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Shelby Steele Quotes on Racism and Racial Justice

It’s important to look at different perspectives when addressing racial justice. These Shelby Steele quotes can help you do that.

Social justice and racism have been a large part of the conversation in the last year. Shelby Steele is an African-American conservative author, documentary filmmaker, and columnist. He’s also a Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

A Picture of Shelby Steele

Steele specializes in things like Affirmative Action and racial injustice. However, he thinks of himself as an individual, which has helped him to gain his own perspective and understanding on these topics instead of simply following the narrative.

Don’t forget to also read these equality quotes about the importance of how we treat each other.

Shelby Steele quotes on racial equity

1. “Blacks have experienced a history of victimization in America, beginning obviously in slavery and then another 100 years of segregation. I grew up in segregation. I know very well what it was about and all of the difficulties it placed on black life, and how we were truly held down before the civil-rights movement.” – Shelby Steele

2. “It is time for blacks to begin the shift from a wartime to a peacetime identity, from fighting for opportunity to the seizing of it.” – Shelby Steele

3. “The most striking irony of the age of white guilt is that racism suddenly became valuable to the people who had suffered it.” – Shelby Steele

4. “There also comes a time when he must stop thinking of himself as a victim by acknowledging that—existentially—his fate is always in his own hands.” – Shelby Steele

5. “Racism is endemic to the human condition, just as stupidity is. We will always have to be on guard against it. But now it is recognized as a scourge, as the crowning immorality of our age and history.” – Shelby Steele

6. “From this point on, the race’s advancement will come from the efforts of its individuals.” – Shelby Steele

7. “I do not like the Confederate flag. It excludes me, profoundly. And if many good people fought honorably to defend it, I still experience the sight of it as a little racial aggression against me.” – Shelby Steele

8. “Normally, ‘black responsibility’ is a forbidden phrase for a black leader – not because blacks reject responsibility, but because even the idea of black responsibility weakens moral leverage over whites.” – Shelby Steele

9. “I wrote a piece in the New York Times back in the Nineties saying that racial discrimination ought to be a criminal offense, not just a civil one. I’m all for the criminalization of discrimination.” – Shelby Steele

10. “I grew up black in segregated America, where it was hard to find an open door. It’s harder now for young blacks to find a closed one.” – Shelby Steele

11. “I decided to live as an individual and as I grew older, and thought more, and read more and experienced more, my views become more conservative. But my group is liberal. Not only that, they say, ‘If you’re not liberal and not a Democrat, you’re not black. If you’re conservative, you’re a sellout.’ Here, then I’m living with that kind of pressure against my individuality.” – Shelby Steele

12. “For black leaders in the age of white guilt, the problem was how to seize all they could get from white guilt without having to show actual events of racism. Global racism was the answer. With it, the smallest racial incident provided the “global truth” of “systematic racism”.” – Shelby Steele

Shelby Steele quotes on affirmative action

13. “No matter how accomplished we may be, just any little white person can come up and say, ‘Well, you wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for Affirmative Action.’ You put power in white people’s hands, and then they use it against you. It’s a trick bag.” – Shelby Steele

14. “Most important, [research on affirmative action] has completely failed to show that affirmative action ever closes the academic gap between minorities and whites. And failing in this, affirmative action also fails to help blacks achieve true equality with whites – the ultimate measure of which is parity in skills and individual competence. Without this underlying parity, there can never be true equality in employment, income levels, rates of homeownership, educational achievement, and the rest.” – Shelby Steele

15. “Too often the result of affirmative action has been an artificial diversity that gives the appearance of parity between blacks and whites that has not yet been achieved in reality… Preferences tend to attack one form of discrimination with another… Affirmative action encourages a victim-focused identity, and send the message that there is more power in our past suffering than in our present achievements.” – Shelby Steele

16. “In talking with affirmative-action administrators and with blacks and whites in general, I found that supporters of affirmative action focus on its good intentions and detractors emphasize its negative effects. It was virtually impossible to find people outside either camp.” – Shelby Steele

17. “My experience in life tells me that the values that are now being labeled ‘conservative’ are the only way that blacks can get ahead.” – Shelby Steele

More Shelby Steele quotes on racial equality

18. “White Americans live under this accusation that they’re racist, they need to prove that they’re not racist. In order to prove that you’re not racist, you need to take over the fate of black people and say, go with us, we’ll engineer you into the future, we’ll engineer you into equality.” – Shelby Steele

19. “Thomas Sowell, among many others, has articulated the power of individual responsibility as an antidote to black poverty for over 40 years. Black thinkers as far back as Frederick Douglas and Booker T. Washington have done the same.” – Shelby Steele

20. “A black conservative is a black who dissents from the victimization explanation of black fate.” – Shelby Steele

21. “But blacks make little to no progress and, worse, the preoccupation with injustice only leaves them eternally inconsolable and cut off from their own best energies and talents.” – Shelby Steele

22. “The fact is that we blacks are free.” – Shelby Steele

23. “Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton cannot write a timeless letter to us from a Birmingham jail or walk, as John Lewis did in 1965, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., into a maelstrom of police dogs and billy clubs.” – Shelby Steele

24. “So we’ve never had a President of the United States ask anything of black citizens. And I think the reason for that is they’ve all felt that if they presume to do that, that they would be stigmatized as racist.” – Shelby Steele

25. “White-on-black shootings evoke America’s history of racism and so carry an iconic payload of menace. Black-on-black shootings carry no such payload, although they are truly menacing to the black community. They evoke only despair.” – Shelby Steele

26. “I think we have come to a place in black America, sadly from my point of view, where we have once again begun to rely on our history of victimization as our primary source of power to wield within society.” – Shelby Steele
If you’re enjoying these quotes, make sure to read our collection of Black History quotes celebrating the contributions of African Americans.

27. “The problem is that this “place” is in the past. And it does no good to adapt to a past that is only an echo now. There is no refuge there.” – Shelby Steele

28. “America still has a race problem, though not the one that conventional wisdom would suggest the racism of whites toward blacks. Old fashioned white racism has lost its legitimacy in the world and become an almost universal disgrace.” – Shelby Steele

29. “There’s a little racism out here, always was, and always will be.” – Shelby Steele

30. “I’m not going to play a racial game. With me, you’re going to meet a guy named Shelby Steele, and you will have to get to know me as an individual. The color of my skin won’t tell you anything. I think there’s more and more of that in America.” – Shelby Steele

31. “We have laws on the books. If somebody’s discriminating against you, I strongly advocate suing them. That’s the most effective thing you can do in terms of fighting racism. People understand that they’re vulnerable to lawsuit.” – Shelby Steele

Motivational Shelby Steele quotes

32. “Opportunity follows struggle. It follows effort. It follows hard work. It doesn’t come before.” – Shelby Steele

33. “My rule is, whatever is the most urgent is what I do next.” – Shelby Steele

34. “Freedom is just freedom. It is a condition, not an agent of change. It does not develop or uplift those who win it. Freedom holds us accountable no matter the disadvantages we inherit from the past.” – Shelby Steele

35. “My father bought three ramshackle houses, rebuilt them, rented them out, kept clawing his way up the ladder. A man with a third-grade education from the south.” – Shelby Steele

Shelby Steele quotes that will elevate your perspective

36. “The promised land guarantees nothing. It is only an opportunity, not a deliverance.” – Shelby Steele

37. “We are a nation with a powerful investment in the idea of our own fundamental innocence. Our can-do optimism and ingenuity are based on the faith that we are a decent, open, and generous people. This is our identity.” – Shelby Steele

38. “Conservatism is the perfect antidote to underdevelopment. Its commitment to individual responsibility, education, hard work, personal initiative, traditional family values, and free markets is a universal formula for success in a free society.” – Shelby Steele

39. “Racial identity is simply forbidden to whites in America and across the entire Western world. Black children today are hammered with the idea of racial identity and pride, yet racial pride in whites constitutes a grave evil.” – Shelby Steele

40. “Whatever I’m doing, I try to write well. I try to give the reader a nice, clean well-written surface, where the writing is transparent. It probably takes me longer to write things, but it’s very important to me that the writing itself be good.” – Shelby Steele

41. “My individuality is my gift to my people.” – Shelby Steele

42. “The Great Society wanted to make America look like a country in which Little Rock could never have happened. It failed because it was a venture in denial rather than in realistic social transformation.” – Shelby Steele

43. “Every single progressive education fad of the past thirty years has hurt poor black children.” – Shelby Steele

44. “If you are a minority, it is important that you have legal ways to defend yourself in the society in which you live.” – Shelby Steele

45. “Hatred is a transformative power. It can make the innocuous into the menacing.” – Shelby Steele

46. “Freedom always carries the burden of proof, always throws us back on ourselves.” – Shelby Steele

47. “I would love to see us, as blacks, get to the place where we say, ‘I’m not going to play race games with you. Here I am. This is who I am. Take it or leave it.’” – Shelby Steele

48. “Do not hurt your neighbor, for it is not him you wrong but yourself.” – Shelby Steele

49. “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” – Shelby Steele

More Shelby Steele quotes

50. “Whites know never tell blacks what you really think and what you really feel because you risk being seen as a racist. And the result of that is that to a degree, we as blacks live in a bubble. Nobody tells us the truth. Nobody tells us what they would do if they were in our situation. Nobody really helps us.” – Shelby Steele

51. “You will be far more likely to receive racial preferences than to suffer racial discrimination.” – Shelby Steele

52. “In certain quarters, conservatism is simply racism by another name. And minorities who openly identify themselves as conservatives are still novelties, fish out of water.” – Shelby Steele

53. “I’ve tried to be graceful and I’ve tried to make sure my arguments are grounded in reason and insight.” – Shelby Steele

54. “Innocents don’t learn from their sins; the chastened are informed by them.” – Shelby Steele

55. “I know personally that being a conservative minority is a test of character. Identity, after all, is an integral and cherished part of the self.” – Shelby Steele

56. “Racism and bigotry generally are the great driving engines of modern American liberalism. Even a remote hint of racism can trigger a kind of moral entrepreneurism.” – Shelby Steele

57. “When blacks become humanly visible, when their true beliefs are known, their mask shatters and their symbiotic bond with whites is broken.” – Shelby Steele

58. “It was the first truly profound strategic mistake we made in our long struggle for complete equality. It made us a “contingent people” whose fate depended on what others did for us.” – Shelby Steele

59. “Conservatives suddenly saw that they needed to contest liberalism’s capture of the political and cultural establishment.” – Shelby Steele

What did you learn from these Shelby Steele quotes?

Did these Shelby Steele quotes get you thinking? Maybe even questioning some of the longheld beliefs and feelings that you’ve had around the topics of racism and racial justice?

Shelby Steele doesn’t deny that racism exists in the world, but he also shares the message that America is in a much different place now than it was during the Civil Rights movement. He encourages blacks to take responsibility for their lives and the opportunities that are present to them right now.

Shelby Steele grew up in a time of segregation and wants to see people taking advantage of the freedom that they have now instead of falling into the victim role that they are being encouraged to take by some groups. Whether you agree with his stance or not, there are things we can learn by listening to different perspectives.

What’s your biggest takeaway from these Shelby Steele quotes and sayings? Do you have any other favorite quotes to add? Let us know in the comment section below.

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