Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Black Conservatism Revisited

First of all, I want to thank all of the folks who have helped touch off this conversation and have given me so many kind words, particularly Andrew Sullivan for the original link, Rod Dreher at Crunchy Con and the Dallas Morning News, Jim Buie, Robert George, Rafique Tucker (who gets special shout-out as a fellow Marylander), and all the other folks who have left comments or emailed me. I really think this is an important conversation to be had, and I'm particularly gratified that so many people have been so willing to accept with an open mind the existence of parallel Black political orientations which don't perfectly map on to what we normally think of as "liberal" and "conservative".

I wanted to take this opportunity to tie up a couple loose threads in my brief exposition of Black Conservative ideology, the most glaring of which was relying a bit too heavily on separatism as a unifying factor of Black Conservativism. To be sure, I think that it is a very important strand in Black Conservative thought, and one that exists left and right. But someone inquired how Clarence Thomas (who is quite tied in with an important "White" institution, after all) fits into this metric. And he doesn't -- at least, not quite. Justice Thomas is clearly not a separatist. But he does, I believe, subscribe to the more critical aspect of Black Conservatism -- a deep skepticism that Whites will abandon racism, particularly due to high-minded moral appeals. But unlike the separatists, Thomas' Black Conservatism simply urges Black people to accept that racism will be there and will always be there -- and win anyway. Elsewhere I called it the "hit me with your best shot" strain of Black Conservatism -- that which does not kill Black people makes them stronger, so rather than complain or fruitlessly war against the existence of racist people and racist institutions in American life, just grit your teeth, lower your shoulder, and win the game.

Now, this may make sense for Black people. The reason I say I respect Black Conservatism is that -- in a world where racism still is an important constricting force -- it's important to let Black people decide for themselves how they want to adapt to it. I don't think I have the right to ask Black folks to constantly be warriors for integration. But, I don't think White folks can take this same position. It's one thing for a Black person to say to his fellows, "look, Whites are always going to be racist, so you got to figure out a way to survive in that world rather than wasting your energy on a fruitless quest to end racism." It's quite another for a White guy to tell Blacks, "look, we're always going to be racist, so you have to figure out how deal with that and thrive anyway." Black conservatism is a very convenient philosophy for White people, because it essentially assumes the worst in us, absolving us of our duty to overcome racism. I think our response to Black Conservatives has to be one of respect, but also of a burning desire to prove them wrong -- to show them that, yes, we can and will extend the hand.

But anyway. Ultimately, then, the unifying force in Black Conservatism is not separatism (though many are, to varying degrees), the unifying force is the belief in the permanence of racism. Black Liberals seek ways to obliterate racism, Black Conservatives seek ways to thrive in spite of it.

So that's the main thing. The other quick point I wanted to expand on was where conservative Black Conservativism differs from conservatives who are Black (someone asked why I wouldn't characterize Ward Connerly as a Black Conservative). The short answer is that the latter simply doesn't believe that racism is a major factor in affecting the life chances of Black people anymore -- their problems lie on other axes. Needless to say, these can start to bleed into each other -- the line between saying racism exists but you should simply push past it through the will to succeed and saying that racism is not really that important is thin, but it is there. Blacks who are conservative don't necessarily believe that racism continues to be a big player in the affairs of Blacks, Black Conservatives think it's a permanent feature of the landscape, but that can't be an excuse for failing.


Superdestroyer said...

You would have a stronger argument is you could provide examples of how black liberals seek to seek ways to obliterate racism

Are any black liberals realling seeking ways to obliterate racism

How does racial social engineering, quotas, affirmative action, separate and unequal admissions program obliterate racism. Even the most liberal blacks want to keep their HBU's, their black churches, their black student organizations.

Trying to find some tenuous connection between social conservative whites and militant blacks is laughable.

A different way to look at black culture is that it is big government libertarianism. Blacks want to be left alone with their own culture and organizations while having the government spend large sums on them to include government jobs, government set asides, and government entitlements.

You would support your claim better if you could find examples of Black Conservatives telling people to not work for the government or to not accept handouts from the government.

PG said...

Superdestroyer, I'm not sure you understand either the distinction between Black Liberals and Black Conservatives, or what Black Conservatives actually are. Your statement, "Trying to find some tenuous connection between social conservative whites and militant blacks is laughable," is indicative that you've managed to miss everything David has said and done (e.g., using a capital C to designate Black Conservatives) to distinguish between conservatives in the usual political sense and Conservatives on the issue of whether racism is a permanent feature of American life. He's quite obviously NOT tried to find a connection between the two, and indeed has specified that he is not saying there is a connection.

First, what do "racial social engineering, quotas, affirmative action, separate and unequal admissions program" have to do with "HBU's, their black churches, their black student organizations"? Do you want to raze to the ground anything that's predominately black, including Howard University and Obama's church? Neither refuses admission to whites who seek to enter. Nor, in my experience, do most black student organizations -- people of any race who want to join are welcome to do so, just as they can join the Asian organizations if they are interested in that culture.

Black Conservatives do tell people not to become reliant on government handouts from a white-controlled government because that government may snatch them away at any time (cf. welfare reform). You seem to have missed all of Booker T. Washington's, Clarence Thomas's and Rev. Wright's admonitions to blacks to become self-reliant within their communities and not to expect whites to let them have anything.

Superdestroyer said...


Did you miss the connection between conservative Republicans mistrust of the United Nations with the claiming non-existent claim of Black Conservatives not liking the government (but they somehow seem to love government handouts).

Claiming that Clarence Thomas with the white wife and white mentor's is the same as Rev. Wright also confuses the issues.

Senator Obama got his start as a community activist trying to expand government programs in the black community. Rev. Wright probably has no problem with government make work jobs for blacks, no problem with 8A minority set asides for blacks, no problem with special government grants for HBU's, and no problem with separate and unequal admission programs at university, college, professional schools, etc.

However, Rev. Wright does not seem to like the government run criminal justice system or maybe the parts of the government that require competence instead of set asides such as professional licensing.

Rev. Wright is a good example of big government libertarisn. He does not expect the government to bother him but he definitely wants as big a piece of pork for the black community as possible.

PG said...

Sorry, who are the Black Conservatives that David listed who like the government? Your reasoning that because Obama, identified as a Black Liberal, likes X, therefore Wright, identified as a Black Conservative, *must* like X, makes no sense. Then again, I'm guessing you're the type who said that because Wright believes Y, Obama must also believe Y. Why pay attention to the distinction David drew between the Black Conservative and Black Liberal, when they're all Black and thus really all the same?

The fact that you can't comport Clarence Thomas's close association with individual white people with his underlying belief that racism is a permanent condition in America does not mean that calling him a Black Conservative "confuses the issues." It just means you're confused as to how Thomas might see individuals differently than he sees an overall society or institution. Wright had some white folks in his congregation. Black Conservatives don't have to expel whites from their lives; they just have to believe that a longstanding condition of a society cannot be eliminated within a short period of time, if ever.

You resort to statements such as "Rev. Wright probably has no problem..." (emphasis added), rather than bothering to cite anything the man himself has said. It's very odd, considering how hot white conservatives have been lately to cite Wright as much as possible. Surely with all the hours of Rev. Wright's sermons you've viewed in order to gain your expertise on his views, you can quote him actually saying something on this topic, rather than dealing in "probably."

See "paleoconservativism." That's the ONLY aspect of political conservatism to which David's analysis links Black Conservatism. Bush, McCain, et al. -- pretty much anyone who supports nation-building projects like Afghanistan and Iraq -- are not paleoconservatives. Paleos are very much in the minority and in retreat in the modern Republican Party. Hence this rather derisive term used toward them even by other conservatives.

The paleoconservative detested foreign entanglements and was suspicious of the UN way back when it was an American idea and called the League of Nations. The modern conservative seems quite gung ho about foreign entanglements and only dislikes the current UN because of its antagonism toward Israel and its inefficiencies in both policing and humanitarianism.

If the UN's aid activities were turned over to a private sector multinational -- even a French one, though Wal-Mart or Coca-Cola are preferred -- most modern conservatives would be satisfied. In contrast, the paleocon is almost as troubled by the internationalism of the 21st century private sector as by the specter of One World Government. Many of the original "Buy American," fear-Japan-and-now-China folks were people who considered themselves conservatives; they've been left behind by both parties' general inclination toward free trade.