Broadly speaking, Shame is a critical review of the hypocrisies that have characterized American liberalism since the 1960s and their damaging impact upon minority, particularly black, advancement. Steele argues that at the root of this long-standing and widespread problem is white paternalism, which is a false response to the sins of racism, sexism, militarism, and environmental neglect. However, he also confronts the brutal fact that in line with the ideals of individualism, meritocracy and healthy competition, Black Americans must take personal responsibility for their own progress or risk generational underdevelopment. In other words, as previous research has shown, minority social and economic inferiority will continue until minorities themselves invest the hard work necessary to change this.
Divided into eighteen chapters, Shame begins by using the author’s personal experience to highlight racism in America. Steele then discusses the shift in African American thinking from rejecting their African heritage to embracing it. Subsequently, the author focuses on how several Blacks find themselves stuck in the rut of struggling with a painful history of slavery and racism yet are unable to embrace a better future due to illiteracy. Finally, the book ends with the argument that conservatism is the answer, but a conservatism that sincerely acknowledges the impact of racism while advocating the ideals of individual freedom, hard work and competition.
Shelby Steele boldly attempts to address the problem of a multi-faceted hypocrisy among white American liberals and shows how this has resulted in paternalism that has damaged the self-esteem, confidence and motivation of minorities in the USA. However, he argues that it will be extremely misleading to assume this is the only problem responsible for black stagnation. According to Steele black entitlement is equally responsible and, unfortunately, has not been given the attention it deserves due to white guilt. Shame suggests that these two problems have fostered decades of welfarism and socio-economic stagnation within the Black community. He does this by drawing upon lessons from history and personal experience as a student and in his trip to three African nations in 1970.
What resonates the most with me is how Steele stresses that family breakdown – not systemic racism – is the most significant problem black Americans face today. This highlights how an attack on the first institution created by God, family, is an attack on everything else. Indeed as Psalm 11:3 questions, ”if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” indeed, as Steele explains, family breakdown, manifesting as female-headed homes, is at the root of “gangsterism, drug abuse, low academic achievement, high dropout and unemployment rates, high crime and incarceration”. One important fact that I believed in which Shame reaffirms is that paternalism destroys. I see this regularly in my work as a community development practitioner working among the poor in South Africa and now realize that, in my zeal to help the less privileged, I must diligently explore ways to offer help without destroying initiative, originality and personal responsibility. Steele presents several ideas that are new to me. This includes the delusion that having fun at an activity that is based in racism is “proof” that one is not racist. This stirs in me a desire for self-reflection to examine any racial tendencies I might have that I am blind to because of my enjoyment of those activities. I also like how Steele points out that the first feature of social transformation is fearlessness. Indeed, one of the first things God encourages Joshua about is to be courageous. Shame also suggests that without formal education, blacks are caught in between a past that has deprived them and a future they can’t seize thus thy fall into an “outlaw’s grandiosity.“
In conclusion, Shame has inspired me, as an African, to do three things. First, revisit the roots of African underdevelopment and how an inferiority complex and dependency has crippled the development of our true potential into all that God has created us to be. Second, explore how we must now confront the brutal facts that we cannot eternally blame slavery and colonialism for our problems but embrace the reality that we must accept all the gospel has to offer for our redemption and take personal responsibility for our destiny. Finally, black racism towards whites is just as real as white racism towards blacks and must also be addressed.
 Shelby Steele. “Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country.” Basic Books 2015, 33.
 Steele, “Shame”, 43
 Steele, “Shame”, 73
 Steele, “Shame”, 103