After reading Victor Davis Hanson’s new column in which he makes the case that “we have become an absurd society obsessed with race” which I excerpted here, I was reminded of a virtual speech delivered by former First Lady Michelle Obama to “2020 graduates.” Her words exposed the root of the racial divide. I was especially struck by her remarks because I had just watched conservative commentator Mark Levin interview Shelby Steele, a black conservative who had a much different take on racism in America today than Mrs. Obama. ( Like Hanson, Steele is also a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.) I am reprising a post I had written at the time because the contrast between their perceptions had been so startling to me, and so revealing.
For most people, the biggest takeaway from former First Lady Michelle Obama’s virtual commencement address to the class of 2020 last June was this: “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re too angry.”
Not for me. I hadn’t reached that line in her speech when she uttered something that stopped me in my tracks.
Within 90 seconds, the topic turned to race. Not only have we had to deal with the pandemic, she told graduates, “but also by the rumbling of the age-old fault lines that our country was built on. The lines of race and power that are once again so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with.”
With one of the most sour expressions I’ve ever seen, she said, “What’s happening now is the direct result of decades of prejudice and inequality.”
“The truth is, when it comes to all those tidy stories of hard work and self-determination that we like to tell ourselves about America,” she says as she shakes her head to indicate this is a lie, “the reality is a lot more complicated than that. Because for too many people in this country no matter how hard they work, there are structural barriers working against them that just make the road longer and rockier.”
STOP. RIGHT. THERE.
Having just watched a powerful discussion the night before between Fox News’ Mark Levin and Shelby Steele, a Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution, about this very subject, it struck me she was perpetuating the decades old myth that stands at the center of the racial divide in America today.
This statement is the crux of the problem. By their actions and their words, Democrats have instilled in blacks the notion that they are helpless, and the odds are stacked against them. Like all of the Democrat’s lies, it’s been repeated so often, many blacks firmly believe that no matter how hard they work, the system is rigged against them, and they will never get ahead.
Now, if a parent or a mentor tells a child, continually, that even if they persevere, it will make little difference, the child will have very little incentive to do so. And if that parent or mentor takes it further and says, “But don’t worry. I’ll always make sure you have everything you need,” what little motivation the child may have had will evaporate.
The Democratic Party and black parents, for whom this message is now deeply ingrained, are creating a never-ending cycle of failure.
Shelby Steele, who is black, provided some unique insight into America’s current racial problems.
Steele came of age during the civil rights era in the 1960s and said the biggest difference between then and now is that, back then, everybody knew exactly what they wanted. “Often [it was] a piece of legislation, a civil rights bill or something else that was specific or concrete.”
He speaks of the vagueness of the current protests. “So, what is this really all about?” Steele thinks it’s about power and, “in order to pursue power, as they do, you have to have victims.”
The death of George Floyd, he told Levin, “generates such excitement among this crowd and validates their argument that America is a wretched country. It feeds this old model of operation that we’ve developed, that America is guilty of racism…and has been for four centuries and minorities are victims who are entitled.” Steele continued:
And so, when people start to talk about systemic racism built into the system, what they’re really doing is expanding their territory of entitlement. We want more. We want more…Society is responsible for us because racism is so systemic.
Well, that’s a corruption. And I know it’s a corruption. Because the truth of the matter is that blacks have never been less oppressed than they are today. Opportunity is around every corner.
Blacks, he says, are unhappy that they’re at the bottom of most socioeconomic ladders, but instead of blaming it on the police or anyone else, they need to take a look at themselves. He goes on to say:
Why don’t you take some responsibility for it? Why don’t you take more responsibility? I would be happy to look at all the usual bad guys, the police and so forth, if they have the nerve, the courage, to look at black people…and say, you’re not carrying your own weight, you’re going to go have a fit and a tantrum and demonstrations…
Are you teaching your child to read? Are you making sure that the school down the street actually educates your child? Are you becoming educated and following a dream in your life and making things happen for yourself? Or are you saying ‘I’m a victim and I’m owed? And the entitlement is inadequate and I need to be given more and after all, you know racism has been here for 400 years…and so, it’s time for you to give to me.’
That’s an exhausted, fruitless, empty strategy to take and we’ve been on that path since the 60s and we are farther behind than we’ve ever been and we keep blaming it on racism and blaming it on the police. I’m exhausted with that.
Steele recalls growing up in the 1950s in Chicago when segregation was “fierce.” No one was taking money from the government. His father, with a third grade education, bought three ramshackle houses, rebuilt them and then rented them out. He “kept clawing his way up.” And he wasn’t unique. They were all working hard. He continued:
“They took a lot of responsibility for their lives because the government didn’t. What civil rights bill is going to replace that? What value system?,” asked Steele.
“And that is the problem. That we have allowed ourselves to be enabled in avoiding our real problems by a guilty white society. That keeps using us and exploiting us as victims,” adding that, “If you really care about how minorities do, why don’t you ask them to do it? Why don’t you ask them to drop the pretense?”
He also believes there’s always going to be some racism in every society. He noted, “My own sense is that it’s endemic to the human condition. We will always have to watch out for it…That is no excuse for us being where we are right now in American life.” Steele explains:
We have let this sort of guilty society and our grievance industry put us in this impossible position where we are a permanent underclass.
White guilt: Buying back legitimacy by exploiting minorities all over again.
‘Look, we beat you up pretty badly. You can’t make it without us…unless WE are the agent of that change. Not you us. So they take over the agency, over black development and say, if you don’t get more government money, more government programs…you will never make it. You are dependent on us and what happens? A grievance industry springs up in black America to receive all that white beneficence.
The civil rights movement does nothing but scream bloody murder at how dependent black people are on what white’s do for them.
The Democrat party history in many respects is a very evil history…It was the party of the Confederacy, the party of slavery. It was the party, after the Civil War that destroyed Reconstruction. It was the party that spawned and gave birth to the Klan. The party that pushed segregation. It was the party whose members were involved in the Dred Scott decision. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision.
The party up into the 1920s that embraced the racists and the segregationists. It was the party all the way up until the Civil Rights Act, that played serious politics with the racists and the segregationists in the Jim Crowe south…Now there are exceptions.
Steele interrupted to say, “Now, it’s the party of affirmative action. There’s a symbiosis that liberalism is a part of and, where there’s sort of a mutual corruption and you see this in the Democratic Party where you have on the one hand the grievance industry blacks, and you have on the other hand the Pelosi’s of the world who want to be the agents of black uplift. We’re just sort of stuck there. And, of course as always, the group that will pay the price for this stuckness [sic], this stalemate, is blacks. We’ll get farther and farther behind.”
Mrs. Obama’s advice to graduates is to mobilize and become community organizers to bring radical change following the death of George Floyd.
But rather than protesting for more entitlements, why doesn’t she just tell them to work hard in a chosen field and break out of the cycle that continues to keep them stuck? Many blacks have found success in today’s America. The old fashioned way.
That would be a lot more empowering than telling them to go out and protest.
The video of Levin’s interview with Steele can be viewed here.