Shelby Steel: Black Protest Has Lost Its Power

“It is not surprising, then, that these black football players would don the mantle of protest. The surprise was that it didn’t work. They had misread the historic moment. They were not speaking truth to power. Rather, they were figures of pathos, mindlessly loyal to a black identity that had run its course.

What they missed is a simple truth that is both obvious and unutterable: The oppression of black people is over with. This is politically incorrect news, but it is true nonetheless. We blacks are, today, a free people. It is as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise.

Of course this does not mean there is no racism left in American life. 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 our history.

Protest always tries to make a point. But what happens when that point already has been made—when, in this case, racism has become anathema and freedom has expanded?

What happened was that black America was confronted with a new problem: the shock of freedom. This is what replaced racism as our primary difficulty. Blacks had survived every form of human debasement with ingenuity, self-reliance, a deep and ironic humor, a capacity for self-reinvention and a heroic fortitude. But we had no experience of wide-open freedom.”

Steele’s “shock of freedom” concept is spot on. Perhaps it is important to add that the phenomenon is what most people and groups experience when a significant goal is reached or milestone met. First, there is the feeling that life is going to be fantastic from now on, with no problems whatsoever. Then, reality sets in, because there remain significant underlying problems that are not yet resolved or even contemplated. Next, scapegoats are sought, found and bitterly blamed. Finally, an acceptance sets in that the streets never were actually paved with gold and one must work and strive to achieve the fruits of the original goal. True freedom is liberty paired with personal responsibility and accountability…and that can shock anyone to the core. More Steele here. –Jonathan Prichard