Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Black Conservative Tradition Emerges

There's a recent burbling of interest in the blogosphere about Black Conservativism, so I'd be remiss if I didn't link to some of my own work on the subject. So here we go: Excerpts on Clarence Thomas, How I Read Rev. Wright, Black Conservatives in Large and Small Caps, Black Conservatism Revisited, and Taking Thomas Seriously.

Okay, that's out of the way.

So the latest discussion comes from a TNR book review of a recent biography on Booker T. Washington, scion of the modern Black Conservative movement. It's a very interesting read, and one of the things the author notes constituted my first reaction to reading Washington, namely, it's fine to say you're going to be conciliatory and give up on certain Black rights in order to pursue a wider agenda of protecting your people. But it's a gamble that has to pay off, and it doesn't seem like it did for Washington: the era he presided over was the nadir of American post-Civil War race relations.

Anyway, Matt Yglesias rightfully notes that
within the African-American political tradition, like within the white political tradition, there’s a conservative strain and a liberal strain. The conservative strain is pessimistic about race relations and nationalistic in its orientation, whereas the liberal strain is optimistic, cosmopolitan, and integrationist. But because this controversy within black politics is embedded inside a larger white-dominated political context it often gets confused. Sometimes, as in the conventional reading of Washington, the black conservative appears to white American liberals to be the timid appeaser of white supremacists. And other times, as with a Malcolm X, he looks like a dangerous radical black nationalist.

But then he incorrectly states that "It’s only extremely recently that the idea of an African-American aligning himself, à la Clarence Thomas, with the mainstream conservative movement in America could be remotely possible."

I think that's an oversimplification of Justice Thomas, but also Damon Root accurately indicts the history as well, citing such important Black Conservative luminaries like Zora Neale Hurston and George Schuyler. And Matt concedes the issue, with the (also correct caveat) that Hurston's views are interesting historically, but shouldn't take our eye off the bigger ball which tells us they were pretty marginal amongst Blacks of the era.

Anyway, I don't have anything to add, but I thought the discussion was interesting. Also somewhat related, Dan Markel on the "segregationist origins of diversity".

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