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November 29, 2007 - 6:59 am

Last night, I read the insightful new book by Shelby Steele entitled, a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1416559175?ie=UTF8tag=wwwviolentkicomlinkCode=as2camp=1789creative=9325creativeASIN=1416559175″emA Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win./em/aimg src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=wwwviolentkicoml=as2o=1a=1416559175″ width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”" style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” / Steele’s book offers an in-depth analysis of race relations in this country and he uses Obama’s iconic success as a jumping off point to discuss the conundrum of how blacks are a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/1416559175?tag=wwwviolentkicomcamp=15041creative=373501link_code=as3″bound by racial constraints:/abr /br /blockquoteIn Shelby Steele’s beautifully wrought and thought provoking new book, A Bound Man, the award-winning and bestselling author of The Content of Our Character attests that Senator Barack Obama’s groundbreaking quest for the highest office in the land is fast becoming a galvanizing occasion beyond mere presidential politics, one that is forcing a national dialogue on the current state of race relations in America. Says Steele, poverty and inequality usually are the focus of such dialogues, but Obama’s bid for so high an office pushes the conversation to a more abstract level where race is a politics of guilt and innocence generated by our painful racial history — a kind of morality play between (and within) the races in which innocence is power and guilt is impotence.br /br /Steele writes of how Obama is caught between the two classic postures that blacks have always used to make their way in the white American mainstream: bargaining and challenging. Bargainers strike a “bargain” with white America in which they say, I will not rub America’s ugly history of racism in your face if you will not hold my race against me. Challengers do the opposite of bargainers. They charge whites with inherent racism and then demand that they prove themselves innocent by supporting black-friendly policies like affirmative action and diversity./blockquotebr /br /The problem with this bargain/challenger paradigm for Obama is that as a Democrat, he must please blacks who seem to respect challengers such as Al Sharpton more, but whites want “the iconic Negro, the bargainer in whom they see their own innocence and the nation’s redemption.” Obama needs both the black and white vote to do well in the primaries so, according to Steele, in essence, he is a “Bound Man.” br /br /Steele gives his prescription for blacks on how to break the chains of being a bound man, and that is black responsibility. He states:br /br /blockquoteAnd here is the pathos of American race relations. Obviously, black responsibility is the greatest — if not the only — transformative power available to blacks. How could it be otherwise? Just because we were oppressed, it does not follow that there is a force other than our own assumption of responsibility — our own agency — that will lift us up. Where in all of human history has one group been lifted up by the guilt or goodwill or need for innocence of another group? Where have former oppressors transformed their former victims?/blockquotebr /br /Where, indeed? Read the whole book if you get a chance: Steele’s last chapter is simply poetic and serves as a wake-up call for all of us who wish to transcend identity politics and move into a new era of interacting with each other in more humanitarian ways. Bargaining and challenging may be great ways to manipulate, but they are not great maneuvers for achieving freedom–which should be the goal of all democratic societies.

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