“Race-holding” by Shelby Steele.
Either before you read this assignment or afterwards, you must read the assigned essay “Race-holding” by Shelby Steele. The last few pages of “Race-Holding” served as a great example for this assignment. So, when you read the essay, you should read the whole essay but pay special attention to the last five pages. At the bottom of page 30, Steele narrates an experience he has at a cocktail party. The narration lasts for no more than a paragraph or two at the most, and the rest of the chapter Steele gives his self-evaluation and analysis of this experience. While the narration and analysis is initially of Steele, he does broaden the analysis to include the community of blacks. What you should notice is the basis of his analysis. Steele uses the value of “personal responsibility,” and uses the concepts of “race-holding” and “honest protestor” to develop his analysis.
During the cocktail party, Steele engages in a 1960s activity of what he calls “harangue-flagellation.” As Steele says, blacks would harangue white liberals about racism in America, and whites would allow themselves to be harangued to appease their white guilt. Steele says harangue-flagellation fell out of use in the 1980s and 1990s after America became less racist and began to admit minorities into the institutions America had originally excluded them from. However, because Steele feels uneasy at this cocktail party, since he’s the only black person in the middle of an all white party and also because he’s in a peevish mood, he decides to resurrect the activity of harangue-flagellation. So, when a white woman makes a comment about Jesse Jackson’s style of speech, Steele goes after her. In no time, Steele lectures the whole crowd of whites that America is still a racist country and blacks are still locked out of mainstream society because of their skin color.
After Steele leaves the party, he has time to reflect and give his evaluative analysis on his actions. Contrary to his actions at the party, Steele berates himself for his condescending tone. He believes his actions were irresponsible and cowardly. He realizes that race wasn’t the issue, but his insecurities and uneasiness about being the only black at the party drove him to harangue-flagellations. Steele draws a distinction between “race-holding” and “honest protesting.” A race-holder uses his race to his benefit not because he wishes to correct the wrongs of racism, not because he wishes to correct an unfair act and make it fair, and not because he wishes to strike down barriers in people so people will understand or accept a black person’s humanity. A race-holder uses race and racism to attain the status of victim, to hide his insecurities and his fears. In other words, race-holders attempt to gain power through victimization which is a denial of personal responsibility.
On the other hand, an honest protestor does have the right to acknowledge acts of racism and acts that have perhaps made him or her a victim. However, an honest protestor never evokes race or racism to deny personal responsibility. The honest protestor wants the wrong to be corrected, wants the unfairness to become fair, and wants the racism to be acknowledged not so the honest protestor can remain a victim but so the honest protestor can reaffirm his/her humanity and be allowed to become fully human. In other words, race-holding, according to Steele, asks for entitlement; honest protesting asks for the chance to enact personal responsibility so he or she can develop the necessary job, educational, or life skills a person may need in order to improve him or herself. Remember, Steele broadens his analysis to include himself as well as the general black community. Steele builds a psychological framework for his critique in order to discuss and develop barriers and responsibilities he as well as the black community faces.
You can read the essay and fill in any of the blanks I may have missed. So, in a nut shell, here’s your assignment. You need to develop a personal narrative of a few paragraphs and then give your critique of your narrative. That sounds simple enough, but this might be the most difficult paper you have had to write this semester. A simple assignment may carry the more difficult problems. First off, you need to consider what issue your personal, short narration develops. For Steele, clearly race was at the heart of his issue, and specially race between whites and blacks. But you can develop a narration on any issue you wish. But here’s the catch. The issue must be relevant both to your identity and community. For Steele, he’s not only an individual black man but a black man in the black community of intellectuals. I know those two identities go hand in hand, but you still need to be conscious of both of those in your essay. You need to be conscious of those two identities in your narration and in your analysis. Your analysis must include yourself as well as your community. Your narration doesn’t have to speak to the issue of race or immigration. You can develop a specific issue related to gender, social issue, religion, etc. But you narration must be rooted in a specific issue.
Next, you need to consider the value(s), the perspective(s), the lens you will use to critique your personal narration. Here again, remember, you’re critiquing yourself as well as your community. For Steele, he makes a psychological analysis of himself and then extends this to the black community. And yet, Steele isn’t Freud or Jung. I’m not asking you to be an expert in any given field, but I’m asking you to be observant about yourself and your community. Steele uses a psychological perspective because he analyzes his motivations and the motivations of other blacks. Or I should say, once he analyzes himself, he extends his analysis of motivations to others in the black community. Also, he links his psychological analysis to a specific value—personal responsibility. In fact, Steele writes, “Personal responsibility is the brick and mortar of power. The responsible person knows that the quality of his life is something that he will have to make inside the limits of his fate.” So you need to consider how you view this experience and what value(s) you will use to critique yourself.
But lastly, let me remind you that Steele’s whole experience and analysis operates inside a specific community. Consider a specific community you’re involved in and what values that community shares. Steele understands that inside the political black community he could justify his harangue-flagellation. At the bottom of page 31, Steele writes, “I told them that racism had been driven underground in the sixties and seventies, where more insidious strategies for foiling the possibilities of black people had evolved. I pointed to the black unemployment rate, the continued segregation of many schools, housing discrimination, and so on” (31-32). In other words, Steele gives the standard argument one segment of the black community would have given. Steele understands what justifications he could have for his harangue-flagellations. However, Steele uses the value of personal responsibility, of race-holder and honest protestor, to critique whether this standard argument from his own community is valid. Here again, in your analysis, as well as in your narration, you can take the same strategy as Steele. Be conscious as to how your community would understand your actions and attitudes, and then critique those actions and attitudes that your own community would accept to see whether in your final analysis you agree with your actions and attitudes from your community.
Note: However, if you use sources, you must have proper in-text citations and works cited. If you don’t have a works cited page and/or in-text citations, you very well may receive a non-passing score.