A friend pointed me to an interview with Shelby Steele from the January 11th, 2008 episode of Bill Moyer’s Journal. In the interview, Steele argues that Obama’s chance of reaching the Whitehouse is slimmer than his supporters would like to admit. It’s a very enlightening and frank conversation about race in 21st century America, and even though it was recorded in the wake of the New Hampshire primary with its discrepencies between exits polls and results, the interview is still quite relevant and worth checking out. A snippet from the transcipt:
BILL MOYERS: Yeah. You say in here, white people like Barack Obama a little too much for the comfort of many blacks.
SHELBY STEELE: Yes. Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
SHELBY STEELE: Well, the black American identity, certainly black American politics are grounded in what I call challenging. It’s basically, they look at white America and say we’re going to presume that you’re a racist until you prove otherwise. The whole concept is you keep whites on the hook. You keep the leverage. You keep the pressure. Here’s a guy who’s what I call a bargainer who’s giving whites the benefit of the doubt.
BILL MOYERS: Give me a simple definition of what you call a bargainer. And a simple definition of what you call a challenger.
SHELBY STEELE: A bargainer is a black who enters the American, the white American mainstream by saying to whites in effect, in some code form, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m not going to rub the shame of American history in your face if you will not hold my race against me. Whites then respond with enormous gratitude. And bargainers are usually extremely popular people. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier back in the Sixties and so forth. Because they give whites this benefit of the doubt. That you can be with these people and not feel that you’re going to be charged with racism at any instant. And so they tend to be very successful, very popular.
Challengers on the other hand say, I presume that you, this institution, this society, is racist until it proves otherwise by giving me some concrete form of racial preference.
In light of developments since New Hampshire, perhaps Steele has reconsidered his pessimism regarding Obama’s chances. Still, it’s an intriguing interview. Watch it here.