By Editorial Staff
Published April 7, 2008
By Shelby Steele
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and1960s culminated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act – two monumental pieces of legislation that have dramatically altered the fabric of American life.
During the struggle for their passage, a new source of power came into full force. Black Americans and their supporters tapped into the moral power inspired by a 300-year history of victimization and oppression and used it to help transform society, to humanize it, to make it more tolerant and open. They realized, moreover, that the victimization and oppression that blacks had endured came from one “marriage” – a marriage of race and power. They had to stop those who said, “merely because we are white, we have the power to dominate, enslave, segregate and discriminate.”
Race should not be a source of power or advantage or disadvantage for anyone in a free society. This was one of the most important lessons of the original civil rights movement. The legislation it championed during the 1960s constituted a new “emancipation proclamation.” For the first time segregation and discrimination were made illegal. Blacks began to enjoy a degree of freedom they had never experienced before.
This did not mean that things changed overnight for blacks. Nor did it ensure that their memory of past injustice was obliterated. I hesitate to borrow analogies from the psychological community, but I think that one does apply: Abused children do not usually feel anger until many years after the abuse has ended, that is, after they have experienced a degree of freedom and normalcy. Only after civil rights legislation had been enacted did blacks at long last began to feel the rage they had suppressed. I can remember that period myself. I had tremendous sense of delayed anger at having been forced to attend segregated schools. (My grade school was the first school to be involved in a desegregation suit in the north.) My race, like that of other blacks, threatened for a time to become all consuming.
Anger was both inevitable and necessary. When suppressed, it eats you alive; it has got to come out, and it certainly did during the 1960s. One form was the black power movement in all of its many manifestations, some of which were violent. There is no question that we should condemn violence, but we should also understand why it occurs. You cannot oppress people for over three centuries and then say it is all over and expect them to put on suits and ties and become decent attaché-carrying citizens and go to work on Wall Street.
Once my own anger was released, my reaction was that I no longer had to apologize for being black. That was a tremendous benefit and it helped me come to terms with my own personal development. The problem is that many blacks never progressed beyond their anger.
The Politics of Difference
The black power movement encouraged a permanent state of rage and victimhood. An even greater failing was that it rejoined race and power – the very “marriage” that civil rights legislation had been designed to break up. The leaders of the original movement said, “Anytime you make race a source of power you are going to guarantee suffering, misery and inequity.” Black power leaders declared: “We’re going to have power because we’re black.”
Well, is there any conceivable difference between black power and white power? When you demand power based on the color of your skin, aren’t you saying that equality and justice are impossible? Somebody’s going to be in, somebody’s going to be out. Somebody’s going to win, somebody’s going to lose, and race is once again a source of advantage for some and disadvantage for others. Ultimately, black power was not about equality or justice; it was, as its name suggests, about power.
And when blacks began to demand entitlements based on their race, feminists responded with enthusiasm, “We’ve been oppressed too!” Hispanics said, “We’re not going to let this bus pass us by,” and Asians said, “We’re not going to let it pass us by either.” Eskimos and American Indians quickly hopped on the bandwagon, as did gays, lesbians, the disabled and other self-defined minorities.
By the 1970s, the marriage of race and power was once again firmly established. Equality was out: the “politics of difference” was in. From then on, everyone would rally around the single quality that makes them different from the white male and pursue power based on that quality. It is a very simple formula. All you have to do is identify that quality, whatever it may be, with victimization. And victimization is itself, after all, a tremendous source of moral power.
The politics of difference demanded shifting the entire basis of entitlement in America. Historically, entitlement was based on the rights of citizenship elaborated in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This was the kind of entitlement that the original civil rights movement leaders claimed for blacks: recognition of their rights as American citizens to equal treatment under the law. They did not claim, “We deserve rights and entitlements because we are black,” but, “We deserve them because we are citizens of the United States and like all other citizens are due these rights.” The politics of difference changed all that. Blacks and other minorities began demanding entitlement solely based on their history of oppression, their race, their gender, their ethnicity, or whatever quality that allegedly made them victims.
By the 1980s, the politics of difference had, in turn, led to the establishment of “grievance identities.” These identities are not about such things as the great contributions of women throughout history or the rich culture of black Americans. To have a strong identity as a woman, for example, means that you are against the “oppressive male patriarchy” – period. To have a strong identity as a black means that you are against racist white America – period.
You have no choice but to fulfill a carefully defined politically correct role: (1) you must document the grievance of your group; (2) you must testify to its abiding and ongoing alienation; and (3) you must support its sovereignty. As a black who fails any of these three requirements you are not only politically incorrect, you are a traitor, an “Uncle Tom.” You are blaming the victim, you are letting whites off the hook, and you are betraying your people.
In establishing your grievance identity, you must turn your back on the enormous and varied fabric of life. There is no legacy of universal ideas or common human experience. There is only one dimension to your identify: anger against oppression. Grievance identities are thus “sovereignties” that compete with the sovereignties of the nation itself. Blacks, women, Hispanics and other minorities are not even American citizens anymore. They are citizens of sovereignties with their own right to autonomy.
The New Segregation on Campus
The marriage of race and power, the politics of difference, and grievance identities – these are nurtured by the American educational establishment. They have also acted on that establishment and affected it in significant ways. After a talk I gave recently at a well-known university, a woman introduced herself as the chairperson of the women’s studies department. She was very proud of the fact that the university had a separate degree-granting program in women’s studies.
I stressed that I had always been very much in favor of teaching students about the contributions of women. But I asked her what it was that students gained from segregating women’s studies that could not be gained from studying within the traditional liberal arts disciplines.
Her background was in English, as was mine, so I added, “What is a female English professor in the English department doing that is different from what a female English professor in the women’s studies department is doing? Is she going to bring a different methodology to bear? What is it that academically justifies a segregated program for women, or for blacks, or any other group? Why not incorporate such studies into the English department, the history department, the biology department or into any of the other regular departments?”
As soon as I began to ask such questions I noticed a shift in her eyes and a tension in her attitude. She began to see me as an enemy and quickly make an excuse to end the conversation. This wasn’t about a rational academic discussion of women’s studies. It was about the sovereignty of the feminist identity, and unless I tipped my hat to that identity by saying, “Yes, you have the right to a separate department,” no further discussion or debate was possible.
Meanwhile, the politics of difference is over-taking education. Those with grievance identities demand separate buildings, classrooms, offices, clerical staff – even separate Xerox machines. They all want to be segregated universities within the universities. They want their own space – their sovereign territory. Metaphorically, sometimes literally, they insist that not only the university but society at large must pay tribute to their sovereignty.
Today there are some 500 women’s studies departments. There are black studies departments, Hispanic studies departments, Jewish studies departments, Asian studies departments. They all have to have space, staff, and budgets. What are they studying that can’t be studied in other departments? They don’t have to answer this questions, of course, but when political entitlement shifted away from citizenship to race, class and gender, a shift in cultural entitlement was made inevitable.
Those with grievance identities also demand extra entitlements far beyond what should come to us as citizens. As a black, I am said to “deserve” this or that special entitlement. No longer is it enough just to have the right to attend a college or university on an equal basis with others or to be treated like anyone else. Schools must set aside special money and special academic departments just for me, based on my grievance. Some campuses now have segregated dorms for black students who demand to live together with people of their “own kind.” Students have lobbied for separate black student unions, black yearbooks, black homecoming dances, black graduation ceremonies – again all so that they can be comfortable with their “own kind.”
One representative study at the University of Michigan indicates that 70 percent of the school’s black undergraduates have never had a white acquaintance. Yet, across the country, colleges and universities like Michigan readily and even eagerly continue to encourage more segregation by granting the demands of every vocal grievance identity.
A Return to a Common Culture
Colleges and universities are not only segregating their campuses, they are segregating learning. If only for the sake of historical accuracy, we should teach all students – black, white, female, male – about many broad and diverse cultures. But those with grievance identities use the multicultural approach as an all-out assault on the liberal arts curriculum, on the American heritage, and on Western culture. They have made out differences, rather than our common bonds, sacred. Often they do so in the name of building the “self-esteem” of minorities. But they are not going to build anyone’s self-esteem by condemning our culture as the product of “dead white males.”
We do share a common history and a common culture, and that must be the central premise of education. If we are to end the new segregation on campus and everywhere else it exists, we need to recall the spirit of the original civil rights movement, which was dedicated to the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal.
Even the most humble experiences unite us. We have all grown up on the same sitcoms, eaten the same fast food and laughed at the same jokes. We have practiced the same religions, lived under the same political system, read the same books and worked in the same marketplace. We have the same dreams and aspirations as well as fears and doubts for ourselves and for our children. How, then, can our differences be so overwhelming?
Forerunner - Home » The Forerunner Newspaper » Black America
Your comments are welcome!
Download the free Study Guide!
Is there a connection between pagan religion and the abortion industry?
This powerful presentation traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God and crime against humanity has produced in our beleaguered society.
Conceived as a sequel and update to the 1988 classic, The Massacre of Innocence, the new title, The Abortion Matrix, is entirely fitting. It not only references abortion’s specific target – the sacred matrix where human beings are formed in the womb in the very image of God, but it also implies the existence of a conspiracy, a matrix of seemingly disparate forces that are driving this holocaust.
The occult activity surrounding the abortion industry is exposed with numerous examples. But are these just aberrations, bizarre yet anomalous examples of abortionists who just happen to have ties to modern day witchcraft? Or is this representative of something deeper, more sinister and even endemic to the entire abortion movement?
As the allusion to the film of over a decade ago suggests, the viewer may learn that things are not always as they appear to be. The Abortion Matrix reveals the reality of child-killing and strikes the proper moral chord to move hearts to fulfill the biblical responsibility to rescue those unjustly sentenced to death and to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 24:11,12; 31:8,9).
Speakers include: George Grant, Peter Hammond, RC Sproul Jr., Paul Jehle, Lou Engle, Rusty Thomas, Flip Benham, Janet Porter and many more.
Ten parts, over three hours of instruction!
Running Time: 195 minutes
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
“Here I stand … I can do no other!”
With these immortal words, an unknown German monk sparked a spiritual revolution that changed the world.
The dramatic classic film of Martin Luther’s life was released in theaters worldwide in the 1950s and was nominated for two Oscars. A magnificent depiction of Luther and the forces at work in the surrounding society that resulted in his historic reform efforts, this film traces Luther’s life from a guilt-burdened monk to his eventual break with the Roman Catholic Church.
Running time: 105 minutes
Special offer: Order 5 or more for $5 each.
Watch a clip from Martin Luther.
$9.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
With “preaching to the lost” being such a basic foundation of Christianity, why do many in the church seem to be apathetic on this issue of preaching in highways and byways of towns and cities?
Is it biblical to stand in the public places of the world and proclaim the gospel, regardless if people want to hear it or not?
Does the Bible really call church pastors, leaders and evangelists to proclaim the gospel in the public square as part of obedience to the Great Commission, or is public preaching something that is outdated and not applicable for our day and age?
These any many other questions are answered in this documentary.
$19.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
“Give me liberty or give me death!”
Patrick Henry’s famous declaration not only helped launch the War for Independence, it also perfectly summarized the mindset that gave birth to, and sustained, the unprecedented experiment in Christian liberty that was America.
The freedom our Founders envisioned was not freedom from suffering, want, or hard work. Nor was it freedom to indulge every appetite or whim without restraint—that would merely be servitude to a different master. No, the Founders’ passion was to live free before God, unfettered by the chains of autocracy, shackles that slowly but inexorably bind men when the governments they fashion fail to recognize and uphold freedom’s singular, foundational truth: that all men are created in the image of God, and are thereby co-equally endowed with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This presentation is a similar call, not to one but many. By reintroducing the principles of freedom that gave birth to America, it is our prayer that Jesus, the true and only ruler over the nations, will once again be our acknowledged Sovereign, that we may again know and exult in the great truth that “where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).
Welcome to the Second American Revolution!
This DVD features “Liberty: The Model of Christian Liberty” along with “Dawn’s Early Light: A Brief History of America’s Christian Foundations.” Bonus features include a humorous but instructive collection of campaign ads and Eric Holmberg’s controversial YouTube challenge concerning Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.
$14.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)
Special Two-Disc Set!
After 40 years of intense study and world-wide ministry, Dr. Francis Schaeffer completed his crowning work of scholarship – to present profound truths in simple film language. Dr. Schaeffer’s brilliant analysis of the past and predictions for current trends have proven so uncannily accurate that this amazing series still feels contemporary almost three decades after its initial release. Ultimately, Schaeffer concludes that man’s only hope is a return to God’s Biblical absolute, the truth revealed in Christ through the Scriptures.
Available for the first time on DVD, this documentary spectacular also includes intimate in-depth conversations with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. With the on-disc study guide, this presentation forms a unique course of comprehensive study. While this series forms an innovative analysis of the past, this outstanding work is more than history. Each episode focuses on a significant era, yet speaks clearly to 21st-century man with answers for modern problems.
$49.95 — ORDER NOW!(We accept all major credit cards and PayPal.)