This Concept has Staying Power...Unfortunately.
"I was the irresponsible one; for I should have used my knife to protect the higher interests of society. Some day that kind of foolishness will cause us some tragic trouble."
In this quote in the prologue, the protagonist is suggesting that he should have used the knife to murder the man to meet society's expectations. There is a saying that people only notice things when they aren't as they should be. For instance, the child seated quietly in the backseat of the car will go unnoticed, but the kid who is kicking the back of the driver's seat and rolling the window up and down will attract attention. I believe this is the kind of effect about which Ellison is speaking. Minorities are expected to be powerless and weak, but as soon as an individual acts out, the act gains attention, and serves only to confirm the attitudes of society. I think this is the very thing the protagonist's grandfather was talking about on his deathbed. Perhaps he was a traitor because he did not conform to society's expectations. But it is likely that he also failed to meet the expectations of the members of his race, the majority of which would want him to act out in anger and resentment, and to be noticed. It is a vicious cycle, which is definitely still in place today. The reigns of society continue to halt the development of an entire people, and are difficult to shake loose. African Americans are underrepresented in terms of taking advantage of the opportunities that are now available. I think the power of expectations, or the lack thereof, is tragically underestimated. It's as if an entire people has the condition known as "failure to thrive" from chronic dehumanization and lack of stimulation, and the result is an entire race of untapped resources of knowledge, creativity, and the like.