Monday, February 25, 2008

A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited about Obama and Why He Can't Win

Shelby Steele. A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win
New York: Free Press, 2008.

Reviewed by T. Hatch

Shelby Steele, of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has distinguished himself in a manner that should make thoughtful readers cringe. His slender tome Bound Man with its ebullient self-loathing argument is already – is this still February? – dead on arrival.

Steele asserts that black people have two options in dealing with white folks. They can put on the mask of a “bargainer” or that of a “challenger.” The latter intimidates while the former cajoles and allows whites the promise of redemption with “racial innocence” serving as the means of indulging their collective guilt. Once a bargainer has attained elite status, offering whites reciprocity as part of the deal, they then ascend to the level of “iconic Negro” e.g. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Colin Powell, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan et al.

Steele opines that Barack Obama is a pioneer because he is the first iconic Negro to bargain his way to the national political stage. But alas, Obama in his accomodationist role vis-à-vis white America threatens black identity. Following in the wake of last autumn’s canard that Obama (like other iconic Negroes) is not “black enough” Steele holds that “Consequently, it is his odd fate to threaten the identity of the group from which he needs almost unanimous support to be politically viable.” (p. 123) Viewing the exit polling of the recent Democratic primaries the question for Shelby Steele might be: is a ratio of 8 to 1 “almost unanimous” enough?

Another question or two comes to mind after choking down Bound Man. Would an antacid offer any relief and which mask exactly was Dr. King wearing?

This book is available at Stewart Library, Grinnell's public library.

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