Archive for May 15th, 2008

15
May
08

Pearson, Steele & Obama

In December last year I posted here in reference to a review of Shelby Steele’s book, A Bound Man

Noel Pearson’s essay in the Monthly offers an intriguing analysis of Steele’s insight into contemporary race relations in America.  There are several compelling paragraphs that refer to responsibility, opportunity, and how uplift occurs in dominant-minority populations.  After reading the essay I was disappointed at what I saw as deficiencies in Pearson’s core argument.

Pearson argues that Obama has not pursued strongly enough the radical centre that integrates core notions (or a contemporary understanding) of responsibility.  Pearson contends that Obama should ‘radically revise’ his account of such issues at the Democratic National Convention in August.   

Obama is being misrepresented.  My observations are that he has pursued the radical centre by offering a style of politics that is untested at the national level in the United States.  This necessarily involves merging notions of opportunity (that inevitably give rise to questions of race and equality) and responsibility.  Promoting notions of ‘black responsibility’ (as Pearson refers) is why Obama has been able to attract such strong support amongst the African-American Democratic base, many independents and a number of Republicans (this strategy is more difficult to pursuit for a non-African-American candidate). 

Pearson holds that ‘the main shortcoming of Obama’s philosophy is that he does not recognise, as Steele has, that the nature of black Americans struggle changed fundamentally after the civil rights victories of the ‘60s’.  A reading of a number of Obama’s work, whether it is his original Dreams of my Father or The Audacity of Hope, or a number of speeches would reveal that he does.   

Pearson goes on to say:

Shelby Steele writes in A Bound Man: ‘despite the fact that Obama clearly seems to accept the importance of individual responsibility in social reform…he offers no thinking on how to build incentives to responsibility into actual social policy.’  There is time enough for Obama to correct his analysis and to move beyond the critical shortcomings of his Philadelphia speech. 

Obama’s work contradicts this assertion.  In The Audacity of Hope, Obama explains that affirmative action policies post 1960s have not displaced the primacy of responsibility amongst the uplifting black middle class.  He notes the true feelings of resentment felt by those excluded from affirmative action.  Obama argues that because it is the responsibility-uplifting paradigm (combined with the removal of institutional racism) that has served to enlarge the black middle class it is the failed complimentary policy, affirmative action, which has compounded the dilemma. 

Continued over the fold.

Continue reading ‘Pearson, Steele & Obama’

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