In a recently published book, Shame: How America’s Past Sins have Polarized the Country, black author and scholar Shelby Steele delves into the roots of polarization in America since the 1960s. In decades of attempts to “dismantle our national hypocrisies—racism, sexism, militarism—liberals internalized the idea that there was something inauthentic, if not evil, in the America character.”
He writes, “Since then, liberalism has been wholly concerned with redeeming modern American from the sins of the past, and has derived its political legitimacy from the premise of a morally bankrupt America.describes what he calls the “liberals’ victimization of African Americans and their failure to offer a viable way forward for American society.”
Steele is also a columnist, documentary film maker, and the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
At a recent conference on racism, Steele addressed the question, “What would an ideal America would look like?” He writes of his answer in Shame:
- I said that what I wanted most for America was an end to white guilt… the terror of being seen as racist— [the] terror that has caused whites to act guiltily toward minorities even when they feel no actual guilt.
- My point was that this terror— and the lust it has inspired in whites to show themselves innocent of racism— has spawned a new white paternalism toward minorities since the 1960s that, among other things, has damaged the black family more profoundly than segregation ever did. I also pleaded especially for an end to the condescension of affirmative action… the benevolent paternalism of white guilt, I said, had injured the self- esteem, if not the souls, of minorities in ways that the malevolent paternalism of white racism never had.
- Post- 1960s welfare policies, the proliferation of “identity politics” and group preferences, and all the grandiose social interventions of the War on Poverty and the Great Society— all this was meant to redeem the nation from its bigoted past, but paradoxically, it also invited minorities to make an identity and a politics out of grievance and inferiority… their entitlement and that protest politics was the best way to cash in on that entitlement.
Steele believes that white guilt is now more destructive to the Black community than white racism. He argues that the very programs intended to help Blacks were not simply ineffective but actually damaged the Black community:
- White guilt was a smothering and distracting kindness that enmeshed minorities more in the struggle for white redemption than in their own struggle to develop as individuals capable of competing with all others.
White guilt expresses itself in many destructive ways. It places all of the guilt for the present-day Black community’s problems on white racism. Consequently, Blacks are given a free moral pass. But this freedom from blame and conscience is a bondage that perpetuates a blame mentality, dependency, and resulting criminality. Instead of bringing the races together, it has further polarized them. It also disdains those whites who want to treat their Black brethren as equals.
According to Steele, white guilt and the “benevolent paternalism” of “affirmative action… has injured the self- esteem, if not the souls, of minorities.”
Surprisingly, pastors are now recommending a form of affirmative action for the church. One stated that if we want to achieve racial reconciliation, it is not enough to simply embrace other races. Rather, the white church should be installing people of color into positions of leadership.
Although race should never bar anyone from leadership, it also should not promote anyone into church leadership. This is no more than a continuation of racial politics, which has never brought healing. Instead of promoting in a color-blind manner, racial quotas are the answer, a failed answer.
However, the ideal of M.L. King Jr., and even the Bible, is different. It depends on brotherhood and not race, on dealing with the present and not the past. Jesus had prayed:
- “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
This also should be America’s prayer. The unity we so desire will not be brought about by racial quotas but by Christian love, friendship, and community.