Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Black Conservatism, Redux

Continuing once again on the theme of Black Conservatism, I thought this CNN story (it links to a video report) might be of interest. The subject is a Black Georgia judge who ordered all the Whites out of his courtroom, and proceeded to lecture the remaining Blacks, one-on-one on "how to behave and changing their lives."
"You have to turn it around. It's not the White Man. You are the one committing these crimes...."

On the one hand, this is the typical conservative proposal for Blacks -- they have to take responsibility for themselves, not blame the White Man, fix their own communities. On the other hand, it seems to badly clash with the "color-blind" principle. The point being, again, to demonstrate the cleavages between Black and White Conservatism (and their racial outlook in general). Insofar as the conservatism manifests itself in self-ownership and personal responsibility, communal Black efforts to actualize the principle will always strike White Conservative ears as being color-conscious.

This might explain the somewhat odd (to my ears) lede CNN chose to begin their story -- asking if the judge's actions were "reverse racism" against Whites. I mean, I guess I can see that, but it's a bit of a leap -- that Whites are discriminated against because they can't be there for an intramural conversation within the Black community (about how they need to take personal responsibility and not complain about what White folks are doing, no less!). Indeed, the conservative White anxiety over this sort of proceeding could be highly indicative -- they say they want Blacks to take ownership of their own lives, but they get mighty antsy when that self-ownership means Whites aren't always going to get to be in the room, listening in. These Whites, it seems, aren't quite ready to give up their roles as monitors and overseers. And that creates tension.

Meanwhile, as one of the men interviewed at the end of the segment noted, it's at least as reasonable to criticize the judge for being biased against Black people -- while certainly Black people have to take personal responsibility when they engage in destructive behavior, White people do all of those things too, but it's never considered to be indicative of a racially based pathology. But the Black Conservative would argue that what Whites do, Whites do, and that's no excuse for Blacks to not get their houses in order.


PG said...

I've noticed for a long time a trend of discomfort among African Americans in having whites listen in when blacks criticize the black community. I first picked up on it when I read in an interview several years ago that Chris Rock stopped doing the "Blacks vs. Niggas" routine in his stand-up after he heard it being widely quoted among whites. Dave Chappelle abandoned his show entirely because he felt that it was making it easier for white people to laugh at -- not with -- black people. An Obama critic at theroot.com puts it this way: "Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to messages of personal responsibility. Indeed, as Michael Eric Dyson accurately points out in his book Is Bill Cosby Right?, such messages have always been central to black liberation struggles. My concern, however, is how such messages are taken up by the broader public."

Frankly, when you see the way white conservatives will twist a black speaker's words to suit their own purposes, it's no wonder that many African Americans feel that it's worse to criticize the community where white people can hear, than it is to appear by one's silence to be condoning its problems. A favorite is Jesse Jackson's remark that he is relieved when he is walking in a city at night, hears footsteps behind him, starts thinking about robbery and turns to see a white man. Usually omitted is Jackson's preceding phrase, "There is nothing more painful to me..." that he feels this relief.

I tried to explain this dynamic to a white conservative friend recently, when he complained that whites are charged with racism if they make the same complaints about blacks that some black make about themselves. He said that what matters is the truth of the claim, not the skin color of the speaker. I don't think I managed to get through the idea that there's a difference between criticism within the "family," i.e. among people who care about and are invested in one another's well being, and criticism that comes from the outside. Or as Chris Rock put it,
"You probably think I shouldn't use the N-word, but that rule is just for white folks. Any black person can say 'nigger' and get away with it. It's true. It's like calling your kid an idiot. Only you can call your kid that. Someone else calls your kid an idiot, there's a fight."

I think all of us who belong to identifiable groups, particularly those of minority ethnicities or religions, have some sense of this. We know that pardesis will tend to stereotype us all by whichever member of our group they encounter, and so even if we have no other emotional relationship to a member of our group, we feel the need to police him so he doesn't represent us badly to everyone else.

Jack said...

This is basically why I get pissed off when the left-leaning campus paper 'advises' campus activists to be civil and not 'go to far' etc. I routinely will give the same advice but never in public. To do so inevitably gives the other side ammunition and particularly in a campus setting, there are way better ways to give someone advice then publishing.

At the same time kicking all the white people out of a courtroom does seem problematic.