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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

'Identity doesn't learn algebra and history'

"You can't lift up people based on identity," Shelby Steele, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, says in a conversation with Samuel Kronen on City Journal. "Identity doesn’t learn algebra and history and develop skills."

Shelby Steele

The author of books including The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America and A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America, Steele was raised by a black father, who had a third-grade education and worked as a truck driver, and a white mother who had a master's degree.

"The fact of injustice . . . brought us the victories of the civil rights movement, but today it is an avoidance" of the challenges that face blacks, says Steele. Recovering from the injuries suffered by centuries of oppression "is a problem only we can overcome through development, through education, and after education, more education. . . . The point is for blacks that we don’t need to join the white world. We need to join the modern world. We need to join modernity itself."

"Racism is over," he says. Racist views have no legitimacy. "We're just beginning to see what happens when racism is not systemic, is not structural. Our old enemy is gone."

Steele married the daughter of Holocaust survivors. He has children and grandchildren with African, Jewish, Mexican and other ancestries. "I'm an American and part of the unfolding thing that is America, he tells Kronen. "That's the absolutely lovely promise of America, where there's this conglomeration."

His son, Eli, a documentary filmmaker and writer, has resisted pressure to "check the black box," he writes in Newsweek.

"It was not until I applied to college in the early 1990s that I encountered people like Claudine Gay and truly saw behind the curtain of identity politics," Eli Steele writes. He had grades and SATs that were "borderline acceptable for top-tier colleges." His counselor urged him to identify as black.

Very few black college students came from disadvantaged families, he writes. "These students had been replaced by middle- to upper-class blacks, Africans, Caribbeans, and multiracials like me." University administrators wanted to pump up the diversity numbers.

Checking the "black" box on college applications would have forced me to enter what I call the Minority State of Mind, divorcing myself from my larger American identity to embrace a far narrower identity based on the politics of race. In my case, that meant embracing a racialized and victimized mindset in which everything is defined by slavery, segregation, disparities, and racism.

"I knew that to check that black box was to move off the merit track and onto the race track, where people like Claudine Gay excel," he writes. It's a "dead-end path."

1 Comment

Jan 03

Steele the Elder is Obama's not-evil twin.

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