer. He still is, having twisted and dissembled the script to include pretending that he isn't what he has just identified. So I now conclude that, too, is what a bargainer does. No: what he is supposed to do. Guided by the Ancestors in ways that we can't even begin to fathom, WE each have equal and powerful roles to put out there on the stage of struggle.

Bargaining, as Obama knows intuitively, is a pitch-perfect democratic trope. Democracy is exactly about good-faith bargaining to achieve the optimal result and is therefore one of the two wings of compromise. Challengers come in the end to a democratic compromise (watch Al Sharpton); they do not begin with it and stick with it, to near exhaustion, along the entire way, as bargainers do. They arrive at it, also at the end of a path of near exhaustion. When we do it right, we are all mirrors to one another's transformation. I supposed haters have been placed out there on the dark and evil side of challenge so that we may be challenged to become transformed, transfigured beings.

Here in America, reaching for the Machete of Democracy, neither the challenger nor the bargainer has taken a weaponized machete to hand to achieve an end.Mackie

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Yes, you are right the terms in themselves are not simplistic. No English word is. What is simplistic is the either/or operation. No one is simply a "challenger" or a "bargainer." Obama's "A More Perfect Union" speech was a "challenger" speech. He didn't back down from the media attacks. He raised the subject of race to a higher plane, beautifully, challenging all to deal with it by other means. Of course, the simple and the crass and the conservative running dogs (demogogues) are going to try to keep the issue and the problem of racism as close to the gutter and the ghetto as they can. They find such nigger politics useful for white candidates and they are backing McCain the Republican or Hillary, the near Republican who also waddles around in white racist politics.

No one is simply a "bargainer" or "challenger." We are all both, at different moments and places. Sometimes one is dominant in the person, and the other subdominant. Again, if we take Jesse and Al, their tactic has been to challenge and then bargain off or down. It was the basic strategy of the civil rights movement if you look at what MLK did in various towns and sometimes participants were left quite baffled by the whole process, especially SNCC people.

So, yes, there is a simplistic operation in Steele's psychoanalysis and use of the words as applied to Obama, who is not restricted by essentially being a bargainer or a challenger. His restriction comes from being a politician, who are essentially bargainers, that is, seekers of compromise.Rudy

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#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

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By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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posted 17 March 2007




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