37 Best Shelby Steele Quotes on Success and Racism

Shelby Steele, a political commentator and essayist, was born in Chicago in 1946.

His parents, involved in the Civil Rights Movement, introduced him early to its activities.

With a mixed-race heritage, Steele saw race from a unique perspective. He met his wife Rita at Coe College in Iowa, where he was involved in SCOPE, associated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

After graduating in 1968, he pursued an M.A. in sociology at Southern Illinois University and a Ph.D. in English at the University of Utah.


Facing racial hostility in Utah, he declined a tenured position there and joined San Jose State University in 1974.

Steele earned an Emmy in 1990 and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1991.

By 1994, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, studying race relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action.

Here is a top collection of quotes by Shelby Steele.

Top 10 Shelby Steele Quotes


1. “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).


2. “My individuality is my gift to my people.” ~ (Shelby Steele).


3. “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).


4. “A black conservative is a black who dissents from the victimization explanation of black fate.” ~ (Shelby Steele).


5. “It is time for blacks to begin the shift from a wartime to a peacetime identity, from fighting for the opportunity to the seizing of it.” ~ (Shelby Steele).


6. “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).


7. “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).


8. “From this point on, the race’s advancement will come from the efforts of its individuals.” ~ (Shelby Steele).


9. “The promised land guarantees nothing. It is only an opportunity, not a deliverance.” ~ (Shelby Steele).


10. “Do not hurt your neighbor, for it is not him you wrong but yourself.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

Best Shelby Steele Quotes

11. “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).

12. “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).

13. “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).

14. “Opportunity follows struggle. It follows effort. It follows hard work. It doesn’t come before.” ~ (Shelby Steele).


15. “My rule is, whatever is the most urgent is what I do next.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

16. “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).

17. “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).


18. “Hatred is a transformative power. It can make the innocuous into the menacing.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

19. “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).

Famous Shelby Steele Quotes

20. “Every single progressive education fad of the past thirty years has hurt poor black children.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

21. “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).

22. “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).


23. “You will be far more likely to receive racial preferences than to suffer racial discrimination.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

24. “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).

Inspiring Shelby Steele Quotes

25. “Freedom always carries the burden of proof, always throws us back on ourselves.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

26. “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).


27. “The fact is that we blacks are free.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

28. “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).

29. “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).

30. “When blacks become humanly visible when their true beliefs are known, their mask shatters and their symbiotic bond with whites is broken.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

31. “I’ve tried to be graceful and I’ve tried to make sure my arguments are grounded in reason and insight.” ~ (Shelby Steele).


32. “Innocents don’t learn from their sins; the chastened are informed by them.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

33. “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).

34. “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).


35. “There’s a little racism out here, always was, and always will be.” ~ (Shelby Steele).

36. “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).

37. “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).

You Might Like

Short Biography of Shelby Steele

Shelby Steele, born in 1946 in Phoenix, Illinois, is a renowned author, columnist, and filmmaker with a focus on race relations.


He’s a Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and has received accolades like the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Medal of the Humanities.

Full Name Shelby Steele
Born 1 January 1946 (age 78 years), Chicago, Illinois, United States
Education Coe College,
The University of Utah (PhD),
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville,
Thornton Township High School
Spouse Rita Steele (m. 1967)
Children Eli Steele, Loni Steele Sosthand
Parents Ruth Steele, Shelby Sr. Steele
Siblings Claude Steele

Raised in a mixed-race family active in civil rights, he pursued education fervently, earning degrees in political science, sociology, and English.

Steele’s career includes two decades teaching English at San Jose State University and a lifelong commitment to exploring complex societal themes.

Quick Facts about Shelby Steele

  • Shelby Steele, born on January 1, 1946, is a multifaceted personality: an author, columnist, filmmaker, and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
  • He won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1990 for “The Content of Our Character,” a work in the general nonfiction category.
  • In 2004, Steele was honored with the prestigious National Medal of the Humanities.
  • Originating from Phoenix, Illinois, Steele grew up in a mixed-race household with a black father and white mother.
  • Steele’s parents were integral in founding the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), showing a strong family lineage of civil rights activism.
  • His educational journey includes a B.A. in political science, an M.A. in sociology, and a Ph.D. in English, highlighting his diverse academic background.
  • Steele’s brother, Claude Steele, is a notable figure in psychology, further showcasing a family committed to academic and social achievements.
  • For two decades, Steele imparted knowledge as an English professor at San Jose State University, shaping young minds.
  • Known for his conservative views, especially on race relations and affirmative action, Steele’s opinions often stir up dialogue.
  • He believes affirmative action and similar policies have not effectively promoted equal opportunity for African Americans.
  • Steele argues that the concept of victimization is detrimental to black Americans, advocating for a culture of excellence and personal responsibility.
  • His book “A Bound Man” delves into Barack Obama’s struggle with his biracial identity and its impact on his political stance.
  • Despite Obama’s eventual presidential win, Steele has maintained his critical viewpoint, comparing Obama to figures like Louis Armstrong who navigated racial acceptance through bargaining.
  • Steele praises the moral progress of white Americans since the 1960s, urging recognition of this advancement.
  • He holds a critical stance on global perceptions of Israel, challenging what he sees as unfounded condemnations.
  • Steele’s documentary “What Killed Michael Brown?” explores racial tensions in the U.S., particularly the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri.
  • The documentary faced initial resistance from Amazon Prime Video, sparking debates on censorship and media bias.
  • Steele believes that “poetic truth” surrounding events like Michael Brown’s death obscures the factual truth, highlighting societal issues in race relations.
  • His father’s humble beginnings as a truck driver and his mother’s role as a social worker rooted Steele in a background of resilience and community service.
  • Steele’s academic achievements and activism reflect his deep engagement with issues of race, identity, and societal progress in America.

Top Questions about Shelby Steele

Q: When was Shelby Steele awarded the National Humanities Medal for his insightful contributions?

A: Shelby Steele was honored with the National Humanities Medal in 2004.

Q: Can you name a documentary film written and narrated by Shelby Steele that delves into the complex race relations in the United States?

A: The documentary film “What Killed Michael Brown?” was written and narrated by Shelby Steele.

Q: What is Shelby Steele’s stance on affirmative action and similar policies?

A: Shelby Steele opposes affirmative action, viewing it as an ineffective measure that undermines personal responsibility and self-agency among African Americans.

Q: How does Shelby Steele describe the impact of a politicized racial identity, especially in the context of Barack Obama’s experience?

A: Steele suggests that a politicized racial identity, like the one Obama navigates, demands a significant share of an individual’s self, pushing collective grievances to become personal truths, thus constraining personal freedom.

Q: What prestigious award did Steele receive in 1990 for his nonfiction work, “The Content of Our Character”?

A: In 1990, Shelby Steele was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award in the general nonfiction category for “The Content of Our Character.”

Q: What critical perspective does Shelby Steele offer regarding the international community’s view of Israel?

A: Steele criticizes the global opinion on Israel, highlighting a prevailing tendency to condemn the nation for supposed moral infractions, often without substantial basis.

Q: Where was Shelby Steele born, and what was significant about his parents’ background?

A: Shelby Steele was born in Phoenix, Illinois, to parents who were active in the Civil Rights Movement—his father was a truck driver and his mother a social worker.

Q: What significant early life experience did Steele have related to his education and racial understanding?

A: Steele attended segregated public schools in a working-class Chicago suburb, shaping his understanding of race relations from a young age.

Q: In which academic institution did Shelby Steele spend two decades as an English professor?

A: Shelby Steele served as an English professor at San Jose State University for 20 years.

Q: What does Shelby Steele believe to be the greatest barrier to progress for African Americans?

A: Steele posits that the reliance on victimization narratives is the most significant obstacle facing African Americans, hindering genuine progress and self-improvement.

Share with others!
Chandan Negi
Chandan Negi

I’m the Founder of Internet Pillar - I love sharing quotes and motivational content to inspire and motivate people - #quotes #motivation #internetpillar