I did not intend to write about this tragic episode until I read Shelby Steele’s excellent essay on it in the Wall Street Journal. As usual on race-driven issues, he nails it, with perceptive insight into the degeneracy of the current conversation on race. The facts will sort themselves out, with no help from the media hype and the race groupies. The sad part is what we have become in terms of our discourse. As Steele notes, there is a certain nostalgia for America’s racist past, when civil rights leaders black and white stood on solid moral ground as historically transformative people with selflessness. But we are now witnessing a period in which race hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have nothing better to do than become purveyors of what Steele calls “poetic truth” as opposed to literal truth, poetic in the sense that it passes itself off as the essential truth in spite of the hard facts and in which in almost all cases comes down as white racism and black victimization.
The other, and even more tragic, point that Steele makes is that before the 1960s the black American identity was based on a sense of common humanity and that race was an artificial and exploitative division between people. Since that period, blacks and their anointed leaders and related race-baiters, aided and abetted by white guilt and an enabling media establishment, have taken their historical victimization as the central theme of their group identity. This is the larger disservice to our civic life.