Shelby Steele Quotes on Racism and Racial Justice
June 29, 2022 12:11 AM EST
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.
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.
Check out our most popular quote article, a list of short inspirational quotes for daily inspiration.
Explore our complete collection of motivational quotes here.
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
Everyday Application: It is simply mind-blowing to thing that segregation ended 1964—just 58 years ago. Segregation led to violence, lower income and other economic issues, and educational inequity. While official segregation is no longer legal, de facto segregation still happens.
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
Everyday Application: There comes a point when the battle shifts from an outright war to reaping the rewards our your fight. Steele is not claiming that everything is perfect in regards to equality. However, there are opportunities that were not available before, and people need to make sure they are taking advantage of them.
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
Everyday Application: Steele speaks a lot about the concept of white guilt. He explains that white guilt is not a guilt of conscience, but rather ‘that in relation to black Americans you lack moral authority.” Essentially, it equates to white people trying to prove they are not racist and avoid that stigma.
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
Everyday Application: Whether you have faced racism, trauma, or other hardships this is excellent advice. You might have been victimized by something, but you do not have to stay in that space. You can reclaim your power and choose your own fate.
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
Everyday Application: Racism is a scourge on our society and any modern day forms of it should not be tolerated. The human condition applies to anyone who is human. Which is all of us regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other thing that separates us from one another.
6. “From this point on, the race’s advancement will come from the efforts of its individuals.” – Shelby Steele
Everyday Application: Each of our advancements comes from the efforts of the individual. There are still some roadblocks present to all minorities, but we can overcome them. It might mean more work for us than for others (and that is unfair and wrong), but it doesn’t mean that it is not possible for us to move the needle closer to living the life we crave.
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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
Everyday Application: Some people view the Confederate flag as a symbol of southern heritage and the sacrifices of war. That is their right. However, knowing that the flag has deep rooted racial tones you would think that most people could empathize with why it shouldn’t be displayed at schools, courthouses, and other public buildings. The lesson here is not what you think about the flag, but rather that we should kind and respectful of other people.
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
Everyday Application: There are so many facets and opinions on race theory and privilege. However, one thing we might all agree on, is that each of us has a responsibility to be our best selves. We also have a responsibility to do the right thing, treat others with respect, and not discriminate.
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
Everyday Application: Discrimination, for any reason, is just wrong. We are all human, every person should have the same opportunities as the next person. Whether you will take action toward those opportunities should ultimately be up to you.
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
Everyday Application: The differences between where we started and where we are now are vast! It is not perfect, and there is more to be done, but opportunities are out there. Just like with anything it will take hard work, sacrifice, and commitment to achieve your goals, but you can do it!
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
Everyday Application: Struggle, effort, and hard work are all part of any major success story. Disney was rejected by banks and financiers about 300 times before someone finally said yes. Then came the Disney we know today. Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected by publishers about thirty times. Now if it is a popular horror movie, chances are it was based on a Stephen King novel. Their success came after their struggles.
33. “My rule is, whatever is the most urgent is what I do next.” – Shelby Steele
Everyday Application: Prioritize your day and your life. What must be done next in order for your survival or to reach your goals? Do those things, and then if there is time worry about the other stuff. Make your dreams an urgent priority.
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
Everyday Application: Things like money, education, and status can help set you up for an easier go at success. However, people with much less advantages have been able to claw their way to the top. It is a struggle and an uncomfortable battle at times. However, they want it more than anything and they will make the sacrifices required to get there.
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.