Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Innocent Man

This passage, from Shelby Steele's 1988 essay "I'm Black, You're White, Who's Innocent?" struck me as particularly perceptive:

I’m convinced that the secret of Reagan’s “teflon” coating, his personal popularity apart from his policies and actions, has been his ability to offer mainstream America a vision of itself as innocent and entitled (unlike Jimmy Carter, who seemed to offer only guilt and obligation). Probably his most far-reaching accomplishment has been to reverse somewhat the pattern by which innocence came to be distributed in the ’60s, when outsiders were innocent and insiders were guilty. Corporations, the middle class, entrepreneurs, the military—all villains in the ’60s—either took on a new innocence in Reagan’s vision or were designated as protectors of innocence. But again, for one man to be innocent another man must be bad or guilty. Innocence imposes, demands, division and conflict, a right/wrong view of the world. And this, I feel, has led to the underside of Reagan’s achievement. His posture of innocence draws him into a partisanship that undermines the universality of his values. He can’t sell these values to blacks and others because he has made blacks into the bad guys and outsiders who justify his power. It is humiliating for a black person to like Reagan because Reagan’s power is so clearly derived from a distribution of innocence that leaves a black with less of it, and the white man with more.

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