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Racial Power and Moral Power

The relationship between racial power and moral power, as described in Shelby Steele's essay "I'm Black, You're White, Who's Innocent?", is a relationship of conflict. Racial power to Steele is power achieved or sought on the basis of race, whether by blacks or whites. Racial power posits that one race is superior to the other and/or justified in taking whatever steps are needed to acquire or re-acquire that power. Moral power, on the other hand, is power achieved or sought on the basis of self-sacrifice, spirituality, and a genuine, hard-earned innocence. Moral power posits not the inferiority of the other "side," but rather grants that that side can rise above its racial restrictions and act morally, can in fact translate its racial power into moral power. "Racial power," says Steele, in reference to the early days of the civil rights movement, "was the enemy and moral power the weapon" (Steele, 1995, 337). Moral power can be used, then, to transform racial power into itself---moral power.

Steele's basic argument about the racial power/moral power relationship seems simple and incontrovertible. As long as a human being---white or black---tries to make a human being of the other color evil in order to make himself feel or appear to be good, he can do no true good. He will be at war within himself, hiding from his own faults and projecting all of those faults onto the perceived enemy. He will blame those of the other color for his problems, and whatever he does to try to gain racial power he will see as permissible because of the perceived evil or inferiority of the other color. This is the basic thrust of the author's definition of racial power, its motivations, and its destructive and self-destructive consequences. Racial power allows blacks to blame the evils of white racists for all of their problems, and to excuse any actions they take, however divisive, violent or destructive, which are aimed at regaining lost power from whi...

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Racial Power and Moral Power. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:56, June 24, 2019, from