Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I'd meant to post this some time ago, but delayed out of sheer disbelief.

Sunday morning, December 30, I was sitting in a hotel having breakfast before another round of MLA panels and meetings. As usual, I was ranging freely through my morning newspapers.

Then, I came to this sentence:

"America's foremost black intellectual has published a slender book about the most interesting presidential candidacy since 1980."

Now, as someone who generally keeps up with publications in African American thought and culture, I felt badly that I must have missed something. Had Tommy Lott, Charles Mills, Anita Allen, Lucius Outlaw, Naomi Zack, Kwame Anthony Appiah or any of the dozens of other possible contenders for this honorific (depending on what areas of discourse you're contemplating in trying to determine a "foremost black intellectual" -- my short list here is just some of the philosophers, for a start) published a book on such a timely subject that I had completely overlooked?

And just who was it, writing on the Op Ed pages of the WASHINGTON POST, who felt qualified to make such an encompassing and definitive judgment?

Well . . . it was George Will.

And, and least in his view (and lord knows how many books by leading black intellectuals he must have carefully attended to before making such a measured determination), America's foremost black intellectual is . . . .

(envelope please)

Shelby Steele.

Somewhat redundant, no?, to tell us that a book by Steele is slender.

"So fecund is Steele's mind," Will assures readers, "he illuminates the racial landscape that Obama might transform."

Having had some experience of the mind of Dr. Steele, I'm not sure "fecund" is the first term I might apply, but it is certainly true that something regarding our racial landscape is illuminated in Will's sweeping declaration.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought you meant--and it would have ben a good uppercut--that Will endorsing Steele as the leading black intellectual was redundant because George Will held that position long before Steele! But none of this is surprising. When Stanley Crouch won a MacArthur--not for his jazz criticism which might--might--qualify him as a genuis, but for his "social commentary"--I knew the gig was up...