Shelby Steele

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Shelby Steele
Born (1946-01-01) January 1, 1946 (age 69)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Writer

Shelby Steele (born January 1, 1946) is an American author, columnist, documentary film maker, and a Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, specialising in the study of race relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action. In 1990, he received the National Book Critics Circle Award in the general nonfiction category for his book The Content of Our Character.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Steele was born in Chicago to a black father and a white mother. His father, Shelby Sr., a truck driver, met his mother, Ruth, a social worker, while working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). His twin brother is Claude Steele, who is currently Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at UC Berkeley, and formerly the former dean of the School of Education at Stanford University.

Steele received a B.A. in political science from Coe College, an M.A. in sociology from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Utah. Steele met his wife, Rita, during his junior year at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was one of 18 black students in his class. Steele was active in SCOPE, a group linked to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and he met Rita at an activist meeting. In 1968, Steele graduated from Coe and went on to earn his master's degree in sociology from Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville. Steele attended the University of Utah, where he taught black literature and studied for his Ph.D. After earning a Ph.D. in English in 1974, Steele was offered a tenured position at the university but turned it down owing to hostility encountered as part of an interracial couple in Utah. Steele accepted a position at San Jose State University as a professor of English literature, teaching there from 1974 to 1991.[2]


Steele is a self-described "black conservative".[3] He opposes movements such as affirmative action, which he considers to be unsuccessful liberal campaigns to promote equal opportunity for African Americans. He contends that blacks have been "twice betrayed": first, by slavery and oppression and, second, by group preferences mandated by the government that discourage self-agency and personal responsibility in blacks.[4]

Steele believes that the use of victimization is the greatest hindrance for black Americans. In his view, white Americans see blacks as victims to ease their guilty conscience, while blacks attempt to turn their status as victims into a kind of currency that will purchase nothing of real or lasting value. Therefore, he claims, blacks must stop "buying into this zero-sum game" by adopting a "culture of excellence and achievement" without relying on "set-asides and entitlements."[4]

Barack Obama[edit]

A Bound Man

Steele wrote a short book, A Bound Man: Why We are Excited about Obama and Why He Can't Win, published in December 2007. The book contained Steele's analysis of Barack Obama's character as a child born to a mixed couple who then has to grow as a black man.[5] Steele then concludes that Barack Obama is a "bound man" to his "black identity." Steele gives this description of his conclusion:

After Obama won the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Steele defended his analysis and claimed that the subtitle of the book was simply a marketing device that he had only put "about 30 seconds" of thought into.[6] He explains Obama's victory by likening him to Louis Armstrong, donning the "bargainer's mask" in his bid for white acceptance. In his analysis, he takes whites—who he claims have for decades been stigmatized as racist and had to prove they are not—"off the hook." On Uncommon Knowledge, an interview program for the Hoover Institute hosted by Peter Robinson, he said: "White America has made tremendous moral progress since the '60s.... And they've never given themselves credit for that. And here is an opportunity at last to document this progress."[7]

On Israel[edit]

Steele has been critical in what he describes as the "world opinion" of Israel.[8]



Documentary films[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Past winners of the National Book Critics Circle Award". National Book Critics Circle. Archived from the original on 2007-01-01. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Steele, Shelby (1991-09-01). The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America. Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-097415-X. 
  4. ^ a b c Steele, Shelby (2006-05-02). White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-057862-9. 
  5. ^ Shelby Steele, The Obama Bargain, The Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2008
  6. ^ Cohen, Noam (2008-11-10). "‘Why Obama Can't Win' Author Defends Analysis". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Israel and the Surrender of the West
  9. ^ "Brief information about Shelby Steele". PBS. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 

External links[edit]