The Decline of the Civil-Rights Establishment

trayvon-1Several years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder called out the American people, saying that we “were a nation of cowards,” and “that we needed an honest discussion of race.” Because he is a magistrate in a culturally Marxist administration, I never really believed him. Most LiberaProgressives, or whatever it is that they call themselves these days are anything but honest. Their stated purpose as stated by their holy prophet Saul Alinsky has always been to overturn the traditional, Christian values that underpinned our nation (and yes, our Constitution).

Nobody really wants an “honest discussion” on race anymore than anybody really wants an honest discussion on anything else. Most of us trudge through our picayune existences comforted by the harmless little illusions that make our lives bearable. Nothing really wrong with that. As the sociologist Abigail Thernstrom wrote sometime in the last century, what is needed with regards to race is a little “benign neglect.” I concur.

These United States are no longer the hotbed of racial intolerance that characterized Jim Crow. For Heaven’s sake, we just re-elected the first black president in history! Give it a rest. But no, because our president chose to listen to demagogues such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he has decided to wade back into the whole Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman imbroglio, muddying the waters that were beginning to recede thanks to level heads such as Bill Cosby and Charles Barckley.

So guess what? We are now going really have that “honest conversation” after all. It’s all going to come tumbling out. So we might as well start at the top and expose the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Civil Rights Movement, Inc. (As Orthodox Christians we might want to consider the parallels between the Civil Rights establishment and our own feeble attempts at official unity –both operate on the fumes of a past, more heroic generation.)

Source: Wall Street Journal | Shelby Steele

The Decline of the Civil-Rights Establishment

Black leaders weren’t so much outraged at injustice as they were by the disregard of their own authority.

The verdict that declared George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin was a traumatic event for America’s civil-rights establishment, and for many black elites across the media, government and academia. When you have grown used to American institutions being so intimidated by the prospect of black wrath that they invent mushy ideas like “diversity” and “inclusiveness” simply to escape that wrath, then the crisp reading of the law that the Zimmerman jury displayed comes as a shock.

On television in recent weeks you could see black leaders from every background congealing into a chorus of umbrage and complaint. But they weren’t so much outraged at a horrible injustice as they were affronted by the disregard of their own authority. The jury effectively said to them, “You won’t call the tune here. We will work within the law.”

Martin Luther King Jr. sits in a jail cell at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama in October 1967

Martin Luther King Jr. sits in a jail cell at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama in October 1967

Today’s black leadership pretty much lives off the fumes of moral authority that linger from its glory days in the 1950s and ’60s. The Zimmerman verdict lets us see this and feel a little embarrassed for them. Consider the pathos of a leadership that once transformed the nation now lusting for the conviction of the contrite and mortified George Zimmerman, as if a stint in prison for him would somehow assure more peace and security for black teenagers everywhere. This, despite the fact that nearly one black teenager a day is shot dead on the South Side of Chicago—to name only one city—by another black teenager.

This would not be the first time that a movement begun in profound moral clarity, and that achieved greatness, waned away into a parody of itself—not because it was wrong but because it was successful. Today’s civil-rights leaders have missed the obvious: The success of their forbearers in achieving social transformation denied to them the heroism that was inescapable for a Martin Luther King Jr. or a James Farmer or a Nelson Mandela. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton cannot write a timeless letter to us from a Birmingham jail or walk, as John Lewis did in 1965, across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., into a maelstrom of police dogs and billy clubs. That America is no longer here (which is not to say that every trace of it is gone).

The Revs. Jackson and Sharpton have been consigned to a hard fate: They can never be more than redundancies, echoes of the great men they emulate because America has changed. Hard to be a King or Mandela today when your monstrous enemy is no more than the cherubic George Zimmerman.

Why did the civil-rights leadership use its greatly depleted moral authority to support Trayvon Martin? This young man was, after all, no Rosa Parks—a figure of indisputable human dignity set upon by the rank evil of white supremacy. Trayvon threw the first punch and then continued pummeling the much smaller Zimmerman. Yes, Trayvon was a kid, but he was also something of a menace. The larger tragedy is that his death will come to very little. There was no important principle or coherent protest implied in that first nose-breaking punch. It was just dumb bravado, a tough-guy punch.

The civil-rights leadership rallied to Trayvon’s cause (and not to the cause of those hundreds of black kids slain in America’s inner cities this very year) to keep alive a certain cultural “truth” that is the sole source of the leadership’s dwindling power. Put bluntly, this leadership rather easily tolerates black kids killing other black kids. But it cannot abide a white person (and Mr. Zimmerman, with his Hispanic background, was pushed into a white identity by the media over his objections) getting away with killing a black person without undermining the leadership’s very reason for being.

The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism. This idea of victimization is an example of what I call a “poetic truth.” Like poetic license, it bends the actual truth in order to put forward a larger and more essential truth—one that, of course, serves one’s cause. Poetic truths succeed by casting themselves as perfectly obvious: “America is a racist nation”; “the immigration debate is driven by racism”; “Zimmerman racially stereotyped Trayvon.” And we say, “Yes, of course,” lest we seem to be racist. Poetic truths work by moral intimidation, not reason.

In the Zimmerman/Martin case the civil-rights establishment is fighting for the poetic truth that white animus toward blacks is still such that a black teenager—Skittles and ice tea in hand—can be shot dead simply for walking home. But actually this establishment is fighting to maintain its authority to wield poetic truth—the authority to tell the larger society how it must think about blacks, how it must respond to them, what it owes them and, then, to brook no argument.

The Zimmerman/Martin tragedy has been explosive because it triggered a fight over authority. Who gets to say what things mean—the supporters of George Zimmerman, who say he acted in self-defense, or the civil-rights establishment that says he profiled and murdered a black child? Here we are. And where is the authority to resolve this? The six-person Florida jury, looking carefully at the evidence, decided that Mr. Zimmerman pulled the trigger in self-defense and not in a fury of racial hatred.

And here, precisely at the point of this verdict, is where all of America begins to see this hollowed-out civil-rights establishment slip into pathos. Almost everyone saw this verdict coming. It is impossible to see how this jury could have applied the actual law to this body of evidence and come up with a different conclusion. The civil-rights establishment’s mistake was to get ahead of itself, to be seduced by its own poetic truth even when there was no evidence to support it. And even now its leaders call for a Justice Department investigation, and they long for civil lawsuits to be filed—hoping against hope that some leaf of actual racial victimization will be turned over for all to see. This is how a once-great social movement looks when it becomes infested with obsolescence.

One wants to scream at all those outraged at the Zimmerman verdict: Where is your outrage over the collapse of the black family? Today’s civil-rights leaders swat at mosquitoes like Zimmerman when they have gorillas on their back. Seventy-three percent of all black children are born without fathers married to their mothers. And you want to bring the nation to a standstill over George Zimmerman?

There are vast career opportunities, money and political power to be gleaned from the specter of Mr. Zimmerman as a racial profiler/murderer; but there is only hard and selfless work to be done in tackling an illegitimacy rate that threatens to consign blacks to something like permanent inferiority. If there is anything good to be drawn from the Zimmerman/Martin tragedy, it is only the further revelation of the corruption and irrelevance of today’s civil-rights leadership.

Mr. Steele is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Among his books is “White Guilt” (HarperCollins, 2007).

A version of this article appeared July 22, 2013, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Decline of the Civil-Rights Establishment.

About GShep


  1. cynthia curran says

    Why can’t the black population move up like the Vietnamese population and some of them supported Martin, the Vietnamese. Blacks like some Hispanics are more into victim hood. The Vietnamese which are more split between the politicial parties tend to do better in the second generation but Blacks and Hispanics are stuck

    • Patrick Henry Reardon says

      Cynthia Curran says, “Blacks like some Hispanics are more into victim hood. ”

      Respectfully, one would appreciate the same qualifier for “Blacks” that was used for “Hispanics.”

      Otherwise, the expression “Blacks” means “All Blacks.”

      I assure you that the African Americans in my Chicago parish are not “more into victim hood.”

      They are also not “stuck.” All of the adults in this group are college graduates (one with a Master’s degree) and productive citizens.

      All of them, without exception, receive Holy Communion with their children every Sunday.

  2. says

    SUPERB!. The clarity with which the writer defines this ugly, sad reality of a mindless, pro-abortion ( which adds millions more black children), self serving and obsolete black civil rights leadership shows the underlining knowledge of the Royal law, which guides his reason to right thinking Christianity. I would love to see this man as a major news network anchor. The sense of fair play, which these leaders ignore, shines brightly in this article.

  3. I understand from other reports that when iced tea and skittles is mixed with Robitussin it makes a powerful drink called ‘lean.’ And that the liver of Martin was partially damaged, possibly due to drinking this concoction. It also affects one’s thinking powers. Apparently it wasn’t an innocent purchase.

    • George Michalopulos says

      Why yes. And he was a habitual marijuana user as well. I’d say his judgment was impaired. Once Zimmerman turned his back and started walking away he doubled-back and attacked. An appalling lack of judgment in my estimation. After all, the pudgy Mexican whom he thought was a homosexual and whom he was going to pummel because he felt he had been “dissed” may have been armed. Guess what? He was.

  4. And I read that in Greece, NY which is pretty close to Rochester, at about the same time, a black man was acquitted of killing a white kid because he killed him in self defense. Seems as if self defense only goes one way for some people.

  5. Anyone who thinks the old Jim Crow days are long gone ought to pull his head out of the sand and look at the way Republican legislatures in places like Texas and North Carolina are trying to bring the good ol’ days of making sure only the “right” people get to vote back. Please

    • George Michalopulos says

      Really? What exactly are the legislatures in these states trying to do to disenfranchise blacks? Make them show a photo ID (like I have to when I go to vote) or like everybody else does when the try to fill an Rx for Lortab?

      FYI, I had to ask a Mexican national for an ID not to long ago to fill his Rx for a cough syrup. Guess what? He pulled out a voter registration card for the state of Gueroro, Mexico. It was as sophisticated as anything put out in the States and it is mandatory for any Mexican national who wants to vote to show it at his voting precinct. If that’s disenfranchisement, then give me more of it.

    • Michael Bauman says

      As George alludes to, we have to have ID to get medicine, by alcohol, drive a car or other on-road vehicle, check out library books, buy insurance and investments, why should we not have to show ID to vote?

      Name me one good reason BOOOOOOOOOOOmer why the most important and critical duty/responsibility of CITZENS should not be protected by a photo ID and proof of citizenship. Unless the integrity of the choice of leaders and national sovereignity mean nothing to you, I can’t think of any reason to not be required to prove who you are and in which nation you are a citizen.

    • Will Harrington says

      The right people being citizens. The only reason I can see for Dems to get upset about laws requiring ID is because threatening to make voter fraud more difficult will also threaten democratic election strategies.

      • Archpriest John W. Morris says

        During the election for county officials, the local newspaper caught poll workers using white out on the registration book so that more than one person could vote using the same name. There are counties in Mississippi who have more voters than people. The Bush justice department actually got convictions of African American political officials in one county in Mississippi for using various methods to cheat and prevent whites from voting. They would have gotten more, but the Holder Justice Department dropped the case. It is only a matter of common sense that a person should have to prove that they are citizens and are who they say they are to vote.

  6. Michael Bauman says

    There is a fascinating interview with Star Parker over on Salvo Magazine ( She founded and runs an organization called CURE and her website ( is even more fascinating. It is another face of the civil rights movement that is real, active and growing but, of course, does not get the press that the old time race hustlers get.

    When she was 15 she bought into the whole promusucity/drugs, no education. blacks can’t succeed because of white hate mantra that is peddled about the inner city. She had four abortions when quite young but was turned around by becoming Christian.

    There are many other people that the powers that be sacrifice for the sake of their false narrative and that Planned Parenthood wants to kill.

  7. I live in Delaware and we have had to produce an ID for years to vote. I have to show an ID at Labcorp, at the bank and other places. I lived in the Dominican Republic and I had to carry a state issued ID to do banking and other stuff., even ride the bus from the Haitian border into the center of the country. And I can tell you that getting my Dominican ID was not an easy process. So what is the big deal? Why shouldn’t someone have to show an ID to vote? Unless the powers that be are trying to fix the vote.

  8. jacksson says

    “This, despite the fact that nearly one black teenager a day is shot dead on the South Side of Chicago—to name only one city—by another black teenager.”

    How about Detroit, the city that just declared bankruptcy?
    Crime in Detroit, Michigan has decreased in many categories since the 1970s, but remains a serious issue. In 2012, Detroit had the highest rate of violent crime of any city over 200,000 in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports, with the proviso that such statistics are unreliable for comparing cities.[1] Annual increases in homicides, combined with a shrinking population, have made Detroit competitive with New Orleans for the highest murder rate in the nation.

  9. In order for the Left to remain politically viable, “racism” must never end. If we were to fall asleep for 100 years and wake up, America would still be “racist.” Or sexist. Or homophobic. The absence of these prejudices would imply that society had learned, moved on, and healed. And it is not in the interests of the Left for this to ever happen.

    Leftism’s ideals are rotten, nihilistic, and destructive, and were thoroughly discredited long ago. There’s no longer any reasonable argument to make in its favor. That’s why the Left has to lie, to ignore history, to ignore economics, to change the meaning of entire languages, to ram unread bills through Congress at 2 am, and to force countervailing opinions into the dust by the use of absurd and oppressive “speech” laws, government-enforced political correctness, mob violence and social ostracization.

    The Left remains a political force only so long as it can convince at least one segment of society that it is much aggrieved. Pick one: Blacks, Latins, females, the disabled, the poor, the homosexual, etc.) Because if you’re not aggrieved, they have nothing to sell you.

    Were these problems to be solved, the Left would die. And the Left must never be permitted to die.

  10. cynthia curran says

    Cynthia Curran says, “Blacks like some Hispanics are more into victim hood. ”

    Respectfully, one would appreciate the same qualifier for “Blacks” that was used for “Hispanics.”

    Otherwise, the expression “Blacks” means “All Blacks.”

    I assure you that the African Americans in my Chicago parish are not “more into victim hood.”

    They are also not “stuck.” All of the adults in this group are college graduates (one with a Master’s degree) and productive citizens.

    All of them, without exception, receive Holy Communion with their children every Sunday.

    Rating: +8 (from 14 votes)
    Well, that’s good, I sometimes have the Asian model minority in my head, some of them don’t make it either.