Elizabeth Wright Writes On Sam Francis and Shelby Steele
November 25, 2003, 04:00 AM
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From:  Elizabeth Wright [email her]

Re: Shelby Steele Says It Out Loud: Whites Not Equal In The New America, by Sam Francis

I usually enjoy the take-no-prisoners commentary and analyses of Sam Francis, especially on the issue of race.  However, I think he ascribes the wrong motives to Shelby Steele's recent Wall Street Journal article. It could be that Steele's opening remarks about feeling "profoundly" excluded when sighting the Confederate flag set Sam's teeth on edge, and prevented him from giving the rest of the article an objective reading.

I, too, get rankled on the subject of the flag, but not for the reasons cited by Steele. As a black, I find it disappointing when someone as intellectually astute as Steele proves to be one with the race hustlers, who claim to determine, with full authority, what a symbol means in the heads of others.

In the first place, other people's symbols are none of his business. And, secondly, Steele belittles himself by showing that he cares that there might be some white people in the land who may not prefer his company. At the sight of the flag, he explains, he experiences "a little racial aggression against me." In my view, that's one pitiful statement.

However, these remarks do not represent the gist of Steele's commentary. He is not attributing a special evil place in the universe to whites, as Sam implies. I think Steele is saying that in the political and social climate in which we are now globally immersed, where successive generations are being taught to view white history only in light of past aggressions, whites are disinclined to acknowledge a white identify. 

In fact, it has become taboo for whites to do as others, that is, pursue power based on race alone. In his books, Steele makes it clear that he would be pleased if this taboo prevailed for all groups, including blacks. He decries the double standard. In his ideal world, there would be no references to race in the political arena, since the state would not be dishing out benefits on the basis of group differences. In this article he refers to the use of race in this way as "one of history's most destructive formulas."

Contrary to Sam, I believe that Steele is right about Howard Dean's ludicrous reference to devotees of the Confederate flag. Dean is a desperate politician, flailing around in an attempt to create a distinctive niche for himself. As a man of the Left, steeped in identity politics, how else would he view today's Confederates except as a "new neglected race" —that is, a possible wellspring from which to draw minions to his power base?

Sam Francis is right when he reminds us of that "larger truth," that is, no one forbids whites from acknowledging a racial identity except whites themselves. The taboo that now stymies white pride could never have become fixed in place without its acceptance by whites.

That whites feel compelled to adhere to the rules of the race identity taboo is particularly ironic in a country where, for at least the last four decades, almost every traditional taboo has been overturned and every sacred icon irreverently smashed.

Elizabeth Wright is the editor of Issues and Views magazine.