Steve King Declares Racial Oppression a Thing of the Past

"The oppression of black people is over with... blacks are, today, a free people," King tweeted Saturday, quoting a black conservative author known for criticizing multiculturalism and affirmative action

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Members of the San Francisco 49ers football team kneel during the national anthem before a game last October. Photo: Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons

Steve King was at it again on Twitter last weekend, sharing a link to a column in the Wall Street Journal that criticized the NFL national anthem protests against racial injustice as a failure and argued that African Americans no longer face oppression in America.

“The oppression of black people is over with… blacks are, today, a free people,” King tweeted alongside the link.

Although he didn’t put the words in quotes, King was borrowing a line from the column. It was written by Shelby Steele, a black conservative author known for his opposition to affirmative action and arguments that black Americans have used their “historical victimization” to exploit white guilt, in the process becoming overly reliant on government entitlements. NFL athletes kneeling during the anthem, Steele wrote, “were not speaking truth to power” but were instead “figures of pathos, mindlessly loyal to a black identity that had run its course.

“What they missed,” he went on, “is a simple truth that is both obvious and unutterable: The oppression of black people is over with. This is politically incorrect news, but it is true nonetheless. We blacks are, today, a free people. It is as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise.”

Steele acknowledged that racism still exists in American society — it is, he wrote, “endemic to the human condition, just as stupidity is.” But he downplayed its influence, arguing that “now it is recognized as a scourge, as the crowning immorality of our age and our history.” (Meanwhile, King has recently been an outspoken critic of multiculturalism and diversity, using the exact words of leaders of the Ku Klux Klan.)

Instead, Steele wrote, the true problem black America is now grappling with is “the shock of freedom,” which “ holds us accountable no matter the disadvantages we inherit from the past.” He then argued that the NFL protests were not truly about racial injustice but “genuflections to today’s victim-focused black identity.”

Steele’s views are similar to those of Thomas Sowell, another black conservative whose criticism of multiculturalism King highlighted earlier this year. Like Steele, Sowell has pointed to the welfare state, rather than racism, as the root cause of societal problems among poor blacks. They are both members of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank located at Stanford University.

A clipping from the Sunday, April 13, 2003, edition of the Des Moines Register quoting King with a photo of the congressman on the day he learned that he'd won the GOP's 5th District nominating convention in 2002.
A clipping from the Sunday, April 13, 2003, edition of the Des Moines Register quoting King with a photo of the congressman on the day he learned that he’d won the GOP’s 5th District nominating convention in 2002.

King’s views were heavily influenced by Sowell’s 1996 book Migration and Cultures: A World View, in which he argued that multiculturalism and affirmative action “add to the cost of absorbing immigrants, not least by increasing the resentment of them by the native population,” and through government benefits offered to them. “It’s got the basic fundamentals that the public needs to have to be able to understand new immigrants and all they go through,” King said of the book, speaking to the columnist Chuck Offenburger in 2002. “It takes you from the first arrivals from other cultures, generally the young men, then on to when they bring their families and finally to when they really begin to assimilate into the American culture.”

This morning, in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, King tweeted an image of the civil rights icon who once wrote of the 1964 Republican National Convention: “The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism. All people of goodwill viewed with alarm and concern the frenzied wedding at the Cow Palace of the KKK with the radical right.”

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.