Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Shame

Written by: on November 29, 2022

Quick Summary of Shelby Smith’s Shame

The civil rights movement of the 1960s was inspired by “classic” Jeffersonian liberalism, which sought freedom for the individual above all else.[1] However, since that time, whites, fearful of being labeled racist, have created a plethora of social programs and identity politics, all of which have crippled the individual black person in this country from standing on their own (freedom) and taking responsibility for their pursuit of happiness. Shelby Steele, who is a Black American, labels himself a conservative. The central argument outlined in his book, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, is that blacks in this country who were once victims of bigotry are now, for the second time, victims of the moral neediness of their former victimizer.[2] In his mind, white paternalism and post-1960s welfare policies, identity politics, and interventions in poverty have been far worse for Blacks in that they have created a culture of grievance entitlement and protest politics within the Black community.[3] Steele argues that a consequence of America’s reckoning with its past racist policies and the Vietnam War was to assign the ideal of Good to the government rather than a person’s character. When this occurred, America could absolve itself of guilt and any personal repentance for the past atrocities. According to his thinking, he explains that this is how white liberals have tried to win back the moral high ground. It is the primary reason why many policies and programs designed to correct systemic racial problems only exacerbated them.[4] His assertions are based on an inherent trust in the founding documents of this country, the idea that racism has been dealt with since the civil rights movement (although it may not be as perfect as one would like), and any individual – including Black Americans – can make it in this country, without the need for paternalistic white liberal policies.

Agree – But

There are a few fundamental differences I have with Shelby’s book:

  1. He believes the opportunities for black, brown, and indigenous people in America are the same for whites.
  2. He pins the problem of where we are today squarely on the woke left, Democrats or liberals.
  3. He is relatively silent as to the role of Christians in the issues this country faces.

A Quick Story

Twenty years ago, I would have vehemently defended the positions of Smith. I had made it from the blueberry farms in South Jersey to the boardrooms. What happened? I stepped away from everything to start an entrepreneurial venture, and along the way came health issues and a divorce. Undaunted, I found myself in 2008 with two master’s degrees and working in a Blockbuster video store and having to count the cost of a cup of coffee.

Although I never lost faith, the Lord opened my eyes to what it was like to live on the edge – not to know if you would have enough money to pay your bills. The least little splurge or car problem would have devastated me financially. And I thought about many people who live like this day after day, who don’t have my educational background – or my faith.

During this time, I worked part-time as an after-school instructor for 5th graders and as a substitute teacher (6th -12th grades). What I saw was unimaginable. Keep in mind I had previously taught in a maximum-security women’s prison for five years – but I wasn’t prepared for the Charlotte school system. Ten-year-old kids being abandoned by their parents, anger issues that didn’t match their young years, substandard facilities, and significant disparities with schools across town. Metal detectors. School security was worse than the correctional officers. There were times I feared for my life. And in case you were wondering – it was Black, Hispanic, Asian, and White children—all from low-income families and living in the wrong zip code. As I reflect back on this time I realize this was my most vulnerable and personal fire of emptying myself out as described by Walker in Leading From Within.

I didn’t blame the kids or their parents because I realized that before this experience, I had morphed into a black conservative and forgotten what it was like to be poor in this country. I criticized, judged, and advocated that Blacks had no reason not to succeed if they knew the Lord Jesus Christ. (I encourage you to read the journal article for more on black conservatives. [5] I finally realized the issues were deeper than just pulling yourself up by your bootstrap and much more systemic.

Second and Third Reasons 

The second difference with Shame is that I do not think that the entire blame for the plight we find ourselves in is a result of the liberal agenda. The problem is not that we tried to legislate changes. The problem is that the changes were never really meant to get to the heart of the structural racist policies that exist in our local, state, and federal government.[6] Much of the 1968 civil rights legislation remains unenforced and unimplemented.[7] A fair amount of research shows that the legislation that followed the civil rights movement during Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton did more damage to black and poor communities and helped usher in the new racism today.[8]

Lastly, Shelby is silent about the role the Christian church has played or can play moving forward. I believe this because, like many Christians today, many tend to think racial issues are outside the church walls. In the church, everyone is viewed as an individual, and the idea of equal opportunity is reinforced. (That is one of the main reasons I continued to take the blue pill (some of you Matrix fans will know what I’m talking about)). But this perspective negates the lived experiences of black brothers and sisters.

The Shame:

I remembered what our Robben Island tour guide said – they tried to dehumanize and strip them of their identity by not calling them by their name. I believe what grounded him, Mandela, and the others were their culture. But formerly enslaved people in America weren’t so fortunate. Listen to their story.[9]

Last Word: Yes or No

So, the issue becomes, do you believe inequalities still exist because of systemic racism? If yes, then I encourage you to become part of the prophetic witness the church is called to in this hour to help balance the scales.

If not, then no amount of data or scripture will change your perspective and that’s okay.  As long as we can come to the table and have difficult conversations and not allow how we view aspects of the world to change how we value one another.  It’s in His image we were all created.


[1] Shelby Steele, Shame How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 3.

[2] Ibid., 51.

[3] Ibid., 2.

[4] Ibid., 128.

[5] A. K. Lewis, Black Conservatism in America. Journal of African American Studies, 8(4) (2005): 3–13, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41819065

[6] Christina Barland Edmondson, Chad Brennan, Faithful Anti-Racism: Moving Past Talk To Systemic Change. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2022), 22-24.

[7] Ibid., 79.

[8] Ibid., 92-95.

[9] Ex-Slaves Talk About Slavery, https://youtu.be/fZfcc21c6Uo



About the Author


Audrey Robinson

7 responses to “The Shame”

  1. mm David Beavis says:

    Audrey, I don’t think I have ever been as eager to read someone’s blog post as I was to read yours on this book. I remember in South Africa you alluded to your disagreements in this book as we were at dinner one night. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and I learned a lot. If I remember correctly, this is connected with your NPO. If so, I am very much looking forward to see your project in its final form.

    I have two brief comments, and then a question. First, it was deeply moving to read your story. Thank you for being open. I am inspired and amazed. Secondly, I am grateful you brought this to what this means for the Church. The Church needs to be a prophetic voice in speaking out against systemic racism. Yes, yes and amen. Now, my question comes out of this second observation. You touched on the American Church seeing “everyone is viewed as an individual, and the idea of equal opportunity is reinforced.” This makes me wonder what it would look like if the American Church was culturally less individualistic and more collectivistic. What are some practical ways you have seen the Church thread the needle of individual responsibility and collective responsibility to one another and society at large? Or, put another way, how do we help Christians be less focused on their individualism?

    Thank you again for your brilliant post Audrey!

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      I couldn’t wait to write this! Thank you for the encouraging words.

      I’ve seen a few examples of collectivism in the church. Specifically, being a part of a small group and the 10 – 12 families in the group learned to be the first point of contact for each other’s needs. During sickness, births, deaths, weddings, moving, childcare – you name it. (We did not get to the point of selling land and property – but in my idealistic mind – I envision the church getting back to that in the future.)

      The biggest hurdles are Western culture and church traditions. The word says that traditions make the commandments of God ineffective. Matt. 15:6 NKJV

      Separating the pure word from these two influences will require detoxing from poor theology. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about the community of the church and it is a challenging lifestyle.

      But isn’t that what is meant by the kingdom being here on earth?

  2. Caleb Lu says:

    Audrey, thank you for sharing from your own experience. I also appreciated that you bring this question of how the Church fits. I asked Jean this question on his post, but perhaps it’s fitting to ask you as well. Steele posits that the confrontation of U.S. hypocrisy in the 60s was important, do you think the Church has experienced a similar reckoning or should it now?

  3. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    I do not think the Church has actually gone through a reckoning or what I would call true repentance for its role in establishing and upholding systemic racism.

    That is not to say that various churches, Catholic and Protestant, were deeply involved in the civil rights movement. And without the role that those individuals played – the movement would not have been as successful.

    However, a severe backlash to the civil rights movement occurred in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. White evangelicals began to partner with politicians to enact laws to circumvent the gains made from the movement. Laws such as the “war on drugs” from Nixon to Clinton – were codes for severe penalties for blacks and the poor and look at where we are with the criminal justice system today.

    I would say a reckoning is long overdue and I believe the time is now.

    Great question.

  4. Alana Hayes says:


    After talking with you in South Africa I could not come to read your post! I knew you would share wisdom that I could learn from.

    I appreciated all of your comments and loved how you shared a personal story as well. I enjoy getting to know you better!

    If you were to ask the author a question based on your response: “He is relatively silent as to the role of Christians in the issues this country faces.” What would it be?

  5. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    great question. I actually reached out to Mr. Smith for a 1 on 1 interview and I didn’t get a response.

    Here’s what I would ask: Given that the Bible says we will have the poor with us always and that we should take care of the poor, the widows and orphans – are there Christ centered opportunities that the Church has missed to be a part of the solution in this country for people of color? (Inside and outside the walls of the church.)

    And, I would follow up with this question: if we can agree that the Father’s heart is for his church to be multi-ethnic and multi-colorful – what ways can the church proactively seek engagement and meaningful long term relationships with the poor – especially people of color – such that they’re standard of living is enhanced?

  6. Audrey,

    I am so grateful for your ideas and your wisdom in this post. Thank you for sharing and for raising so many good points. You brought in the issue of poverty and I think this is a key piece to the equation that often gets left out of the larger discussions. How people become poor is one issue but the lessons they learn while facing poverty and the culture that is created is a who piece to the puzzle that plays a role in addition to any other differentiating identities. There are so many paths of thought from this one piece. Then you also raise the piece about the church’s role. I am constantly in struggle with how the church engages in healthy and healing ways, while remaining true to its purpose and calling. I hope to hear more wisdom from you as we continue.

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