A thoughtful essay here provokes good thinking. A two key paragraphs with a few others between them are the focus of my response.
Historically, Black voters associate the expansion of federal power with emancipation and civil rights. They associate states’ rights and localism with slavery and segregation. In American history the association between states’ rights and the oppression of Blacks hasn’t always been watertight. States like Massachusetts invoked states’ rights to oppose the execution of federal laws designed to force the return of fugitive slaves to their ‘owners’. Much of the anti-slavery opposition that propelled the Republicans into office in 1860 sprang from the belief that an out–of-control Supreme Court was going to invalidate the northern states’ personal liberty laws banning slavery within their frontiers. Still, people like me who think centralized federal authority is a problem today need to recognize the blindingly obvious truth that the enemies of Blacks have historically sheltered behind the cry for states’ rights.
If we start talking about cutting government employment, scaling back unsustainable government pensions and similar ideas, we need to be clear: we are going to be striking at the economic foundations of a substantial chunk of the Black middle class. As readers of these posts know, I believe that these changes are coming whether we want them or not; the question is what happens to Black America as these changes take place – and how can an upgrade to a less bureaucratic, more flexible and entrepreneurial society work to strengthen rather than undercut the Black middle class?
I think these are questions that black Republicans have been dealing with, albeit in a provocative way, for the past decade. Neither of these ideas have been ignored, but neither have the subtle implications of them been adequately explored by the Democrat Left. Part of me is saying, well it's about time you guys started talking like this...
What I noticed quite some time ago was that local control has evaded black communities. This was because, largely in the pre-civil rights era, black individuals could not necessarily depend upon the fair and equitable honoring of contracts in the private sector. I don't know how to quantify this statistically, but it always brings me back to a phrase my father used to use all of the time. Whenever I got very upset about something he would say 'you don't have to make a Federal case out of it'. But I noticed that this was exactly what the black interest seemed to require. And the people who were making the federal cases were, by and large those black leaders who had been elected to Congress, a direct result of politically favorable gerrymandering of federal electoral districts into the shapes required by racially discriminatory housing patterns.
The federal case walked hand in hand with the monolithic black community. There could always be found, one black community lead by one black congressional rep unified on a small set of agendas. The result, to my reckoning, was a great increase in those federal, state and local municipal and civil service jobs that essentially made the black middle class of my parents' generation. In my generation, the generational imperative was to integrate the private sector, namely 'corporate America' and with it, breakdown barriers at those places we used to call 'predominately white colleges and universities'. My generation was an American diaspora in the making, and as we got started in the 80s we called for an end to the Black Monolith, questioning the very idea of Black Unity and blackness itself. So if you want to hear another reason for the term 'African American' that's in it too. We were Americans of African descent out and about in America, not necessarily defined by the coerced political agendas of a necessary racial unity. Anyone who raises a skeptical eyebrow on the progress made by the Congressional Black Caucus understands implicitly this [then] new dynamic. Younger black Americans would succeed more independently than ever.
What happens to black America as government subsidies of all sorts eat at the base of the large government sectors employing big fractions of the black middle class will be just what black Republicans have been predicting - blacks stuck on 'the plantation' will find themselves, to extend that metaphor, in the same place as their forebears when all the work ran out. History tells us that we should expect another Great Migration. We don't often hear about the miserable fate of the sharecroppers left back in Alabama when their adventurous relations hiked north to Chicago. We tend to focus on the positive aspects, such as the creation and eventual success of the Urban League. It's hard to think about black America today without thinking 'urban'. What is now second nature was awfully strange in the 1920s when half were still back down on the farm. What happened to Aunt Jemima and Old Black Joe? They were replaced by city slickers - nothing reminds me of this social upheaval so much as the film Carmen Jones.
So there is a disaggregated plurality of black Americans, some of whom remain staunchly dedicated to the Blue, but there is equally a number who never got sufficient patronage and made their own way. The question remains; to what extent can any prospects of the black middle class today be laid at the feet of political patronage despite what took place under the boom days of integration and Affirmative Action? Moreover and callously, what is the price of disassembling that federal case / black unity monolith when black America itself is not particularly inclined to or frankly able to respond as a political block? Barack Obama is the perfect example of someone who was not empowered by and consequently not particularly accountable to the black political block. The diffuse benefits given by Obama himself and those like him tend towards a non-racial constituency, the drone incantations of social democracy: education, welfare, healthcare, labor.
I have no real expectations that the private sector will have any plan for a faltering black middle class suffering from government cutbacks. Those folks will be, by and large, out in the cold. All Americans will have to adopt to those changing business models that are employing more and more of us with no such things as government pensions and job security. But this shoe has been falling for a long time.
I do, on the other hand, feel quite sanguine about the ability for the black middle class to adapt. Some of us have even managed to survive as Republicans.