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(Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)

(Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)

(Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)

The untold story of black conservatism

Conservatism has a rich and complex history with the African-American community which often goes untold.

October 6, 2017

 

Post-Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Candidate Year Percentage
Donald Trump 2016 8%
Mitt Romney 2012 5%
John McCain 2008 1%
George W. Bush 2004 7%
George W. Bush 2000 3%
Bob Dole 1996 12%
George W. H. Bush 1992 11%
George W. H. Bush 1988 18%
Ronald Reagan 1984 12%
Ronald Reagan 1980 10%
Gerald Ford 1976 15%
Richard Nixon 1972 13%
Richard Nixon 1968 12%
Barry Goldwater 1964 6%
Pre-Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Candidate Year Percentage
Richard Nixon 1960 32%
Dwight Eisenhower 1965 39%
Dwight Eisenhower 1952 21%

 

What are these percentages? The percentage of the black vote (G. W. Bush to Romney) or non-white vote (Eisenhower to Dole) of each politician in their own respective elections as Republican candidates for the United States presidency, arranged to display the historical decline of black support for the Republican party since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a piece of legislation that is regarded as the signature accomplishment of the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.

There is some clear problem between the black voters and the Republican party.  

Demographically, black Americans have constituted roughly between ten to fifteen percent of the nation’s population and a smaller percentage of the electorate.

Support of black voters for the Republican party declined, in part, as a result of the nomination of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) for presidency in the election of 1964. Goldwater’s ideological opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was based upon his belief in the conservative principle of non-governmental interference in the affairs of private entities and citizens, as opposed to an agreement with or indifference to discriminatory and segregative practices. Conservatism is a (political, social, moral)  philosophy that adheres to traditional institutions and practices in society.

However, there was a political consequence for opposition to racial and civil equality, and the embracement of the same principle that allowed for the growth and enforcement of racial disenfranchisement–Goldwater’s defeat to then-Democratic Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and the alienation of an entire demographic of voters.

This popular simplification of party realignment on the issue of race fails to account for the presidency of Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). FDR was a progressive whose New Deal policies contributed to the complete transformation of the social and economic fabric of the United States and expanded the role of the federal government in the affairs of private entities and citizens.  

Black Americans benefited from the economic opportunities that Roosevelt’s expansion of governmental programs created, and thus were popular among them. However, FDR’s failure to denounce racial violence and push for racial equality was a part of a political strategy to maintain the support of white Southern Democrats that opposed the advancement of black Americans due to economic insecurity and cultural fears.

The racial struggle within the Democratic party between one faction’s embracement of civil rights and the aggression of Southern segregationists is a common theme of Democratic politics through much of the early-twentieth century. There was a staged walkout by white Southern delegates at the Democratic National Convention of 1948 in protest to one featured speaker’s embrace of civil rights.

Beginning at the late 18th century–a time at which came the end of the American Civil War, the passage of the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth amendments of the United States constitution, the improper reintegration of former Confederate states, the “Southern renewal”, the emergence of ethno-nationalist groups, the augmentation of racial conflict, terrorism and violence, and the legal validation and enforcement of segregationism–in response to the social and economic problems caused by urbanization and industrialization, the progressive movement rose to prominence as an influential political, cultural, and social force in American society.

Many progressive policies and ideas such as formation of labor unions, industrial regulations, minimum wage laws, and reformation of the electoral process positively, though unintentionally, affected non-Western immigrants and black Americans.

The Republican party was founded for the abolition of black slavery in the United States, as it formed from the remnants of the Whig Party and Northern Democrats. The most recognizable of early black political and social activists from the abolitionist period (mid-nineteenth century) were affiliated with the Republican party.

Most of the Republican party embraced the goals of progressivism and racial and civil equality. Early white Republican support for the abolishment remains questionable, as those same goals would eliminate the economic advantages that Southern states had over Northern states. It would also grant  a significant political advantage in national elections as a result of a new demographic group of voters that would support them in return for their social and economic liberation. Until economic insecurities and cultural tensions were heightened by the growth of social movements and protest in the twentieth century, freed black slaves and their descendants would vote in significant numbers for Republican candidates, if they were allowed to vote at all.  

The very idea of a black conservative has developed into a satirical and discredited image that is representative of mainstream conservatism’s indifference to the parts of conservative philosophy that contribute to anti-black racism and mainstream conservatism’s failure to address the sociological issues that affect race and poverty. But that is not the best reflection of reality.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, black Americans migrated from rural communities in the South to suburban and urban areas in the Northern states and other parts of the South that better felt the positive effects of industrialization. This is referred to as “the Great Migration”.

Due to racial tensions sparked over the limitability of economic opportunity, and although not enforced by law, black Americans in Northern urban cities were segregated into their own communities and suffered discrimination in housing, transportation, and education.

Black Americans, in movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, created an independent cultural and intellectual space of themselves, and their ideas have become influential and essential to the study of African-American literature and music. The concept of “the New Negro” that emerged as a result was a rejection of the common white perception of black culture and intellect and embraced black political and economic independence from white America.

Booker T. Washington was a black public intellectual and prominent political figure–one of the most influential black leaders of his time. In his Atlanta Compromise, Washington would become founder  of a school of thought that opposed the racial integration of segregated African-American communities with the rest of American society. Instead, Washington favoured the education of  black Americans in specialized occupations to ensure sustainability the of black community as a whole separate from white America.

Washington is one of the most famous of conservative black intellectuals and leaders, yet he is not stigmatized and treated as dismissively as those who are considered his black modern equivalents in thought.

The stigmatization of black conservatives has been gradual result of the attachment of political and social philosophy with racial and cultural identity. Black conservatism challenges very simple mainstream sociological views of identity.

Race is ingrained with culture, and culture is ingrained with beliefs, and beliefs affect one’s political alignment or affiliation.

Due to the promotion of social and entitlement programs by Democrats, which have positive effects on historically marginalized groups of people, it is expected that African-Americans would vote largely, if not all, Democratic in elections. Dating back to the establishment of African slavery in the Colonial Period, there  has always been a racial component to the American economic system.

The economic struggles of poor, white American families, in conjunction with beliefs in the biological, intellectual, and moral inferiority of black people, have contributed to the development of a hostile racial ideology that sought the disenfranchisement of African-Americans and the maintenance a social hierarchy governed by a belief in white supremacy. Thus, aligning oneself with that perceived hostile racial identity is looked down upon.

There remains a perception about black American culture that focuses on crime, poverty, education and conflates the under-performance of some poor African-Americans students in underfunded schools, the high arrest rate of black men in impoverished neighborhoods, and the nation’s general racial wealth disparities, to an aspect of the culture itself, when it is in truth, not related to culture at all. In other words, the problems in that community become an aspect of that community’s identity.

African American conservatives agree that racism is prevalent, but that it is not a limitation to economic and educational success. They have well remembered the racial violence and terrorism directed against their communities by racial aggressors and the oppressive forces that have limited their economic and educational opportunities, constitutional rights and protections, and suppressed their political voice.

But, they also believe that there has been significant racial progress, that the accomplishments of civil rights activists of the 1960s (the Brown v. Board of Ed. Supreme Court ruling, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965) have led to success in the economic and educational realms for African-Americans, but that the communities problems are cultural: single-parenthood, educational achievement gap, unemployment, hip-hop music and culture, and racial income and wealth disparities.

Race is viewed as not a barrier to social and economic progress for African-Americans. The significant drug and violence-related crime rates are treated as a symptom of cultural issues within the community itself, particularly intergenerational poverty, undereducation, and familial dysfunction.

Conservatism, as opposed to liberalism, is a philosophy, as well as an ideology, and therefore, it extends to all aspects of life.

The perception that poverty is a result or the  result of un-intelligence or immorality is characteristic of conservative attitudes of the poor and poverty in general. In the United States, poverty is associated with young adults and racial minorities, and therefore, those groups are generalized as being “unintelligent” and “lazy”.

The deductive construction of such an idea is as follows, “The United States has granted equal rights and opportunities by law to all citizens, and therefore, all citizens (regardless of race, ethnicity, and gender) should be able achieve the same social and economic success because they have equal rights and opportunities. If an individual or group, as categorized by race, ethnicity, or gender, does not achieve social and economic success, then that must be an account of some personal, cultural, psychological, or intellectual aspect of themselves or communities that does not allow them succeed.”

This reasoning is not unique to black conservatism, but to conservatism as a whole. However, there is an aspect to black conservatism in its address of racism and race-related issues that is unique to it, alone.

For example, the debate over the Affirmative Action admission policy for institutions of higher education. Black conservatives believe that African-American students should be judged based upon personal, academic, intellectual, civic merit and not prioritized for their socio-economic status or background, whereas mainstream conservatism views such policies as a part of what is termed “reverse discrimination”. An act of discrimination against racial majorities by attempting to equalize or create more opportunities for minorities and marginalized groups of people.

Essentially, focus is placed upon the (emotional) effects of such policy upon other (white) students who feel that they are victims of discrimination. There is no acknowledgement of American’s history of racial discrimination against African Americans or institutionalized racism. There is no consideration of the historical appropriateness and sociological necessity of such programs to equal economic and educational opportunity.

Black conservatism concentrates on the social perceptions of African American students who are aided by these programs by non-African-Americans. Essentially, black conservatism argues that such forms of preferential treatment or prioritization ignores or diminishes the accomplishments of the black students and lessens the academic and professional legitimacy of their careers/reputations.

This point is not often considered in mainstream conservative views of the policy.

There is also a religious aspect. Mainstream American culture depicts the traditional African-American family as conservative Christian, with regular attendance and significance place upon the Church as a type of institutional support for communities, in which religious, social, recreational activities are conducted. This depiction originates in the historical perception of African slaves and their American descendants as superstitious and ignorant of the world and their condition, however, it has come to be viewed as a positive aspect of African-American life and community.

While Christianity is not unique to conservative or Republican African-Americans, African-Americans who value cultural conservatism and practice Christianity tend to align themselves with Republicans. This translates to the “Black Church’s” opposition to same-sex marriage, human reproductive rights and support for religious freedom laws that allow the refusal to comply with law on the basis of the personal moral or religious convictions.

However, it diverges from mainstream conservatism in its support for entitlement or social programs, as they relate to poverty, housing, food, healthcare, crime, and recreational programs for black youth.

On issues of crime, black conservatism aligns well with mainstream conservatism, in some regards. Despite a history of negative law enforcement-civilian interaction in black communities, expanding as far back as the post-civil war era, cultural issues within the family and community, such as the high single parent or motherhood rate, domestic violence, homicide, recreational drug use, illegal gun ownership, the racial educational achievement gap, and a “mentality of defeatism or oppression” are cited as the main factors of crime. It is denied that the United States justice system as a faces any issues with structural or institutional racism. Such a claim is labeled as offensive, reductive, and unreasonable. Instead, it is argued that individuals must take responsibility for themselves: their actions, speech and own well-being. 

William Henry Cosby Jr, African-American television actor and entertainment personality, in his “Pound Cake” speech, at the 2004 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) celebration of the 50th year anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, was critical of the state of African-American culture as it related to crime, the family, and education. He spoke about the Brown v. Board of Education decision quite often, using the legislative achievement as an argumentative motif, in contrast as to what he perceives as the cultural failures of the African-American community today.

“Brown Versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem. We’ve got to take the neighborhood back (clapping). We’ve got to go in there”, says Cosby.

“Well, Brown V Board of Education, where are we today? It’s there. They paved the way. What did we do with it. The white man, he’s laughing, got to be laughing.”

Cosby’s speech was composed of many caricatures of poor black Americans, such as: I can’t even talk the way these people talk. “Why you ain’t where you is go, ra,” I don’t know who these people are. And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk (laughter). Then I heard the father talk. This is all in the house. You used to talk a certain way on the corner and you got into the house and switched to English. Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t land a plane with “why you ain’t…” You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. There is no Bible that has that kind of language.”

The reception of Cosby’s speech was mixed, some continued to laugh and cheer as others left the event in protest.

But placing the satirical and comical nature of some of Cosby’s remarks aside, Cosby’s belief in the economic independence and sustainability of African-Americans from the government, in the essentiality of both positive paternal and maternal figures in the lives of a child, and in the necessity of education for both social and economic purposes is reflective of black conservative thinking.

Conservatism as a philosophy remains one very significant aspect of American history, the principles outlined by it are standards by which politics and society have been governed.  Black conservatism exists, and black conservatism should not be disregarded in American society.

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