Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chauncey DeVega says: He Loves Him Some White Folks or Is Shelby Steele a Coon, an Uncle Tom, or a Respectable Negro?

I have such mixed feelings about Shelby Steele. Listen for his observation that "freedom is a revolutionary idea for black America." Goodness. And yes, I will leave it at that.

Steele is so smart and has the potential to speak so much truth to power, but more often than not his politics appear to be grounded in a deep self-loathing. Moreover, in his working for such think tanks as the Hoover Institute, Steele has clearly signed away his soul to be one of the very well compensated black poster children, aka slave catchers, for the Right.

His latest piece in the Wall Street Journal, where he laments the inability of conservative ideology to compete with the grievance based culture of "liberalism" and how it has monopolized narratives of truth and justice, is another such example. In short, Steele argues that black and brown folk (and their liberal masters) have held America's conscience hostage, and virtuous White people (code for conservatives) have not been acknowledged for how they are in fact the true defenders of human dignity, worth, and equality in America. For Steele's reimagining of history, it was those who argued in favor of the broader Civil Rights agenda that were immoral, and not the conservative, racial reactionaries--many in Steele's own Republican Party--who held firm against racial progress and social justice.

In short, as Mathew Yglesias pithily observed on his Atlantic Monthly blog, "Shelby Steele Hearts White People."

The three faces of Shelby Steele (my playful name for the trio of videos in this post) made me think about my own politics--as well as those of Gordon and Zora. Are we in fact conservatives? We rail against white liberal guilt, liberal racism, as well as conservative bigotry and myopia. Our wrath and disgust knows no bounds of party or ideology, so where do we fit on the ideological spectrum? What makes us respectable negroes so different from Shelby Steele?

I know the terrain of my own personal politics (even as I struggle to articulate my beliefs in the form of a coherent ideology) and for now, I will leave them unstated.

Thus I ask, is Shelby Steele a Tom, a coon, or a respectable negro? And why?

My vote: Shelby Steele is a Tom, because he has no love for himself or for his people. Steele cannot be a "coon," because while a coon may not understand how he or she is embarrassing black folk (or more generally, how a deficit of race pride informs their behavior), coons at least have some love for themselves as "black" people. Respectable negro? Impossible, because one cannot simultaneously be a lap dog for the Right and also a respectable negro--like matter and anti-matter, the two states exist in perpetual and permanent contradiction (and explosive hostility) to one another.


Anonymous said...

You are so kind... so generous.. but this man really, really bothers me. He is worse than an Uncle Tom.

He has a good point about black folks needing to take responsibility for stuff and thangs..(yes I sad thangs and stuff). I am all about personal responsibility, but you need to examine where you have been to understand where you are at and where you are going.

But..Does he actually listen to what comes out of his mouth? How can you talk about oppressed people, yet not admit that racism exists? C'mon are you really a black militant?

Rather than berate the present form of "black leadership" (because we darkies need a leader since we are all so shiftless) how about some concrete solutions rather than berate Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and the NAACP.

Mad as some of us want to be at Bill Cosby, at least the man gave some constructive advice.

Thanks for this article.. I am now stimulated and ready for some critical thinking!

Al From Bay Shore said...

Uncle Tom? Uh, the eighties called and they want their pundit jargon back. Shelby and co. are not lapdogs for the Right. What you are witnessing is the emergence of alternative points of view within black culture. Uncle Tom is merely a term that reflects the inability of left of center, or perhaps obsolete, black "pundits" to accept differing political beliefs from other black folks. Some might even argue that an Uncle Tom is a person who spends more time decrying racial injustice at the hands of white folks while simultaneously ignoring the victims of black on black brutality and dysfunction. I'm sure that at least one of the three of you were seething over the way the NAACP and Al Sharpton reflexively rushed to the defense of the Dunbar Village perps - it must be somewhere in your blog's archives. If you are searching your memory banks for this incident, then see the latter suggestion as to what an Uncle Tom is. That would, at the very least, make Sharpton and the NAACP something infinitely worse than Uncle Toms (I'll be patiently awaiting the commentary in which you decry the "Tomism" of Sharpton and the NAACP). By the way, weren't one of you complaining about a white colleague on your job intimating someting about "...the election of Obama as proof that such resources [for '...institutional diversity offices and personnel...'] were no longer needed..." I must ask, did this conversation take place before or after the one on Lilianna Goodman? Please refer to the earlier proposed definition of "Uncle Tom" (or is "Aunt Sarah" more appropriate?) but I digress.

It was nice to call someone an Uncle Tom back in 1985. I theorize that our indulgence in hurling these types of epithets, along with our misguided Tawana Brawley activism, left no room for us to build a coherent and honest strategy to accompany the developing "Save the Black Family" movement. Now let me see, that was over twenty years ago and all we have to show for it is a 70% out of wedlock birth rate for black children, an inordinately large number of black children without fathers, egg on the collective face of the contemporary Civil Rights movement thanks to Crystal Mangum and Jesse Jackson, and members of the Jena Six continuing to get into legal troubles after attending the BET Awards decked in the finest thug attire. Nice going. So who'll be the first one to start singing "We Shall Overcome?" If you let me join in then you guys would have a quartet. We could call ourselves "Two Uncles and an Aunt featuring Al." Oh wait, I have another great idea, how do you guys feel about wearing handkerchiefs and singing in blackface? We could be contemporary and wear red and blue handkerchiefs tied about the head. Just a thought - I think we have a good shot at that inner city ghetto demographic.

Guys, these Uncle Tom epithets are tired, played out, and obselete. The greatest irony is that these epithets come from integrationist Negroes who sacrificed black institutional independence for the right to take a dump in the whites only toilet. Gee, that was a fair trade but I guess the pathological desire to escape things black in order to be white by being close to things white (See integration) made the right to smell our white brethren's fecal aroma a priority greater than creating, and cultivating independent black institutions and infrastructure. Besides why should Spelman have a particle accelerator when we can just beg Georgia Tech to use theirs? I suppose we can sing the second chorus of "We Shall Overcome" on the MARTA ride over. And to symbolize the overarching strategy of contemporary black thought, we can beg white people for the train fare - please note my mercy in not analogizing the current state of black America and the Civil Rights movement with the image black panhandlers in a subway station.

The Joke is on those of us who chose the DuBoisian path. With any luck, we too will evolve into a delusional Pan African Socialist expatriate in Ghana but fear not, we are almost there, all we need to do is convince Obama to move to Accra and study the life of Kwame Nkrumah - he's already got that socialist thing down pat.

In Memoriam:
Ramona Moore, Lilliana Goodman, James Nemorin, Rodney Andrews, Annijah Rolax, Daniel Baker, Dunbar Village, Nayasia Pryear, Dillon Stewart....

The elipsis implies the countless number of black victims who have gone ignored by the beg and blame whitey activists - the indirect victims of victimology.

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...

@jeannette--good to be of help!

@Al-I knew you would have something compelling to offer-and I mean that in a good way. A few points, the diversity in black political thought is nothing new. the question becomes one of our private talk versus public talk distinctions, i.e. what do we say to one another, and what do we not expose for the white gaze. this is precisely why the 'Cos, as I affectionately call him, got so much grief, because he told the damn truth and some establishment types don't want to hear it.

But, my point on Steele, and I will bring the 80s back again--the handkerchief head that he is--isn't just a point on the distribution of "black" political thought. i take that back, he is a point, but he is an outlier who, like many other black conservatives, get to play the voice of "authentic" black politics (the we know better those black folk there are just confused). i find him and his ilk disgusting because of how they cash in their "blackness" all the while deeply lamenting that fact that they are black. And that goes for Michelle Maulkin who has perfected her own yellow face routine.

true there are black conservatives who have a deep love for their people...we are as diverse as any group. but, to work for the Hoover institute, and to have your voice enlisted for a regime/collective/ideology that despises people of color, is just too much for me to stand. and my measure for despise would be their issue positions, racial ideology, actions, statements, and deeds. The neo-conservative racial project barely has a role, and dare I say tolerance, for the non-white other, and in many ways is predicated on keeping them/us in our place within the polity. And no, the left and the Dems are not that much better.

Finally, and I mean this playfully as Gordon is doing something on this issue in a few, when you listen to and watch the Steele's, Thomas's, Ward Connely's, McWhorter's, Alan Keyes's..., you don't see some deeply self hating black people? Moreover, a deep desire to be the "special" and "good" black?

Not even a little bit?

Chauncey Devega

Al From Bay Shore said...

Okay, I've been drinking vodka while listening to remixes of "Go Bang" by Dinosaur L. The only reason I am telling you this is that I am in no condition to respond AND the computers at my job have a webwasher program that blocks your website thus preventing me from responding during the day, 19 March.

I'm just responding just to let you know that I am not rude. I'm just a bit tipsy and exploring the musical structure of "Waiting For the Day" by MJ Cole (check youtube)- I am going through a soulful house music/ disco faze that has gripped me like a heroin addiction.

gordon gartrelle said...

let me reiterate Chauncey’s points about what our criticism isn’t.

It isn’t just a blanket condemnation of black conservative thought. As Chauncey notes, conservative strains of thought have always been present and acceptable in black publics. And, again, as Chauncey states, some people might label us conservatives.

It also isn’t a criticism against “airing our dirty laundry” or refusing to hide black shortcomings and internal divisions from the eyes of whites and other outsiders. A number of black folks, myself included, think that this century-old strategy of black self preservation has run its course.

This criticism is about pointing out that Steele and the like seem to delight in telling white folks exactly what they want to hear with respect to race, namely, that whites bear no real responsibility for the condition of black folks.

It’s about drawing attention to the condescension of black conservatives who see themselves as the only enlightened negroes while implying that the masses of black folks are stupid (think about their idiotic argument that white liberals and black civil Rights leaders bamboozle black folks into voting Democratic when black social conservatism dictates that they should vote for Republicans).

It’s about noting the irony that many of the black conservative critics of affirmative action and tokenism themselves only benefit from being the lone black faces among the lily white conservative throng. To be used like that and to court this kind of transparent, patronizing attention from white conservatives is deplorable. The fact that they make a pretty penny doing this just makes it worse.

Anonymous said...

plain and simple...he's a tom...

E.C. 2 said...

You want present day insults. O.K., then, call Steele an Uncle RUCKUS. OR...you can call him The Son of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ruckus.