Shelby Steele Replies

Shelby Steele Replies

Martin Kilson is arguing with a phantom of his own making. Yet I am grateful for his letter because it so vividly illustrates the distorting powers of the enemy-memory that I discussed in my essay. One
will note in his letter the virtual tribute he pays to the continuing power of white racism to constrict black life: “Life chances of most black individualistic achievers are intricately conditioned and calibrated by myriad vicious racist patterns and motifs. . . .” What Kilson misses as he places blacks in this Skinner box of racist conditioning is the vast power he is ascribing to whites and the corresponding impotence he is ascribing to blacks. (Even I, as a well-known pet of the neoconservatives, cannot bring myself to flatter whites in this way.) This is precisely the sort of self-defeating paradigm the enemy-memory pulls forward from the past and imposes on the present. If it is true that racism is still a barrier for blacks (and I believe it is), then it is also true that we are no longer a powerless people “conditioned and calibrated” by vicious whites. I think it is the enemy-memory that leads Kilson to see lizards and call them dragons.

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Lima