In Praise of Black Conservatives
By David Bozeman
As published at the Liberty Features Syndicate.
No word is more overused in public discourse today than ‘courage.' A loyal viewer hailed CBS for its courage in producing Swingtown, the now defunct series detailing the sexual infidelities of married couples in the 70s (bedhopping on network TV — what a daring concept). Sean Penn was dubbed courageous for his nauseating Oscar acceptance speech, as are most liberal entertainers who spew left-wing tripe before adoring audiences.
But if going verbally against the (real or perceived) grain of public opinion defines courage, then should we not salute those black Americans who are not celebrating the presidency of Barack Obama? Black Americans who didn't vote for Obama are statistically insignificant, though we harbor that sliver of hope that Michael Steele will be the one to attract the masses of black voters that Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice never did. Nonetheless, they can inspire us — with American rationality numbed by Obama-mania, soon we may all be black conservatives.
Just before the election, popandpolitics.com profiled Joe Hicks, a conservative radio host in Los Angeles. Hicks also heads a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on issues of race in society. He numbers among the fewer than 1 in 10 black voters who supported the McCain/Palin ticket. He is one of those described as “the marginalized of the marginalized.” A proud liberal for much of his life, when he came out as a conservative, he heard the familiar calls of ‘Uncle Tom,' ‘Traitor' and ‘Sellout' from his colleagues.
Certainly some black conservatives were torn between their ideology and their racial identity, wanting to be part of history in electing Barack Obama. Former GOP Congressman J.C. Watts expressed his indecision and we all know how Colin Powell opted — but then was he ever a conservative in the first place?
Dena, who I met through a conservative website, was never undecided. She is a black single mother who, like Hicks, lives in Los Angeles. She proudly supported McCain/Palin (which, in LA, is brave in itself). Also like Hicks, she was a liberal for much of her life. She desperately wants more for herself and her son. She would love to be married someday, though in the meantime she relies on her own grit and determination and the support of friends and her church to help her through tough times. She reveres Dr. King's memory and one of her greatest recollections is of having once seen Rosa Parks. Not only does President Obama not factor into her unwavering optimism, she can't stand the guy, mainly for his stances on abortion and increasing dependency on the federal government, referring to him merely by his first and third initials.
If Joe Hicks and Dena — and Alan Keyes and Larry Elder and Star Parker and Thomas Sowell — don't amount to profiles in courage, they certainly earn points for marching to their own beat. Conservatism has never been chic, but now with Obama it is all but marginalized and black conservatives are often more reviled than their white counterparts. They are perceived as betraying the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and, thus, their own people. Few were offended that Clarence Thomas was portrayed as a lawn jockey in editorial cartoons. Even moderate Republican Condoleeza Rice was graphically depicted in Civil War-era stereotype for her loyalty to President Bush and barely an eyebrow was raised. Certainly knowing that our nation's major parties are both headed by black men should make Americans proudly aware of our progress, but that fact has yet to resonate. It's still Barack Obama's moment. Say what you will about them, black conservatives have little to gain personally by standing on conviction. In the words of Joe Hicks, “If I wanted to be on the winning side, I'd be sitting here telling you how great Obama is.”
Maybe because black conservatives are so few in number they stand out more. Perhaps I am gushing in the manner of a white liberal, but I can attest that black conservatives are among the most dedicated, hardworking activists I know of. They are among the most optimistic, too — they don't complain about being called ‘Uncle Tom' nearly as much as we complain for them.
If Barack Obama truly represents as post-racial America, then his presidency does offer us some reason to applaud. Nonetheless, the colorblind society he supposedly embodies before adoring crowds, I have already seen — thanks to black conservatives (and other unheralded black Americans in everyday life). They quietly forge ahead as, again, the marginalized of the marginalized. But they are too focused to ask for any fanfare. Dena once noted that a sad legacy of the Civil Rights Movement was the notion that black Americans must march in lockstep ideologically, but she has little idea of the range and importance of her lonely voice in the arena of public discourse. Joe Hicks is equally unmoved: “I'm conservative. I'm Republican. Beyond that, I find the whole racial component a bit odd.”
David Bozeman is a syndicated columnist.