Shelby Steele’s 1991 book The Content of Our Character started me on my journey to conservatism. It was what first made me actively consider that being a Liberal or a Democrat were yea/nay choices rather than states of existence which were as fixed as my skin color. So I consider him one of my political fathers and have a tendency to pay attention when I see one of his essays or catch him on TV.
I did read Steele’s A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win--and I got his descriptions of the two personality masks that black people wear around white people and how few people—black or white—appreciate it when a black person takes off his/her mask. However, I didn’t really understand his description of Obama until this Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC)/Jeremiah Wright brouhaha began to heat up.
In January, Peter Robinson interviewed Steele on A Bound Man over at NRO TV’s Uncommon Knowledge. TUCC is discussed in the third part in the five parter, but the whole thing is interesting. Steele pretty much predicted how things have played out and says the same thing that I said here: that Obama's biracial-ness coupled with parental abandonment has wrecked havoc on how he sees himself and how he projects himself to others. Basically, Steele explains why there’s very little ‘there’ there.
An excerpt of that third part is needed to illustrate Steele's point, I think; a transcription of it is forthcoming.
UPDATE: Here are the most perceptive observations of the interview's third part.
SHELBY STEELE: He was abandoned by his African father at the age of two. So in one stroke he lost both a father and a racial identity. So here in this all white household is this little kid who is being held accountable in the world as a black—being raised by a mother who’s white, a grandmother who’s white [and] a grandfather who is white; almost no experience whatsoever with other blacks.For the first time, I feel a great deal of pity for Obama, along with empathy, of course since I grew up in a kind of a "mirror universe" in relation to his own. (I can't decide which one contains the bearded Spock.)
And so, as I talk about in the book, as there’s a longing to know the father in Barack Obama there’s also a longing to know himself as a black; to feel that he belongs, that simple sense that other blacks take for granted, where it’s not a question at all.
For him, it’s a life-long angst. And so he’s driven in that direction and ends up on the Southside of Chicago doing community organizing when he could have gone straight ahead to law school and so forth [after earning an undergrad from Columbia]. [SNIP]
PETER ROBINSON: In any event, from Columbia he could have gone to Wall Street if he wanted to.
SS: He could have gone…and did for a brief moment. And quite, can’t take it. Wants to…this call, it’s there. This need. And so he takes this job at…below minimum wage as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago.
PR: As we have this conversation and as I read A Bound Man, I’m evaluating this man as a candidate. There’s a fascinating story, merely as a matter of character study and what it says about the state of race in the United States; but he’s running for president. So this notion of seeking out a black identity—the way it struck me was understandable and even commendable. Does it strike you the same way? Or is it still too much race? He’s doing something because of race? How do you understand it? How do you evaluate it?
SS: I went through something of it myself. Again [I’m] from that kind of a background. [Steele's father is black and his mother is white. --Ed.] I was lucky [that] I had my father. So…and I grew up in segregation and that will give you a clear sense of identity. (laughs)
PR: He was raised in a white world.
PR: But you were raised in a black world.
SS: An entirely black world.
SS: So I didn’t feel the pressure, I don’t think, in the way that he did. But it was there. I’m aware of it. There’s a vulnerability that you have that people can see. As Christopher Hitchens says there, “why is he really black?” So somebody who doesn’t know you can walk up and say, “well you’re not really who you seem to be.” And always along with that goes this suggestion that you’re a phony; that you’re a bit of a fraud because of your birthright…your fate.
So it’s a vulnerability and there’s this desire to resolve it. And that’s, I think, Obama’s compulsion really: to establish himself as an authentic black [and] failing all along.
PR: You write: He goes to the Illinois state legislature, he’s now a member of the United States Senate for the last couple of years. He affiliates himself with a specifically black church in Chicago called Trinity United Church of Christ. You write about it at some length. So, incidentally, does Christopher Hitchens.
Quote--Christopher now: “Run by the sort of minister that the press often guardedly describes as ‘flamboyant,’ this bizarre outfit the church describes itself as” now he’s quoting from their website, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian and speaks of a Chosen People whose nature we are allow to assume is afrocentric.” Operative sentence: “Nobody who wants to be taken seriously can possibly be associated with such a sub-standard and shade-oriented place.”
Now there’s a point there. This is a graduate of Columbia and of Harvard Law School who’s going to a place that it’s reasonable to suppose that, in one way or another, is intellectually beneath him. Right?
PR: So how…do we cut him slack because he needs this? How do you understand that one?
SS: That’s one of the questions that I think the press…he’s been in this what I call ‘White Guilt Bubble’ where they never ask him anything meaningful.
How is it that you go to an afrocentric, Black Nationalist church, where everything is black—morality, "black"; community, "black"; family values, "black"; a church that your mother would not be comfortable in, if she would be welcome at all—how do you reconcile…
Could you stand up in this church and say, “It wasn’t 'blackness' that created Barack Obama. It was the 'midwestern' values of my mother. That’s how it got done. So maybe the people in this church might spend a little more time talking about those values than about 'blackness.'” I don’t think that Obama is likely to do that. But, how does he resolve it? How does he reconcile?
SS: When you are born as he was, you endure this abandonment and [it] leaves these wounds. And there is going to be—for anybody—an attempt to sort of fill up that void in some way or another.
The only way you can do it is through a thousand little self-betrayals; where you go to that church and you turn a blind eye to the fact that it’s beneath you intellectually, that it subscribes to an ideology that would exclude the loving family that you had. You betray yourself. You get used to self-betrayal as a survival mechanism, as a way of getting through the world, getting through society. And that’s where you pay the price, because when you’re doing that, you’re not developing a self. You’re not individuating.
And there clearly is some of that with Obama—this habit of self-betrayal.
Be that as it may, Obama's background wouldn't be such a big deal if it didn't seem as though his particular brand of neuroses played out in nearly every relationship that he has--personal and professional. His campaign is the very model of two-facedness and the absence of self which Steele points to. Obama isn't crazy but something more frightening--a vessel to be filled.
What kind of damage could such a president do?