Shelby Steele (born January 1, 1946, Chicago) is an American author, columnist, documentary film maker, and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, specialising in the study of race relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action.In 1990, he received the National Book Critics Circle Award in the general non-fiction category for his book The Content of Our Character.
Steele was born to a black father and a white mother. His father, Shelby, Sr., a black truck driver, met his mother, Ruth, a white social worker, while working for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). His twin brother is Columbia University Provost Claude Steele.
Shelby Steele received a B.A. in political science from Coe College, an M.A. in sociology from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Utah. Steele met his wife, Rita, during his junior year at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he was one of eighteen black students in his class. Steele was active in SCOPE, a group linked to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and he met Rita at an activist meeting. In 1968, Steele graduated from Coe and went on to earn his master's degree in sociology from Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville. Steele attended the University of Utah, where he taught black literature and studied for his Ph.D. After earning a Ph.D. in English in 1974, Steele was offered a tenured position at the university, but turned it down due to hostility encountered as part of an interracial couple in Utah. Steele accepted a position at San Jose State University as a professor of English literature, teaching there from 1974 to 1991.
Steele is a self-described Black conservative. He opposes movements such as affirmative action, which he considers to be unsuccessful liberal campaigns to promote equal opportunity for African-Americans. He contends that blacks have been "twice betrayed": first, by slavery and oppression, and second, by group preferences mandated by the government that discourage self-agency and personal responsibility in blacks.
Steele believes that the use of victimization is the greatest hindrance for black Americans. In his view, white Americans see blacks as victims to ease their guilty conscience, while blacks attempt to turn their status as victims into a kind of currency with no purchasing power. Therefore, he claims, blacks must stop "buying into this zero-sum game" by adopting a "culture of excellence and achievement" without relying on "set-asides and entitlements."
On Barack Obama
Steele wrote a short book A Bound Man: Why We are Excited about Obama and Why He Can't Win, published in December 2007. The book contained Steele's analysis of Barack Obama's character as a child born to a mixed couple who then has to grow as a black man. Steele then concludes that Barack Obama is a "bound man" to his "black identity." Steele gives this description of his conclusion:
After Obama won the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Steele defended his analysis and claimed that the subtitle of the book was simply a marketing device that he had only put "about 30 seconds" of thought into. He explains Obama's victory by likening him to Louis Armstrong, donning the "bargainer's mask" in his bid for white acceptance. In his analysis, he takes whites — whom he claims have for decades been stigmatized as racist and had to prove they are not — "off the hook." On Uncommon Knowledge, an interview program for the Hoover Institute hosted by Peter Robinson, he said "White America has made tremendous moral progress since the '60s... And they've never given themselves credit for that. And here is an opportunity at last to document this progress".
Shelby has been critical in what he describes as the "world opinion" of Israel.