Shelby Steele on goal of protests over George Floyd's death: It's about victimhood and power

This is a rush transcript from "Life, Liberty & Levin," June 7, 2020. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MARK LEVIN, HOST: Hello America, I'm Mark Levin. This is "Life, Liberty & Levin."

And I call this show the Insurrection because I think that's what's taking place among other things in this country and I have to turn to two gentlemen, who I think know more about what's taking place in our cities than really anybody else who have spent a life studying it and writing about it.

And one of those gentlemen is Shelby Steele who has been on this program before some time ago, Hoover Institution Senior Fellow. He wrote the book, "White Guilt," also, "Shame How America's Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country." He writes for "Harper Magazine" from time to time.

Shelby Steele, I want to thank you for coming on the program. So, let me just throw it to you. You see what's taking place in cities, mostly Democrat-won party cities, mostly Democratic one party states. And yet you see the response from the National Democrats -- Biden, Schumer and Pelosi -
- who barely acknowledge the rioting and the looting that's taking place.

You see the media that report that most of those is peaceful, and you see the allegation: Systemic racism. Is this a Civil Rights Movement? Who's leading the Civil Rights Movement and exactly what is desired out of the Civil Rights Movement? That's a lot so I want to throw it to you, Shelby.

SHELBY STEELE, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Well, that's a good question. One of the questions since the beginning of all this has been what do they want? What is the point of all of this?

I remember, when I was growing up in the Civil Rights Movement and so forth, everybody knew exactly what we wanted, often a piece of legislation, the Civil Rights Bill or some something else that was specific and concrete.

This insurrection seems just sort of, well, unclear. It is unmotivated by anything that it says itself, and so, what is it really about -- it seems to me is the question and that I think that what is really happening is that it is nothing really new.

The Civil Rights Argument that triggered this that there was police abuse, and so forth. A very familiar story. I saw that in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere. It seems to me that in many ways it's about power.

And in order to have -- to pursue power as they do, you have to have victims. And my God, George Floyd is the archetypal victim and the whole incident, his murder is sort of a metaphor for the Civil Rights agenda and the grievance industry agenda.

Here is somebody -- utter complete, innocent -- tortured to death. Well, wow. The excitement that that triggers on the left in America. It validates their claims that America is a wretched country that they must get recourse for what for what goes on and so forth.

So it feeds this old model of operation that we've developed that America is guilty of racism, guilty of the sin and has been for four centuries, and minorities are victims who are entitled.

And so when people start to talk about systemic racism built into the system, what they're really doing is expanding the territory of entitlement.

We want more. We want more. We want the society to give us more to help us and so forth. Society is responsible for us, and because racism is so systemic.

Well, that's a corruption. And I know it's a corruption because the truth of the matter is, blacks have never been less oppressed than they are to date. Opportunity is around every corner, and in all of this, no one ever stops to say, well, you're unhappy about where minorities are at in American life and blacks continue to be at the bottom of most socioeconomic measures. You're unhappy about that.

Well, why don't you take some responsibility for it? Why don't you take more responsibility? I would be happy to look at all the usual bad guys, the police and so forth if we had the nerve, the courage to look at black people, to look at black Americans, minority Americans, and say, you're not carrying your own weight.

You are going to go have a fit in a tantrum and demonstrate and so forth, and yet you're not -- you're not doing -- are you teaching your child to read? Are you making sure that the school down the street actually educates your child? Are you becoming educated and following a dream in life and making things happen for yourself?

Or are you saying I'm a victim and I'm old and the entitlement is inadequate and I need to be given more; and after all, you know, you whites that racism has been here for four centuries and slavery and so forth, and so it's time for you to give to me.

Well, that's an exhausted, fruitless empty strategy to take. We've been on that path since the 60s and we are farther behind than we've ever been and we keep blaming it on racism and blaming it on the police.
I'm exhausted with that.

I grew up in a time when there was real segregation. And blacks during the 50s and so forth took a lot of responsibility for their lives because the government didn't.

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.

Well, what Civil Rights Bill is going to replace that? That value system? 
And he was not exceptional. Across the community we lived in, those were the values and that is the problem is that we have allowed ourselves to be enabled in avoiding our real problems by a guilty white society that keeps using us, exploiting us as victims to say that it's wonderful and it's overcoming racism and so forth.

If you really care about what how minorities do, why don't you ask them to do it? Why don't you ask them to drop the pretense? There's always going to be some racism in every society.

My own sense is that it's endemic to the human condition. We will always have to watch out for it. As I like to say, stupidity is also endemic to the human condition and we have to watch out for that, too.

That is no excuse for us being where we are right now in American life. We have let this sort of guilty society and our grievance industry put us in this impossible position where we are a permanent underclass.

Before the 60s, there was no black underclass. That's a new phenomenon. 
Public housing completely supported by the government.

LEVIN: Let me ask you this, Shelby Steele, what you speak of is reinforced by the media, as I sit here and we sit here today, it is reinforced in our colleges and universities. It is reinforced at the highest levels of the Democratic Party. It just amazes me.

Their model -- because I think a lot of this is about economic issues, and their model cannot create prosperity. It cannot create opportunity in these communities.

They oppose school choice where poor little black kids can actually go to a good school, you know, where the money would follow the kid as it does for colleges and universities. It is white liberals and the unions and the Democratic Party and Barack Obama who stopped all that.

So, freedom, choice, opportunity, in many respects, because of the model that is used by the left and the Democratic Party prevents the kind of human and economic progress in many of these communities that are run by one party, corrupt parties, corrupt bureaucrats.

And I think this is part of the reason -- I'd be curious to know if you agree with it -- that the National Democratic -- Schumer has yet to condemn the riots. Pelosi is yet to condemn the riots. Biden can barely even acknowledge that they exist. They keep talking about systemic race.

And by the way, these are people who have been in government for 40 years,
35 years, and so forth and so on. So, when we return, I'd like your opinion on that. Because I think that is what's playing out in many of these communities right now, among other things.

And so they turn a blind eye to the violence. They turn a blind eye to the incompetence of these mayors and these City Councils and they keep pushing their ideological and their economic agenda and this is why they blame it on systemic racism, because systemic racism means everything and nothing.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEVIN: Welcome back. Shelby Steele, so what do you make of the one party control of the cities, it's their agenda, it's their policies, and it's their ideology and the failure of the National Democrats and their friends in the media to criticize this.

STEELE: Where race is concerned, America has had a horrible, a wretched history and that came to account in the 1960s, with the Civil Rights victories and Civil Rights Bill and housing and so forth.

America for the first time had to acknowledge and did, I think quite bravely acknowledged that this was terrible. Slavery is a terrible thing. 
Segregation is evil, and America had to begin to digest that.

And in the process, America lost considerable moral authority. And so what has liberalism become? Liberalism is a way to gain back that moral authority and so right away, President Johnson in the 60s said, okay, you're right, we're guilty.

Here's a war on poverty. Here's a great society. Here's higher welfare payments. Here's the affirmative action. Here's school busing. And aren't we innocent of racism now? And shouldn't we be allowed to continue in power because we have taken the stand?

What they didn't see is that this was a brand new exploitation of blacks and other minorities.

Now, white America is using blacks, exploiting them, enabling their dependency so that they can say, we are innocent of racism, and therefore we are legitimate.

If you're not a Democrat who has owned up to all of this history, then you are not legitimate.

That legitimacy, the Democratic Party took as its central power and it remains there today even though America has made enormous progress since the 60s.

What I think we see in the Democratic Party today is trying to keep that old thing alive of aren't we innocent? Aren't we the party that looks out for the decency and the humanity of American life after this ugly history that America had?

It's what I like to call white guilt. White guilt, is this sort of this buying back legitimacy by exploiting minorities all over again, by enabling them and how do they exploit them? They say -- this is what is pernicious and evil.

They say to minorities, look, we beat you up pretty badly. You can't make it without us. You can't recover. You are not going to be able to reinvent yourself and become truly equal with us unless we are the agent of that change, not you, us.

So, they take over the agency over black development and say oh, if you don't get more of government money, more government programs, more blah, blah, blah, then you will never make it. You are dependent on us.

And what happens? A grievance industry springs up in black America to receive all that white beneficence.

The Civil Rights Movement does nothing but scream bloody murder, how dependent black people are on what whites do for them. That's all they do.

LEVIN: And, you know what's interesting, Shelby, you bring the Democratic Party -- the Democratic Party history in many respects is a very evil history. I mean, it was the party of the Confederacy. It was the party of slavery. It became the party after the Civil War that destroyed reconstruction.

It was the party that spawned and gave birth to the Klan. It was the party that pushed segregation. It was the party whose members were involved in the Dred Scott decision and the Plessy versus Ferguson decision. It was the party up into the 1920s that embraced the racists and the segregationists.

It was the party -- all of it really up, as you point it to the Civil Rights Act that played serious politics with the racists in the segregations and the Jim Crow South and so forth and so.

There are exceptions to this obviously, but --

STEELE: Now, it is the party of affirmative action. There's a symbiosis that liberalism is a part of -- and where there is this sort of a mutual corruption where -- and you see this in the Democratic Party, where you have on the one hand the grievance industry blacks, and you have on the other hand, the Pelosis of the world who want to be the agents of black uplift. And we're just sort of stuck there.

And, of course, as always, the group that will pay the price for this, this stuckness, the stalemate is blacks, the minorities -- who get farther and farther behind.

Again, when I was a kid growing up in fiercely segregated Chicago, everything was segregated. My father bought again ramshackle houses, rebuilt them, worked day and night. Everybody was doing something, Nobody -
- nobody was supported by a dime from the government.

DOBBS: Shelby, I want to thank you very, very much for coming on the program and for elucidating on matters and issues that many people are not hearing about today through all the screaming and yelling.

God bless you, sir.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEVIN: Welcome back. Our special show, The Insurrection. One of the great leaders, I think, not just in the African-American community, but in the United States, and he is a quiet leader is Bob Woodson. He is Founder and President of the Woodson Center, originator of The 1776 Project.

We had Bob on here about two months ago. He was a Civil Rights activist and he is committed and has spent his entire life in these communities that people talk about that they've never been to, particularly in the media.

Bob Woodson, you see what's happening to our country. You see what's happening in these cities and states. I want to put it to this way. This is a Civil Rights Movement. What kind of Civil Rights Movement is this when you're burning down your own cities and you don't even have a precise message?

I don't see any leaders. I see anarchy and mayhem. I see a media that's very excited about it.

I see a Democratic Party that's run these cities for decades and one party rule and I see a National Democratic Party that won't condemn the violence in a full throated and aggressive way. What do you make of this?

ROBERT WOODSON, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, WOODSON CENTER: Well, certainly what they're doing is a perversion of the Civil Rights Movement, but as a continuation, Mark, a march that started 50 years ago, with the passage of the Civil Rights Bill.

The great expectation at that time was that the problem of the inner cities and poor blacks was that there were whites running those systems, and so the great promise was, if you just elect blacks to those offices, then the inequities would improve.

And what we've done over the last 50 years, we've spent about $22 trillion in government money where 70 percent goes not to the poor, but those who serve the poor. Blacks have been in office and conditions for low income blacks have deteriorated every year after year.

And so one of the ways that they can avoid, those leaders can avoid explaining to the public, the cause of this decline, they use race as a ruse to deflect attention away from their failures.

And as a consequence, you see the kind of chaos that exists in these communities. They also make the false claim that the problems of unemployment, that out of wedlock births and crime is somehow associated with this country's legacy of slavery and discrimination. That's another lie.

And so in order to challenge that, we cannot challenge it with an argument. 
We challenge it with alternative narrative. We go back and we say to the public of blacks, your fate is never determined by what white America does or does not do. It has never been.

And so we give examples at our 1776 from the past that when 50 years after emancipation proclamations, in spite of discrimination, blacks had $700 million in assets. We own 900,000 farms, 40,000 churches, 40,000 businesses. Cities like Chicago in the Bronzeville section has 731 black- owned businesses, $100 million in real estate assets out of wedlock birth under 15 percent.

So, this is the real history of black America that is not being told and young people today are being convinced that their fate is determined by forces that happened hundreds of years ago.

And so we must challenge that with information, but also we must challenge the lie that somehow the dysfunction in these cities is determined by what they call institutional racism. I don't know what that is, or systemic racism. To me, it's just a ruse.

The biggest enemy that black America -- low income black Americans have is not bigots, it is those who betray the trust, those who took office and exploited the trust and confidence that low income people had in their leaders, and instead of taking responsibility, and offering real solutions, what they're offering his race, somehow to justify their inaction or their incompetence.

LEVIN: You know, Bob Woodson, I look at this, and I see these cities are run by one party, up and down the chain of politics. All the money flows through that one party, the bureaucracy and all the jobs are controlled by that one party, the Democratic Party.

I see the National Democrats refusing to condemn the violence in a serious way. Joe Biden mentions it in passing, and yet they always claim to have the solutions.

They control the power. They control the government. They control the money. They control the policies. And yet they want minorities to turn to them for the answers.

And then I watch, Bob Woodson, these athletes. I watch LeBron James who is a billionaire. I watch Steve Kerr multimillionaire. I watch people in Hollywood and so forth, pretty much all say the same thing. What is going on here with our culture?

WOODSON: Well, it becomes a way of escaping any responsibility. First of all, I think there are a lot of ironies about this. First of all, a lot of the young whites who are participating in these riots and this looting, are really living in neighborhoods that were formerly black, that are now gentrified.

In the City of Washington, D.C. that has been run by black officials for the last 20 years, over 19,000 poor blacks have been removed from the city through gentrification.

So, many of those so-called social justice warriors, young white professionals are coming from neighborhoods that used to be occupied by low income blacks.

So there's no strategy on the part of the black leadership to address the economic and housing change. But as long as they can use race to deflect the attention away from the absence of a solution, they continue to get away with it.

But poor blacks, Mark, are a sleeping giant. One day they're going to wake up and realize in the words of Malcolm X that they're being bamboozled. 
They're being hassled. They're being hustled.

And that's what we're trying to do at the Woodson Center to help low income people to understand so that they become agents of their own uplift, but they must be given information.

And you see evidence even in these riots, there are neighborhood leaders that are standing up to these marauders that are coming in. For example, a white couple, well dressed in a nice car pulls up, in the backseat, there are bricks. They're handing to young blacks to throw at the police.

A neighborhood woman challenges this woman, almost forces them to leave and there are quite a few people that are taking some of these rioters and actually turning them into the police.

And so what we believe in 1776, these are insurgent voices that are in all of these communities, but they are not given the kind of recognition that they deserve and that's what we've got to do.

LEVIN: When we come back, Bob Woodson, I want to ask you this. "The New York Times" 1619 Project, America started in slavery. Slavery is in our DNA. Hollywood, athletes, sports broadcasters, the media generally, systemic racism, systemic racism, systemic racism. Is this helping our country? Is this helping black people and helping minorities at all? That's my question to you when we return.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEVIN: Bob Woodson, I see a huge disconnect between white liberals who claim to know what's going on in these communities, black liberals who have made it, who claim to know what's going on in these communities.

I think there's a lot of economic dislocation that's going on in these communities, a lot of excuses. We have the left big government economic model, which has brought more poverty and destitution. It can't possibly work because it can't even work nationwide.

We see that -- we see shootings. I mean, I'll pick Chicago. The last two weeks apart from the rioting and everything -- over 20 people shot. I don't see these same people, whether they're in the media, sports or whatever, tweeting, upset, peacefully protesting, as they say.

When it comes to the slaughter that's taking place in these communities and quite frankly, black on black crime. What are your thoughts?

WOODSON: Well, this is again, this is perpetuating the lie. There was a Harvard study and there's another study and talked about in the course of a year, this past year, there were a thousand people shot by police. Most of those were people shooting back at the police.

Of that number, 275 were blacks who were shot, and of that number, only a handful were unarmed. And it's been estimated that for every one black who was shot by a cop, 270 blacks shoot one another. In other words, we lose more blacks, we have a 9/11 every six months in the black community.

And what's happening, as they vilify the police, there's something called police nullification or the Ferguson effect, which means the more the police are accused of racism, the less they're out there to be aggressive enforcing laws in low income communities.

And as a consequence, the murder rate soars. St. Louis last spring, 18 young people under the age of 14 were shot and murdered in that city and only one arrest was made because people are discouraged from cooperating with the police.

It is not the Al Sharptons or the white liberal haters of the police who have to suffer the consequences. LeBron James does not live in those communities at risk, nor do any of the advocates who are vilifying the police.

It means that police recruitment is down 62 percent around the country, with the result that 911 calls sometimes go unanswered and this trend is continuing.

And black officials in these cities are throwing black police officers under the bus. They're being vilified. The number of police leaving.

And so we are really creating a crisis where the people in those cities are told if you're killing one another, it's not your fault. It's systemic racism.

And nothing, Mark, is more lethal than you provide a people with a good excuse for their own failure, and so what we do at the Woodson Center is we find that there are islands of excellence. In Philadelphia in 1983, as a matter of public record. They had small bands of young black men who were robbing people on the subway and the movies were shut down.

We organized the House of Umoja, a group of -- a neighborhood group who was known citywide with young men who were ex-offenders who God had changed their hearts. They actually went into the prisons and organized a Crime Prevention Taskforce. We went out into the communities and brought 200 of these young men from all over the city.

These young men with moral authority told these young -- as a consequence, the whole Wolf Pack attacks stopped overnight throughout the entire city. 
That shows you the power of grassroots leaders if we give them -- who have the trust of the people.

We must look to these healing agents that are internal to these communities, because they are living in these communities that are being burned and looted.

And, and so what we are seeing --

LEVIN: Bob Woodson, the problem is all of this hard work you do over the decades and others, too, you don't get it write up in "The New York Times."

You're not brought on to MSNBC and CNN and other newsrooms, Cornel West is, Michael Dyson is -- radical leftist professors, people who attack the country, attack faith, in my view, attack the principles of the country.

"The New York Times" is spreading poison about this country in every school
-- every school and every school district and the woman who is responsible for that immediately they go to her for her comment about the riots. They don't go to people like you. They don't go to Shelby Steele. They don't go to people who really have creative, thoughtful, human based ideas. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEVIN: Welcome back. Bob Woodson. I find the voices that get attention from most of the media are the most radical, most outrageous voices, but the voices that need to be heard, people who actually live in these communities and try and live good and industrious lives don't get hurt. What do you think about that?

WOODSON: And I agree, but what must happen as a solution is what the left does, they have a ground game. The moment these riots occurred, Mark Zuckerberg pledged $10 billion, Apple pledged to organizations on the grounds that are taking action. And then Hollywood celebrities put up $20 million for those who are locked up whether they are for rioting or not.

Again, they are investing. We, on our side, freedom-loving Americans, we need to invest comparably in our grassroots patriots and give them a voice and give us the mechanisms and the means to provide the curriculum to students that are pro-American curriculum.

We need to be giving them an opportunity to have movies about their successes. We need to celebrate the successes from the past and the present.

There are models of economic development of low income communities. We need to highlight them. So, we really need a ground game. We're not going to win this fight by just publishing white papers and think tanks and then discussing them in the media.

We've got to go in and give voice to those women and men in those communities who are fighting in protection of those values. They really represent the mainstream of black America, and so what we're trying to do at the Woodson Center in 1776 is provide them a platform so they can undermine the left.

Because when low income black people in these communities stand up and say the black left does not speak for me, it will undermine their moral authority.

A hundred thousand low income blacks in that gubernatorial race in Florida, deSantis voted against Gillum, the black candidate, and even though Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama campaigned for Gillum, to me that demonstrates that black low income people are willing to vote their interest and ignore race as a factor.

LEVIN: Let me ask you a question. We don't have a lot of time left. You mentioned Barack Obama. For eight years, Obama-Biden, President of the United States. He has two Attorneys General, both African-Americans. The Head of Department of Homeland Security African-American.

You runs the Federal government, the Democrats run the cities, many of these cities are in Democratic states. He now talks about systemic racism.

In these communities that you've been involved in, did the Obama administration make a difference? Just seriously, very simple answer.

WOODSON: They made it worse. They really made it worse.

LEVIN: How so?

WOODSON: That's why -- well, because he was supposed to be the great healer and he made a speech at Morehouse University, touting young black men to be responsible fathers, and the first time he was attacked by Jesse Jackson, he backed off and then retreated back to racial -- a defense of institutional racism.

He pledged to make a difference on that area and the moment he was attacked viciously by Jesse Jackson, the next thing he knew, he withdrew from that platform.

So, the fact that he --

LEVIN: How about school choice? Did he support school choice?

WOODSON: No, he opposed it. That's why I told you in Florida, the gubernatorial race, he campaigned for Gillum, who was against school choice and a hundred thousand black parents, low income black parents voted for deSantis, the Republican against Gillum, the Democrat, even though he was supported by Oprah Winfrey and Obama.

So, low income blacks have demonstrated a willingness to break ranks, and we must provide the resources and the means for others to learn from the experience of these grassroots leaders so that more can break ranks.

LEVIN: I want to thank you, Bob Woodson for everything you do in these communities in this country. We've got to fight through the propaganda of the left, the media, the Democratic Party. These mayors and these governors that run these cities with an iron fist and are continuing to destroy them.

God bless you, my friend. Be well.

WOODSON: Thank you.

LEVIN: And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEVIN: Well, America, these are definitely tumultuous times.

We have lived through in the course of three years, an attempt by the Obama administration to defeat a presidential candidate of the other party by violating his civil liberties, and by violating our Constitution using the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and other entities in ways we've never seen in this country before. And the media and the Democratic Party applauded.

We've seen the criminalization of politics, the unleashing of a Special Counsel without legal authority to try and take out the President of the United States on a completely false pretext of Russia collusion. There never was Russia collusion.

We saw an unconstitutional impeachment of the President of the United States based on a phone call that was perfectly fine. There was nothing unlawful or unconstitutional or even untoward about the phone call, but it didn't matter.

We've seen the Wuhan China virus and the violation of our civil liberties by aggressive governors, particularly blue state governors were more than happy to put small businessmen and women out of business and when they chose to protest and protest peacefully, the police were set upon them because they weren't six feet apart, they weren't wearing masks, and they weren't staying at home.

Now, what do we see? We see burning cities. We see riots. We see looting and what are the Democrats doing in these Democratic cities, in these Democratic states? Well, very little, very little effective.

And what is the National Democratic Party doing? Trying to exploit it and use it to defeat once and for all Donald Trump.

Joe Biden can barely even acknowledge what's going on. Barack Obama blames it on we, the people. They call it systemic racism.

America will get through this, but we must really be united and we have to defeat these forces.

I'll see you next time on "Life, Liberty & Levin."

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