According to Steele, the United States has not eradicated the twin specters of racism and “white guilt” over slavery. Steele contends that, despite outward appearances of competence and prominence, most African-Americans who have found success in mainstream America—politicians in particular—have adopted one of two “masks”: that of the bargainer or that of a challenger. Steele has declared Obama a “bargainer,” someone who, to gain acceptance from whites, is willing to avoid addressing America’s history of racism. “Challengers,” such as Jackson and Sharpton, obtain power by wielding racial stigma to elicit guilt from whites. The confrontational style of challengers, as evidenced by Jackson’s and Sharpton’s failed campaigns, tends to alienate most mainstream voters.
Steele posits that adopting such masks prevents minorities from evolving an “individual self.” Steele believes the major challenge facing minorities today is not to concede to predetermined racial roles but rather to “achieve visibility as an individual.”