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Douglas Andrews / Oct. 16, 2020

Amazon Censors a Black Conservative

Shelby Steele's new documentary debunks a popular leftist narrative, so he must be silenced.

Amazon is known as “The Everything Store,” and for good reason: There just aren’t a lot of things we can’t buy from the online retail colossus. A box of bacon-strip bandages, a mini jail cell for our mobile phones, even a harness and leash for our beloved pet chicken.

Yep, the online retail juggernaut will sell us just about anything. Anything, that is, except a new documentary by esteemed scholar, author, and Hoover Institution senior fellow Shelby Steele. Apparently, Steele’s film, “What Killed Michael Brown?” falls short of Amazon’s “quality expectations.”

Quality expectations? Right. This from a company that sells toilet paper with President Donald Trump’s face on it, and, even worse, sells the autobiography of Hanoi Jane Fonda. But a film that thoughtfully explores the truth behind one of the most racially charged and consequential news stories of the decade? A story that began the fictitious “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative that even Barack Obama’s Justice Department debunked? A story that was the catalyst for starting Black Lives Matter? That’s a bridge too far.

Steele’s film, which he wrote and narrated, and which his son Eli directed, “doesn’t fit the dominant narrative of white police officers killing young black men because of systemic racism,” writes the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. “As a result, says the younger Mr. Steele, Amazon rejected it for its streaming service. ‘We were canceled, plain and simple.’”

The film speaks “plain truths,” as reviewer Jason Riley writes, but it isn’t one-sided. Al Sharpton has his say, as does the NAACP. That’s not good enough for the cowardly censors at Amazon, though, who informed the Steeles via email “that their film is ‘not eligible for publishing’ because it ‘doesn’t meet Prime Video’s content quality expectations.’ Amazon went on to say it ‘will not be accepting resubmission of this title and this decision may not be appealed.’”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post and whose net worth is now just over $200 billion, may think he has a license not only to print money, but also to gag renowned scholars and social commentators like Shelby Steele. He should think better. Censorship is cowardice, Jeff. If you’re afraid of a physical fight, you run. If you’re afraid of an intellectual fight, you censor.

Longtime civil rights activist and community development champion Robert Woodson tweeted out a novel idea: “Amazon refused to stream Shelby Steele’s documentary, ‘What Killed Michael Brown?,’ b/c they say it ‘doesn’t meet Prime Video’s content quality expectations.’ Why not let Americans decide for themselves if the film has merit?”

Indeed, we’re adults. Why not let us decide?

“It’s sadly telling about elite political conformity,” the Journal’s editors continue, “that an intelligent film that gives voice to a variety of people, almost all black, who would otherwise not be heard is somehow deemed unfit for polite company. As Eli Steele puts it, ‘When Amazon rejected us they also silenced these voices and that is the great sin of a company that professes to be diverse and inclusive.’”

Perhaps there’s something more insidious at work here, something that Amazon’s speech stiflers have yet to think through. Their claim about the inferior quality of Steele’s work is ridiculous; he’s an award-winning author and filmmaker. So their refusal to allow him into their marketplace of ideas is about something else entirely.

Steele isn’t a bomb-thrower, but he is a black conservative. As such, he’s what former Democrat President and “Great Society” architect Lyndon Johnson might’ve called “uppity.” And Amazon’s efforts to silence him sounds awfully intolerant, even Jim Crow-ish. This here streamin’ service is for members only … boy.

Shelby Steele’s ideas pose a mortal threat to the Left’s most loyal voting constituency. And he’s being denied access to Amazon’s marketplace either because of the color of his skin or the content of his character.

Neither reason is legitimate, but both are bigoted.


Update: After a backlash of negative attention, Amazon has reversed itself and Steele’s work is now trending under “Most Wished For in Documentary.”

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