Pres. Obama Goes over the on Affirmative Action

By Thomson, James W. | USA TODAY, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Pres. Obama Goes over the on Affirmative Action


Thomson, James W., USA TODAY


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FOR SHELBY STEELE, the controversial black writer, affirmative action really is not about attaining social justice, but rather a stealthy--and very effective--means of achieving political power. Steele, a well-known author of numerous books and articles dealing with contemporary racial issues, never has been reluctant to express his contrarian views to the outrage and dismay of many leaders of the African-American community as well as most white liberals.

Steele's rejection of affirmative action places him at odds with liberal orthodoxy, which regards these racial and gender preference schemes as pillars of modern America. Pres. Barack Obama's views on affirmative action policies now are well-known; his obvious attempts to redistribute the nation's wealth coupled with his nomination of Sonia Sotomayor--a self-proclaimed "affirmative action baby"--for the Supreme Court appear to place him in the mainstream of contemporary liberalism, as does his ill-advised comments concerning the supposed stupidity of the Cambridge, Mass., police department for arresting his friend, Henry Louis Gates Jr., for disorderly conduct when the Harvard University professor started screaming race-based comments at an officer investigating a break-in at Gates' residence. (The door had jammed and Gates was breaking into his own home.)

Steele, meanwhile, describes himself as a "black conservative" with a Ph.D. in English, who specializes in the study of race relations, multiculturalism, and affirmative action policies. Steele also is an educator, columnist, documentary filmmaker, and, currently, a senior research fellow at the conservative-friendly Hoover Institution think tank of Stanford University.

Both Steele and Obama had black fathers and white mothers and were involved in civil rights issues as young men. Obama married a black woman and immersed himself in a long and difficult search for an African-American identity, or at least that is what he maintains in his two autobiographical works. Steele married a white woman whom he had met when they were undergraduate students in Iowa. Steele earned a Ph.D.; Obama received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Harvard University. Both became university professors and penned serious but popular books dealing with racial topics. Obama wrote primarily about himself, while Steele wrote more generally about American race relations. Obama followed the conventional pattern for young and ambitious African-Americans by becoming a left-liberal Democrat (and quite possibly already the most liberal president of them all only months into his term). Steele, though, has deviated from liberal orthodoxy by attacking what he terms "redemptive liberalism" as just another version of the odious White Supremacy doctrines that he insists have poisoned American race relations.

Like Obama, Steele has enjoyed dazzling success. In 1990, he received the National Book Critic's Circle Award in the general nonfiction category for The Content of Our Character. His other books include White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, A Dream Deferred: the Second Betrayal of Black Freedom hi America, and, most recently, A Bound Man: Excited by Obama and Why He Can't Win. In 2004, Steele received the National Humanities Medal; in 2006, the Bradley Prize for his contributions to the study of race relations, as well as television's Emmy award for an edgy documentary film.

With all of these noteworthy accomplishments, Steele is regarded with alarm by the African-American community and most white liberals, who are well-known for their unstinting praise for conventional liberal African-American leaders like Pres. Obama. Steele contends that, although white Americans have, for the most part, abandoned their shameful past legacy of racial oppression, liberals still are defining the terms by which African-Americans are acknowledged as human beings--with their depiction of blacks as hapless victims perennially in dire need of the preferential racial remedies orchestrated by the barons of the Democratic Party, a self-serving political strategy that rewards them by creating solid Democratic majorities at the polls. …

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