Required Reading

Today it’s Shelby Steele in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a small bit:

This new 21st-century racial problem might be called the problem of emergence–the shock that formerly oppressed people experience when they first emerge into new freedom, and the struggle with responsibility that always follows. In freedom their underdevelopment looks precisely like the inferiority their oppressor had always accused them of, because now it no longer has the excuse of oppression. Under this threat of humiliation, the newly free will have to decide who should be responsible for their development. And the society that oppressed them will also have to decide. All discussions of race in America today are discussions of responsibility.

So the first phase of emergence is rarely a wholehearted embrace of freedom but rather a resurrection of the enemy just defeated. For blacks the old enemy of racism mutes the humiliation of new freedom by absorbing blame for inferiority. “I can’t because of racism.” Perhaps the most pernicious feature of real oppression is that it is always, in itself, an argument that others should be responsible. So when it ends, a new and kinder dependency will look like justice. This is why the dream of freedom for many oppressed peoples is a socialistic “promised land,” not really a dream of freedom at all. When you are oppressed, you tend to believe in the power that oppresses you. You only want it to make your life prosperous rather than wretched.


Read it all. Read it now. Feel free to discuss in the Drinks section below.

I don’t often talk about race on this site because racism is too stupid to bother debating, and, well, I’m a privileged white boy who doesn’t know a whole lot about oppression. But Steele wrote something of great importance and service, and it needs to be read.


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