Is Barack Obama an Iconic Black? Well that is what Shelby Steele, a Hoover Institution scholar and author of "The Content of Our Character," is arguing. He argues that Obama's public stance is essentially synthetic. As reported By David S. Broder in the Sunday, November 25, 2007 edition of The Washington Post
In "A Bound Man," Steele makes the case that Obama has adopted "a mask" familiar to many African Americans, designed to appease white America's fear of being thought racist by offering it the opportunity to embrace a nonthreatening black person.
Steele writes that "the Sixties stigmatized white Americans with the racial sins of the past -- with the bigotry and hypocrisy that countenanced slavery, segregation and white supremacy. Now, to win back moral authority, whites -- and especially American institutions -- must prove the negative: that they are not racist. In other words, white America has become a keen market for racial innocence."
Steele likens Obama's success to the fame and fortune won by Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. But the earliest of the crossover heroes he calls "iconic Negroes" was Sidney Poitier.
Steele, who shares with Obama the lineage of having a white mother and a black father, writes sympathetically of the pressures that drove both sons to choose to live their lives as blacks while operating in largely white institutions.
"The problem here for Barack, of course, is that his racial identity commits him to a manipulation of the society he seeks to lead," Steele writes. "To 'be black,' he has to exaggerate black victimization in America. . . . Worse, his identity will pressure him to see black difficulties -- achievement gaps, high illegitimacy rates, high crime rates, family collapse, and so on -- in the old framework of racial oppression." Read More HERESo what do you think? Is Barack Obama an Iconic Black? Is there something wrong with that?
Is Steele's case that Obama has adopted "a mask" familiar to many African Americans, designed to appease white America's fear of being thought racist by offering it the opportunity to embrace a nonthreatening black person - a big deal? Is Shelby Steele just hating on Barack? Or does he have some good points?