What to Make of Black Conservatives?

Thomas Parker, American Renaissance, December 2010

Q: What do you call a black man at a conservative conference?

A: The keynote speaker.

This joke has circulated among the more intelligent conservatives for several decades. In the age of Obama, however, things are even worse. With blacks intensely loyal to Mr. Obama, the conservative opposition is whiter than ever. Accordingly, the need to find token blacks to speak at Republican gatherings and Tea Parties has become an even greater priority. What role do these blacks play, and can they be, in any sense, our allies?

Conservatives like to pretend that blacks would be natural supporters if they had not been brainwashed by Al Sharpton and his media allies to hate Republicans, but it is perfectly logical for blacks to support the Democrats. At every socio-economic level, blacks depend on government. The black underclass gets its welfare from the government. The much vaunted black middle class is made up almost entirely of government workers. The black upper class, aside from athletes and entertainers, would hardly exist without affirmative action.

Reducing the size of government, which is one of the few consistent goals of Tea Partiers and other self-styled conservatives, would have an enormous “disparate impact” on blacks, and they know it. Furthermore, unlike whites, blacks see politics through a tribal lens. To the extent that they are interested in politics at all, they have the same perspective as the Congressional Black Caucus: what’s in it for blacks? The left encourages this tribalism while conservatives urge everyone to be color blind.

Some blacks have relatively conservative attitudes on social issues such as school prayer or homosexual marriage, but they are more concerned with jobs and handouts for the tribe than with these luxury issues. Now that we have a black president, conservatives and Republicans feel more compelled than ever to prop up blacks as leaders just to prove they are not racist, and the pickings are slim. What kind of black have they managed to get to come over to their side?

I am active in mainstream opposition to affirmative action and other race-based giveaways, and in my work I have met a number of prominent black conservatives. I do not put all my cards on the table when I talk to them, and it is clear that many of them — J.C. Watts, Michael Steele, Armstrong Williams, and Ken Blackwell, for example — support affirmative action. They don’t care about race-blindness; tribal politics come before equal rights or fair treatment. White conservatives overlook this and embrace them because they are grateful to have any blacks whom they can call allies.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is the worst of the lot. Last November, he said that some white Republicans were afraid of him because he is black. Then he went on to speak at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network Conference. There was no transcript of the speech but the Daily Caller, a website that generally supports Republicans, summarized it:

Civil rights, equality on paper, the familiar story. But, of course, dreams do not reflect reality. When you were growing up, he asks the audience, ‘Did the American Dream feel like part of you, like it was your birthright?’ For many it did, he says. For many more it did not, ‘and as you and I know, that dream has often been delayed and sometimes denied — and until our children are born thinking the American dream is their birthright, it will remain that way.’ Moreover, he adds, it will remain that way until the children have access to fair and affordable housing, access to credit and capital, and voting machines that work. ‘You didn’t think I knew about that, huh?’ By god, it could be Reverend Al up there at this point — and then Steele commits outright GOP treason and quotes, at length, from a litany of depressing statistics about the racial achievement gap — first delivered, he reveals at the end, on June 11, 1963, by John F. Kennedy himself. ‘Not much has changed,’ he concludes, dropping the words slow and hard as an axe-head, ‘In forty. Seven. Years.’ Don’t even ask about his follow-up statement on pervasive Justice Department bias.

Obviously, the Republicans chose Mr. Steele to head the party because the Democrats had a black at the head of their party. It was a transparent attempt not to appear “racist,” and so of course Mr. Steele likes affirmative action; he owes his job to it. And, as usual, the Republicans got no credit for racial “tolerance” by appointing him. Instead they got a bumbler who sounds, most of the time, more like a Democrat than a Republican.

There are other blacks whose conservatism is rooted in Christianity. This group includes people like the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, Alan Keyes, and Martin Luther King’s niece, Alveda King. They like to call the high abortion rate among blacks “genocide,” as if white abortionists were going door to door, forcing loving black couples to abort their babies. Since support for abortion is strong on the left, calling it “black genocide” is an attempt to pin the dreaded label of “racist” on the Democrats. Rev. Peterson writes: “It is time for America, but especially the black community, to come out of its state of denial and realize that true racism is the attack on the black unborn baby, started by Margaret Sanger and carried out by the liberal elite in this country.” It is true that Margaret Sanger, who was born in the 19th century and died in 1966, promoted birth control for the lower orders — in which she included many blacks — but the idea of whites somehow tricking blacks into having abortions is lunacy. Real conservatives, especially serious Christians, would point out that the real cause of high black abortion rates is irresponsible sex.

There is another group, now growing quickly, that exists almost solely to reassure white conservatives that they are not racist — or at least that Democrats can be pegged as racists, too. A good example of the level of their arguments is to point out that during the presidential election of 2008, Democratic Senator Harry Reid said Mr. Obama had a good chance because he was “light skinned,” and spoke “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Another one of their favorite proofs that Republicans are not racist is to point out that it was Southern Democrats who were the grand champions of segregation.

Here is black blogger, John Hawkins:

Remember George ‘segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever’ Wallace standing in the door of an Alabama schoolhouse to keep black children from being able to go to school with whites? George Wallace was a Democrat. Remember Bull Connor turning water hoses and dogs on civil rights protestors? Bull Connor was a Democrat . . . Who’s the only black American currently on the Supreme Court? Clarence Thomas. The first black Secretary of State? Colin Powell. The first black woman ever to be a Secretary of State? Condi Rice [all appointed by Republicans].

You can imagine how far they get with arguments like this.

Finally, there is a group of genuinely intelligent and thoughtful black conservatives such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Shelby Steele, Ward Connerly, and Elizabeth Wright, who forcefully oppose race-based preferences. But black conservatives, no matter how intelligent, are not necessarily our allies.

Although Mr. Sowell acknowledged that The Bell Curve’s arguments for a genetic basis for racial differences in intelligence were based on legitimate scholarship, he tried desperately to refute them. Nor is Mr. Sowell above making politically correct attacks against fellow conservatives. In 2002, Senator Trent Lott caused an outcry when, at the 100th birthday party for Strom Thurmond, he said the country would have been better off if Thurmond had won his 1948 bid for the presidency on the segregationist Dixiecrat ticket. Mr. Sowell wrote that these remarks meant that “the position of black Republicans, especially, will be undermined, if not made untenable,” and that “any blacks considering becoming Republican candidates, or even Republican voters, will have to have some long second thoughts.” He concluded with the now-standard euthanasia prescription for Republicans: “The changing demographics of the country mean that Republicans over the years will have to make inroads into the minority votes that now go automatically to the Democrats.”

Shelby Steele has written very perceptively about how cynically both blacks and whites play the racial preferences game, but he is no friend. In 2003, when he was running for president, Howard Dean said the Democratic Party needed to appeal to guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. Mr. Steele lashed out at the idea of appealing to whites. He acknowledged there was a “double standard on race,” but said it was necessary because:

No group in recent history has more aggressively seized power in the name of its racial superiority than Western whites. This race illustrated for all time — through colonialism, slavery, white racism, Nazism — the extraordinary human evil that follows when great power is joined to an atavistic sense of superiority and destiny. This is why today’s whites, the world over, cannot openly have a racial identity.

In other words, whites are so uniquely evil that they should be consigned to oblivion. This type of thinking is more dangerous coming from a “conservative” than from a left-wing sociology professor.

The promotion of black conservatives of dubious credentials is nothing new. For example, the John Birch Society promoted black conservatives such as Julia Brown, Lola Belle Holmes, and George S. Schuyler, all former communists or socialists. The message was the same: It was the communists and socialists who were the real racists.

Of this group, Schuyler was the best known. He counted H.L. Mencken among his admirers and took some strong positions. For example, he opposed awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Martin Luther King. However, he was married to a white heiress, who believed “the white race . . . is spiritually depleted and America must mate with the Negro to save herself.” He also wrote a pamphlet called Inter-racial Marriage in the United States, which claimed America’s race problems could be solved through miscegenation, something that many “conservatives” such as Ben Wattenberg, Douglas Besharov, and Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom now endorse. Some things never change. Promoting a few blacks did not prevent mainstream conservatives from attacking the Birchers as racists.

Today, compared to the better known black conservatives, some of their lower-profile counterparts seem to be more willing to consider our views. In 2006, Kevin Martin agreed to debate Jared Taylor about race and was quite genial about it. Jesse Lee Peterson has interviewed Mr. Taylor respectfully on his radio program, as has Ken Hamblin. None of these men made the most articulate replies to race realist arguments, but it is to their credit that they are willing to give them a hearing — something that cannot be said of most white conservatives.

Without a doubt, however, Vanderbilt University Law Professor Carol Swain is the black conservative who has done the most to bring some level of acceptability to our views. Professor Swain is hard to pigeonhole. She is a strong evangelical Christian and occasionally appears on Sean Hannity, sounding like an entirely conventional conservative. She opposes mass immigration mainly because she says Third-World immigrants put wage and job pressures on blacks.

However, what makes Professor Swain unique is her interest in white racial consciousness. She seems to take seriously the view promoted by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that white consciousness is a serious threat to American democracy. However, given that it is a threat, she argues logically that the best way to defuse it is to remove the real grievances that give rise to it: racial preferences and mass immigration. She also suggests that bringing white nationalists into mainstream political discourse is better than marginalizing them. To deny their legitimate complaints only makes them angrier and more dangerous.

Again, this is an entirely logical position — but it infuriates the left. For the SPLC, white nationalism is not really a threat to democracy; it is an invaluable tool for fundraising and for delegitimizing opposition to mass immigration and anti-white advocacy. For a black to point out the logic of white nationalism not only undercuts their arguments, it hits the SPLC where it hurts most: It takes the urgency out of their appeals for money.

Perhaps the only black writing today who fully recognizes the legitimacy of white racial consciousness is Elizabeth Wright, editor of the always-interesting Issues and Views. She finds it deeply regrettable that “the average white is programmed to avoid anything that smacks of conscious endorsement of his own race,” and she despises blacks who are always looking to whites for handouts.

She also understands what a non-white America will mean for blacks:

The new dominant ethnics come to this land with their own sob stories of oppression. Unlike whites, they are hardly likely to fall over one another to apologize for past wrongs. Nor are they likely to spend their time in Congress concocting new laws designed to discriminate against their own sons and daughters in favor of blacks. “Reparations,” did you say? Just wait until the first move is made to un-name and re-name some of those Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevards.

Needless to say, Miss Wright says too many shrewdly intelligent things to have anything like mainstream recognition.

I have had honest conversations about race with a few reasonably bright and open-minded blacks who are not involved in politics. On one occasion, a light-skinned woman whom I knew through mutual acquaintances cornered me at a cocktail party and wanted to talk about affirmative action. I knew she had advanced degrees in sociology from an Ivy League school, and I dreaded the conversation.

Much to my surprise, she vehemently opposed affirmative action. She worked at the undergraduate admissions office at the same Ivy League school, where she clearly saw the biases in favor of blacks and against whites. She was also against the anti-white posture so many black professionals assume. She had wanted to do legitimate scholarship, but was pressured by her department to study the usual claptrap about race and gender.

One black friend told me he got his racial views from his grandparents. They grew up in the Deep South in the 1930s and 40s, managed to attend an all-black college, and became successful despite segregation. The man’s parents grew up in the 1960s, embraced black radicalism, and, like many blacks, dumped their child on the grandparents. The grandparents could not stand the whining of their own children, who never faced any real discrimination, and left my friend with a strong sense that society owed blacks no special favors and that they should make it on their own.

The generation who grew up before the civil rights movement is disappearing, however, and I don’t imagine many of their children will inherit their self-reliance. On the contrary, many are likely to conclude that if their parents were moderately successful in the 1950s — when racism was said to run rampant in the land — they would have been millionaires if the system had been fair. Indeed, Benjamin Hooks, who was executive director of the NAACP from 1977 to 1992, claimed in 1989 that if it were not for racism, he would have been president of the United States.

The ‘stigma’

Timid white conservatives who cannot bring themselves to say that affirmative action is wrong because it hurts whites argue instead that it stigmatizes blacks who have the ability to make it without preferences. Almost no blacks say this. As black comedian Dave Chapelle has said, he would rather be considered an affirmative-action hire than be unemployed.

And just who are these prodigies who can make it to the top on their own? At least in education, virtually all blacks are on the race-preferences escalator. Someone qualified to go to community college gets into a good state school. Someone with the brains to go to a state school gets a full scholarship to the Ivy League. At the far, far, far right end of the black bell curve there are a few blacks who are genuinely qualified to get into the top schools, but even they are sure to get honors and appointments more easily than whites. And how many of them resist the easy, grievance route of “black studies,” and instead learn something useful like engineering or biology? If affirmative action is an unbearable stigma, millions of blacks should be groaning under the strain. I, for one, don’t hear much groaning.

To put this in perspective, however, how many whites would object if they moved to Korea, for example, and found that Koreans were constantly pressing undeserved advantages and adulation on them? Would they complain that this was insulting and unfair, and campaign to get the Koreans to stop? Or would they sit back and enjoy it? A few might object out of a European sense of fairness, but none would pretend that they were being insulted or hurt by the advantages they were receiving.

Blacks have to overcome nearly insuperable barriers in order to oppose preferences for themselves. It is almost too much for even the most level-headed of them to see that “racism” has nothing to do with black misery, especially when so many whites keep apologizing for slavery, Jim Crow, and everlasting “white privilege.” At the same time, to accept that black failure is the fault of black people is to accept that they really are, on average, less capable than whites. Finally, even if blacks understood this, how many would be principled enough to give up an advantage that is freely offered? They’re not holding guns to whitey’s head. If whitey insists on lavishing unearned advantages on blacks, why not cash in?

A totemic belief in “white racism” also makes it very difficult for blacks to argue that race preferences are wrong because they punish innocent whites. Ward Connerly, who has run state ballot initiatives against affirmative action, and Clarence Thomas, who fights it in the Supreme Court, are among a tiny, tiny handful — and blacks have seen to it that they are among the most hated men in America.

Black conservatives will never get their co-racialists to join the GOP. I doubt that even the pandering whites who invite them to be speakers or who appoint them to high positions believe they ever will. And the blacks who do nothing but call Democrats or abortion “racist” are counterproductive because they only perpetuate the idea that calling someone a “racist” is a knockout blow.

However, to the extent that black conservatives make whites more comfortable with only a few of our ideas — that we should abolish racial preferences or reduce immigration — they serve a useful purpose and we should welcome them. The presence of token blacks will never keep liberal commentator Keith Olbermann or the NAACP from calling the Tea Parties the “Tea Klux Klan,” but they do give weak-minded whites permission to dislike Obama and oppose illegal immigration.

This said, the behavior of white conservatives around black allies is a sorry sight. They swarm around the two or three blacks who decide to attend a tea party, and literally thank them just for being there. Mainstream activists tell me how brilliant certain black conservatives are — despite the fact that they are obvious mediocrities. I suspect the only remotely original idea most of those blacks ever had was to realize that it is much easier to become a Republican celebrity than a Democratic celebrity — the competition is thin and Republicans are so desperate they will promote anyone who owns a suit — and that they can sound almost like a Democrat and still be a star.

Their motives aside, these blacks still serve a purpose. It is easy to dismiss most black conservatives as affirmative-action hires, but race realists need to remember that people do not come to our views overnight. Millions of Americans have good instincts, but are overwhelmed by the message that racism is the worst thing possible. Anything that helps nudge whites even a few inches our way is good.

In my own case, I first became interested in race through a gut reaction to Spanish-speaking enclaves in my hometown and to the clearly under-qualified yet indignant blacks who attended my college. I did not think about racial differences in IQ or the changing racial demographics of America. When I first read American Renaissance, I thought it went way too far. However, the more I thought about affirmative action and immigration, the clearer it became that they cannot be understood without understanding racial differences. My progress was relatively quick, but it takes a lot longer for some people.

The point, of course, is to get whites to act in their own interests in an era in which most conservatives do not understand that reducing the size of government and stopping illegal immigration are in their interests as whites. If it takes the approval of blacks for whites to take these positions — to take their first, tiny mental steps onto the fringes of forbidden territory — then let there be black conservatives. If it takes a boob like Armstrong Williams to help cure some whites of glassy-eyed multi-culturalism, let’s keep the boobs in business.

Mental habits are like physical habits; they grow stronger through repetition. Eventually they take on a force of their own, and an insight that first arrived with the blessing of a black conservative can become part of the mental landscape. Every new step makes further steps more likely, and eventually whites learn to follow the logic and morality that lead to a proper understanding of race.

There are many paths that can lead to race realism, and it would be wrong to block any of them.

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