John Derbyshire makes some interesting observations about race in American society. His analysis has a rather nice syllogistic air to it but I'm afraid he's a bit short on some details. Specifically, he initiates a dialog with an audience that is not accustomed to talking about race, and he knows it. While he hits on many cogent points, he invents new terms and combats them without really addressing the reasons he much.
Derbyshire points out that Conservatives are both ignorant and cowardly when it comes to the subject of race. He's right. It is a daunting challenge but not a pressing one. It is analagous to the matter of being 40 pounds overweight. It's something you can live with, but it's unhealthy and you really have to work at changing. But overweight people get love too. The current atmosphere of anti-racism is the equivalent of drinking Diet Coke, or sometimes two Diet Cokes, just to be sure. In other words, we Conservatives are the elephant in the room.
The problem with race in America is not petty details of our inability to talk about race healthily, its that we don't understand, we meaning mutually understood between blacks and whites about the nature of what is, and how it came to be. This is because the political parties have their narratives about racial justice and the Democrats is larger only because the Democratic base is more black. Blackfolks have their own narrative about race in America and it doesnt often coincide with what the parites are saying nor with what they have done. Serious black anti-racists don't trust either party to have their best interests at heart. Still, conservatives and Republicans are percieved to have much more to prove.
When it comes to the GOP, there are high points to talk about, but broadly speaking most blackfolks are ignorant of the Dirksen story and largely overly impressed with the Southern Strategy. Republicans and conservatives will get nowhere with African American voters until they can disabuse themselves of an image which is agnostic about black progress. What conservatives need is a creation myth that resonates with blackfolks. The facts are not enough and it is the fault of the Conservative Movement for not bringing blackfolks along, deep in the dialog.
Conservatives don't talk about race because they are socially inept and not familiar with the ways black people discuss it amongst themselves. So they are incapable of distinguishing between the rhetoric and ideology of our so-called 'black leaders' and the actual aims of African Americans. It is for this reason that I am convinced that to even have this conversation, the GOP must be integrated. And no conversation about race solves any significant social problems unless it begins by generating enthusiasm with all parties involved. And no politics that fails to communicate in common terms across lines are going to enable successful coalitions. We know that political operatives spend a great deal of time crafting 'message', and anything that is 'off message' is cast aside. But there is no 'message' that points to advancement of racial dialog. And this is insufficient for the extended conversation that must take place for there to be a black/white consensus on race matters.
A more thoroughly integrated GOP must be a reflection of the political will of the people, it cannot reach out to blacks merely for the sake of solving racial issues. Blackfolks are political animals, but we don't have a nose ring labled 'racial issues' through which we can be led around. This sets up a paradox. Blacks will not migrate to the Republican Party because of its policy on race, but Republican weakness on racial issues of the past and present remains the greatest disincentive keeping blacks away. This is why you will consistently find black Republicans who appear to be indifferent about the lack of a GOP 'racial agenda'.
Let's be clear about something here. Talking about racial issues in a way that generates consensus and enthusiasm is an important matter, but it is not the same thing as 'raising the race'. Talking about something and doing something are two different things. Republicans certainly want black progress, but they only expect to facilitate it the same way they facilitate middle class folks. Furthermore . Republican conversations never get off the ground with blackfolks because there is an unstated desire that Republicans use their power to do something for African America, according to the way the black narrative runs. As part of that narrative, the Republicans have to first admit that they are all closet racists who secretly hate blacks and shelter overt racists, all because of the Southern Strategy.
This status quo works because the Republican party has the blessing of naive consistency. It preaches no special considerations by race and delivers none. Instead, the only people who talk about race 24/7 are unelected white liberal activists and unelected black political activists who are working out of a static view of the goverenment solution to our social problems. Conservatives rightly criticise the very basis of this thinking, but by doing so are hitting their greatest stumbling block in addressing the concerns of black voters, which is a presumption of making progress on the racial front.
So the problem is black progress. Who's responsible?
The kneejerk Right answer is that blackfolks are responsible for their own progress, that there is nothing that the government can do for them. This is sheer hypocrisy. Why have politics? Why have government if it doesn't benefit its constituents? In countering the welfare-state mentality, which they should, some conservatives wrongly assume they have eliminated the entire basis of their appeal to the majority of African Americans. That is because they pay too much attention to think-tank wars and not enough to the people themselves. But this is not delusion in a vacuum. Every black voice that states opposition to the Republican party on the basis of it not supporting Affirmative Action and entitlement programs fuels this fire.
The Affirmative Action debate as the locus of black/Republican relations is an exercise in futility. Anyone who engages in that is doomed. Consider the following, while keeing in mind Malcolm X's position. He saw right through it. Whites and Asians don't talk about race because it is generally accepted, while untrue, that Asians are superior to whites on average. So while Asians seem to be more integrated into white society, I argue that is a consequence of the size of the statistical sample. A common sense way to look at this is to imagine that any social program, or Affirmative Action has a certain amount of force. And to exercise that force on the object to be lifted. We all know that in the main, Affirmative Action has had a strikingly positive effect on the careers of white women. On aggregate, white families have benefitted as much as black families. So it has done some excellent and exceptional things, but it is not what has raised the race, and anyone who believes its impact can be anything more than marginal hasn't learned what Malcolm X knew 40 years ago.
White Conservatives won't say so because they don't generally understand the black racial narrative, nor the message of Malcolm X, but in fact they are in perfect harmony in their basic beliefs. It will not be politics or government largess that will raise the depressed stature of the Black Man, it will be a revolution of values based on religious discipline. Whitefolks are not fundamentally a part of that equation of refining the qualities of the Black Man towards the ends of self-sufficiency. It continues to stun me that this parallel isn't widely understood, but it does go to underscore how weak Conservatives are on matters of understanding the black narrative on race and how they bumble around searching for the right message. Hello. It's not coming from the Heritage Foundation. Here is Malcolm:
The platform that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, our religious leader, stands on is the platfrom of complete freedom, justice and equality for the 20 million black people or so-called Negroes here in America. And he teaches us that because of the seriousness of the condition that our people now find themselves in that it is absolutely impossible to solve our problems with means other than religion. And he teaches us that the religion of Islam is the only religion that will instill within our people the incentive to stand on our own feet. And instead of trying to force ourselves upon whites or force ourselves into the white society or blame the white man for our predicament and constantly beg him for what he has, he says that the only way that we can solve our problem is to unite together among ourselves, among our own kind, clean ourselves up, rid ourselves of the evils that we've become addicted to here in this society and try and solve our problem ourselves.
Props to the Struggle
Black culture retains a dialog and conversation about the progress of the race which is assumed to be the part-time avocation of anyone involved in successful life. The presumptions against blacks, whether stated or unstated present various stumbling blocks to success, and successful blacks are always presumed to 'work twiece as hard'. Whether or not that is actually the case, all those who perservere against the racial problems of America are expected to understand this conversation and communicate something about that back to the black community at large. We must testify. Whether it is a rap song about bling, a gospel song about deliverance, or Colin Powell being booed when he speaks positively about Affirmative Action at the GOP National Convention, there is communication that must go down about The Struggle. What is never, under any circumstances acceptable to this ethos is that we suck up to The Man at the expense of black pride. This is the very definition of Tomming.
The unfortunate presumption has always been with regard to the upward mobility on the Right, an individual must be a part-time or full-time Tom. What irks blackfolks is not the upward mobility, but that someone cannot stand up to their full hight as a black man or woman. When we percieve that that fundamental element of their humanity is being suppressed in any way, we dismiss that person as a sellout. And who wouldn't?
The recent endorsement of Republican candidate for Senate Micheal S. Steele, who is currently Lt. Governor of Maryland by hiphop mogul Russell Simmons and CEO Cathy Hughes of Radio One is immensely significant in this regard because it communicates within that dialog of Struggle that Steele is one who has a common bond with those popularly acknowledged by blackfolks not to be sellouts in their ascent.
African Americans today are suffering the ill effects of diaspora. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Movement and the ascention of black social capital, African America has disbursed through the country. In 1950, only 14% of blackfolks graduated from highschool. Today it is not uncommon for there to be married black families with two college graduates who grew up in different parts of the nation and live in a third. This is a tremendous increase in social mobility. And yet it comes at the expense of the traditional black ghettos where we were all once forced to live. The end of the Civil Rights and subsequent Black Power movements dispersed black leadership who have been absorbed into mainstream professional and managerial classes. The principle of 'each one teach one' is challenged. The role of racial testimony has gone cyber. Gone are the corner men and the 'mayors' of black neighborhoods. Here in Southern California, many traditional black neighborhoods aren't even majority black any longer. So the quality of the narrative of black struggle is undergoing great change - it is borne today by more media at more levels with less signal and more noise. So it is increasingly difficult to steer African American opinion either by traditional media or by blacks themselves.
Therefore conservatives face a very daunting challenge in addressing the narrative of black progress in ways that resonate with blacks from the old ways of their communication reconciled with their new media sophistication. But it is insufficient for them to stand on the sidelines and not engage in the subject of black progress, especially given the massive investments the Conservative Movement has made and continues to make against the tradition of liberally angled journalism in all media. What an embarrassment it is for John Derbyshire, a Brit, to be the one who initiates this debate.
I could go into examples of the Conservative default. They are numerous, but I would like to highlight two which I find rather notable. The first is the career of neoconservative David Horowitz who constantly and consistently demonizes his association with the Black Panthers and the second is the attack on Kwanzaa sustained on an annual basis by Ann Coulter. There are certainly perfectly logical and sound reasons to offer critiques of the Panthers and of the personal history of Ron Karenga, founder of Kwanzaa. But like the dismissal of Affirmative Action these very narrow ways of dealing with issues of interest and importance to the narrative of black progress is insulting and reinforces the stereotypes against conservatives and Republicans. I get mad about it and I'm already an activist for the Right.
Waiting for black accretion towards the Right, which I believe is inevitable as blacks advance through society, is lazy and unacceptable. The Old School values which are clear and present in black politics and society are close to conservative values in more ways than just Bible thumping black evangelicals. Conservatives need to move forward. It will take work, persistence and patience, but most of all it will take initiative. The direction to go is in the direction of success, and that is what the conversation needs to be about. That is what will generate enthusiasm. Conversations about dysfunction and pathology and the analysis of such.. well that's the province of the Left agenda, and it is a non-starter. At least it is over here at Cobb. I challenge Conservatives to talk about upward mobility in synch with the enormous desire within African Americans to fulfill their potential in that regard. America is unified in its antipathy to racism so both blacks and the Right should stop pretending that racism is what's keeping them apart. It is not. It is a demonstrated inability to appreciate each others narratives about black success and what it means. When they both start talking about it with each other instead of past each other, eyes will begin to open.