Published on March 5th, 201421
Chidike Okeem: The End of Artificial Black Conservatism
Black people are dramatically declining in sociopolitical power in the United States. While many recognize the problematic nature of the hegemonic control that the Democratic Party has on the black vote, many do not concern themselves with the fact that black conservatism is generally not respected as a serious intellectual movement. Black conservatism has the reputation of being an ideology associated with blacks who have self-worth issues and feel it is necessary to trash the entire race for validation—and remuneration—from white conservative audiences.
It is an analytical mistake to confuse blacks’ rejection of mainstream conservatism as a wholesale rejection of conservative thought. Rather, it is simply a rejection of artificial black conservatism. Manifestly, the most visible form of black conservatism in American society is the artificial strain. That is to say, many prominent black conservatives use their blackness as a convenient cosmetic feature, but blackness is truly foreign to their ideology. They use the problems in the black community as an opportunity to deride black people—as opposed to persuading blacks about the superiority of conservative solutions.
The mixture of blackness and conservatism is incorrectly looked at as an oddity by many political observers. In American society, people marvel at the sight of a black person who “astoundingly” supports limited government, entrepreneurialism, and social values rooted in authentic morality. Black people who hold conservative values are not odd. What can be considered odd, however, are blacks who are willing to unquestioningly repeat the talking points of the mainstream conservative movement. Black conservatives who are serious about the betterment of the black community cannot simply co-sign every talking point offered by the mainstream conservative movement. It is simply impossible to be a serious black conservative without demonstrating notable differences from the mainstream right.
The mainstream conservative movement has no respect for independent black conservative thinkers. Creative and intrepid black conservative intellectuals are counterproductive to the role that the black conservative is supposed to fill in the mainstream American conservative movement. Blacks in the mainstream American conservative movement are simply resigned to being convenient spokespeople who dutifully absolve the white right of any unpleasant charges of racism. Indeed, artificial black conservatism is more beneficial to the white right than it is to the black community. Artificial black conservatives are every bit as subservient to the right as many left-wing blacks are to the American left.
In post-Trayvon America, it is simply farcical to suggest that mainstream conservatives do not show a casual disregard for black life. Only an artificial black conservative could have stood with mainstream American conservatives as they enthusiastically supported George Zimmerman and treated the shooting death of Trayvon Martin as an inconsequential episode. In order to advance as an artificial black conservative within mainstream conservatism, showing a callous disregard for black life and black suffering is a prerequisite, which explains why an otherwise brilliant man like world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson flippantly compared Obamacare to slavery—and received whistles and applause from a largely white conservative audience. Attempting to persuade black people to join a version of black conservatism that has no discernible difference to mainstream conservatism is a fool’s errand.
The hostility of mainstream conservatism to the black race can even be seen from the esteemed Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 “a racial entitlement.” Scalia’s comment must be taken in context with the broader ideology advocated by the godfather of modern American conservatism, the late William F. Buckley, Jr., who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and was an avowed white supremacist who wrote about the inferiority of the Negro. Buckley supported whites dominating blacks in both domestic (Jim Crow) and global (South African apartheid) contexts. Scalia’s comments should not be seen in isolation, inasmuch as they are wholly consistent with the history of mainstream conservatism. Simply pointing out that Republican politicians supported civil rights bills in the 1960s is not a refutation of the fact that many ideological thought leaders in the mainstream conservative movement did not.
It is interesting to note that Justice Clarence Thomas, the second African American Supreme Court justice, had nothing to say regarding Scalia’s remark about legislation protecting black suffrage. However, he was recently in the news because he made some comments about race, suggesting that northern liberals are more racist than southerners are. He also claimed that Americans talk too much about race. Thomas’ choices about when to speak on racial issues are peculiar. Thomas thought it was wise to stay silent when his conservative colleague referred to the black vote as a racial entitlement; however, when he does choose to speak about race, it is to offer a personal reflection that aids those who trivialize the brutality of Jim Crow in Southern states. This is the kind of rhetoric that the mainstream right has conditioned black conservatives to consistently utter in public. This is not genuine black conservatism. This is not a form of conservatism that has any use to black people. This is black conservatism in its artificial form.
Curiously, Clarence Thomas did not think Americans talked too much about race when he hyperbolically used the race card to deflect from sexual harassment charges levied against him by Anita Hill. Rather than simply maintaining his innocence, he chose to use the extremely racially evocative term ‘high-tech lynching’ to characterize his treatment. At least when Herman Cain used the same phrase, years later, he was actually being accused of sexual harassment by Caucasian women. The fact that a black woman was accusing Thomas of sexual harassment did not stop Thomas from injecting race into a discussion where it was clearly inapt. Evidently, Clarence Thomas thinks people talk too much about race—except when he talks about race to deflect from personal scandals.
Again, to the mainstream right, black conservatives are of no use if they are not being used to defend white conservatives against charges of racism—or being used to attack white and black liberals on issues of race. The quickest way to be discarded as a black conservative is to stray from this assignment, or by pointing out how mainstream conservatives are often as heinous on issues of race as the left-wingers they obsessively inveigh against. Black conservatives, then, are supposed to be unapologetic hypocrites who point out Margaret Sanger’s deplorable history with Planned Parenthood, her satanic dream of annihilating the black race, and the Democrats’ larger despicable history with the Ku Klux Klan, while appallingly aligning with right-wingers who—at best—ignore legitimate racism, and—at worst—are staunch defenders of the same kind of racism. Yes, the Republican Party was founded as the anti-slavery party, and it has a long history of introducing civil rights legislation for black Americans; however, it is simply intellectually dishonest to pretend as though the mainstream American conservative movement does not have a plethora of moral failings on the issue of race—failings conservatives continue to add to even today.
If black conservatism is to be taken seriously as a sociopolitical force and intellectual movement, it cannot simply be an appendage of a mainstream conservative movement that is overtly hostile to blacks. Insofar as black conservatism is inseparably attached to mainstream conservatism, all it has the potential to be is artificial black conservatism. For black conservatism to be respected, it must possess its own distinguishable brand and become an entity with serious goals and ideas. It is the almost inseparable relationship between black conservatism and mainstream conservatism that makes black people look at conservatism with contempt—despite agreeing in principle with many conservative ideas. Conservative principles are an inextricable part of authentic black culture and have been pivotal to black historical success; however, as long as black conservatives continue the delusion of a big conservative tent with no serious ideological demarcations, conservative goals will never be actualized in the black community today.
Blacks can adopt conservatism as a meaningful sociopolitical ideology—just not the conservatism of Antonin Scalia and William F. Buckley, Jr. Black conservative ideology should be based on the writings of the father of African American history, Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Indeed, if Woodson were alive today, many in the mainstream of conservatism would classify him as a liberal, simply because he celebrated his blackness and African heritage. They would conveniently ignore his repudiation of Marxist economics and support for free-market and competition-based ideas. It is inane for serious black conservatives to attempt to appeal to blacks using a platform that contains thinkers overtly hostile to the black race, especially when history is replete with pro-black conservative thinkers.
In the tradition and spirit of Woodson, black conservatives should continue to think creatively and originally. We need more black conservative sociologists, political scientists, historians, and journalists who do not have to check with the accepted publications of the mainstream conservative movement for approved talking points. Black conservatism needs more thinkers to speak the truth and posit ideas and strategies for the movement to proliferate. Granted, thinking creatively is hard work that often goes unappreciated. By contrast, there are many pats on the head and checks waiting for those who choose to be artificial black conservative spokespeople.
As creative thinkers, serious black conservatives must also be careful about the lines of argument that are taken to defend certain ideas. For example, the strongest intellectual rationale for opposing affirmative action is that it damages those it supposedly intends to uplift by placing people in institutions that they are not academically suitable for. This leads to higher dropout rates and ends the careers of people who would have continued their educations elsewhere and become wildly successful in their chosen professions after graduation. Another important point regarding affirmative action is the fact that it puts an insulting social question mark on the rightful achievements of black people, which helps to fuel the racist myth of black inferiority. By contrast, opposing affirmative action because it is “reverse discrimination against whites” is a weak white nationalist talking point that completely ignores the fact that white women have been significant beneficiaries of affirmative action. Serious black conservatives cannot advance the “reverse discrimination” argument, even though it is very popular in the white-nationalist-friendly mainstream conservative movement.
Another policy point on which black conservatives must differ from the mainstream conservative movement is on the War on Drugs. Neither political party has truly made efforts to end the War on Drugs. Republicans are more preoccupied with monitoring Michelle Obama’s alleged “Marxist plot” to ban unhealthy snacks than they are in avoiding lives being ruined by the injudicious War on Drugs that has been waged and devastatingly lost. The War on Drugs is a policy that was recklessly advocated by liberal Democrats like Charlie Rangel. Like most liberal policies, the War on Drugs disproportionately harms the black community, yet this has now become a policy position that is used as a litmus test for “true conservatism.” Serious black conservatives need to leave this preposterous policy position for the mainstream conservative movement and its unthinking “thinkers.” The black conservative position should be ending the War on Drugs. We should be advancing conservative alternatives to criminalizing drug use, such as effective community treatments, and more importantly, emphasizing the importance of stable homes, as social science research shows that those from stable families are less likely to engage in drug use. Black conservatives cannot claim to be supportive of the black community and the black family, while simultaneously supporting the funneling of blacks into the already mammoth and highly immoral prison-industrial complex.
Solution-oriented black conservatives must stop putting the advancement of the black community solely in the hands of political parties. It is simply imprudent to be aggressively devoted to any political party more than being devoted to a conservative ideology. Serious black conservatives should approach political parties with caution. While politics and elections are important, there are other things that black people can do to better our communities that do not directly involve the political process. Group economics—effective and strategic spending by blacks within the black community—does not require legislation; it simply requires the will of blacks. Promoting a culture in which education is of paramount importance does not require legislation; it just requires the will of blacks and a familial emphasis on bookish learning and academic achievement. Politics is important, but it is a grave mistake to neglect the various recession-proof, sociocultural actions that black people can take to improve our communities, without even a single legislation being passed. Impotently relying on the government, public policies, and political parties is a decidedly un-conservative approach to dealing with issues in the black community.
It is time for artificial black conservatism to end. Black conservatives need to start formulating a message and constructing a conservative platform on which black people can comfortably stand. No more should the term ‘black conservative’ be synonymous with ‘a self-loathing caitiff who tickles the ears of those in the mainstream American conservative movement.’ It is time for ‘black conservative’ to be denotative of a self-respecting, educated black armed with serious social and political arguments. Serious black conservatives must be ready to present an alternative vision to the progressive worldview that has caused devastation and ruin in the black community for many decades. The monotonous, stale, and inefficacious talking points of artificial black conservatives simply will not cut it any longer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chidike Okeem is a writer. Born in Nigeria, raised in London, England, and now living in California, he writes about race, culture, religion, and politics. You can follow him on Twitter @VOICEOFCHID and read the rest of his writings on his website at www.voiceofchid.com.