Saturday, 19 February 2011

Discussions in Black History Month: On Black Conservatives

During the six months or so of my fruitless job hunting in the US, my friends and I used to joke about getting a job as a Black Conservative. It seems to be a growing industry in the age of Obama. I would ride the monster of American history to financial stability. All I'd need do is stand looking at myself in the mirror after an evening of slagging off black people for fun and profit.

Chauncey De Vega has stirred up a hornet's nest with his take down of Atlanta businessman Herman Cain's speech at CPAC. De Vega later defended his post at Salon magazine
A difference of opinion on what constitutes good policy is not in and of itself a bad thing. Moreover, the diversity of political opinion in the black community ought to be embraced. It should not be glossed over or run away from. However, as a black American with a deep and abiding love and concern for my community and country, I begin with a basic question for my conservative brothers and sisters regarding their political affiliations.
Where is the love? Where is a sense of linked fate to a community whose centuries-long freedom struggle made your success possible? Whose long-term interests are you beholden to?
For example, Herman Cain has repeatedly spoken before Koch Brothers-funded, John Birch Society-linked groups, including those that are in favor of rolling back such basic civil rights era gains as integrated schools. In addition to the raucous applause they received CPAC, Cain and Allen West, a conservative black Republican who was elected to Congress last year, both legitimated a deep hostility to President Obama that is rooted in "birtherism" and crazed paranoid narratives about the tyranny and terror supposedly unleashed by America’s first black president. 
As I and others have suggested elsewhere, these are narratives that are premised on a belief that a black man who happens to be president is de facto illegitimate. And, of course, there's no shortage of black conservatives who make a living among the pundit classes as human parrots for the right --popular for their novelty and unwilling to offer sustained critiques of policies that may, in fact, be deleterious to communities of color and the common good.
A common response to this kind of criticism is to argue that the critics are themselves guilty of using racist premises. Here's Cynthia Tucker in her article on De Vega's attack: 
I find that kind of criticism of black conservatives deeply offensive because it presumes that they are not entitled to think differently. Isn’t that the essence of racism — the notion that all black folk must think and act alike? Don’t racists make that very assumption?
I have two problems with Tucker's take. First I read De Vega not as arguing that Black people must think and act alike but against the kind of enabling and channeling of anti-Black hostility that Cain engaged in. Second, Tucker elides the racist framing - Blacks on the Democrat plantation- employed by Cain; framing that was called out in the quote she pulled from De Vega's post!

Christ on the cross, weeping.

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