Friday, February 01, 2008

Shelby Steele on Obama and the Politics of Race

It's no secret that I'm a big admirer of Shelby Steele's writing. In my experience, there are few better at exploring the psychology and dynamics of race--especially with regard to blacks and whites. His latest book is entitled A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win (also available as an audio CD and an audio download).

Steele recently sat down with Peter Robinson for a videotaped interview about the book. The videos are as follows:

Shelby Steele on Obama and the Politics of Race: Chapter 1 of 5
In conversation with Peter Robinson, Shelby Steele explores Barack Obama’s candidacy — and his character — in light of the two strategies that African Americans have traditionally used for dealing with life in the white American mainstream: bargaining and challenging. In so doing, Steele not only reveals the paradox and weakness at the heart of Obama’s campaign but also delves into challenges America faces as it seeks to go beyond the exhausted racial politics that now prevail.

Shelby Steele on Obama and the Politics of Race: Chapter 2 of 5
Shelby Steele talks about the “one-drop rule” and how it has defined Barack Obama’s candidacy as an African American running for president. He continues on to describe how the color of his skin has defined him, not the content of his character — how he isn't running as an individual with his own beliefs. And while he may write like a novelist and speak beautifully, he doesn't have a voice of his own.

Shelby Steele on Obama and the Politics of Race: Chapter 3 of 5
Obama lost his father at the age of two, after which he was raised in an all-white Midwestern household. Steele discusses this as the source of a life-long angst for Obama: With “this longing to know the father in Barack Obama, there's also a longing to know himself as a black; to feel that he belongs — that simple sense that other blacks take for granted.”

Shelby Steele on Obama and the Politics of Race: Chapter 4 of 5
Shelby Steele describes the practice of “masking” in the black culture. Louis Armstrong masked by being a bargainer; Miles Davis did so by being a challenger; Oprah is a masker — a bargainer extraordinaire; Bill Cosby shed his mask, said what he really thought, and lost his iconic status in the black community. If we are to understand Barack Obama, we must understand his masks.

Shelby Steele on Obama and the Politics of Race: Chapter 5 of 5
Why can’t Obama win? Steele says it’s because he’s a bound man who can’t serve the aspirations of one race without betraying those of another. “The black American identity,” says Steele, “is still for the most part grounded in challenging. You never give white people the benefit of the doubt; that’s our power.” And that puts Obama in a tenuous position. If he gives white people the benefit of the doubt, he’ll lose black support; if he challenges white people in a nod to the black community, he’ll lose white support.