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August 28, 2004

How Black Nationalism is Conservative

There are three touchstones in my understanding of race and economics in the US. I've just been handed a nice example that works well within that framework. This shouldn't be surprising, as it comes from one of the authors.

Massey & Denton
America is segregated by race in the legacy of its very own Apartheid. Residential segregation affects the prospects for non-whites by isolating them from mainstream products and services.

Oliver & Shapiro
The primary economic difference between blacks and whites is the matter of inherited wealth. While there may be parity and equality in some areas of American life, equity makes a transformative difference in every respect.

Glenn Loury
The legacy of race discrimination is bound up in the economics of America. Civil Rights Law in and of themselves are not sufficient to make up the gap. A passive non-racist attitude is no help. Ghettoes must be destroyed.

It's all fairly simple, really.

George, ever vigilant and right on target, sent me this from Thomas Shapiro. It took me a while to get past the egregious first example of a black family, but I didn't let that daunt me. It is a nicely nuanced revelation of what I consider the single most important understanding in the back of people's heads. Do they have the assets or not? It's a bit of text to chow down but worth it. Here's a nice quote:

No question about it. I mean, if my parents hadn't had the money to send my kids to [the private] Hills School, we couldn't have considered it. We would have had to really do belt tightening, and financial aid, and many more loans, more mortgages. It would have been very difficult and a real strain on us, especially with two. And we probably would have felt like we just couldn't swing it as a family. So, I don't know, I would have had to have gone out and gotten a job that would pay enough to justify two kids in private school. With that, it would have meant not being able to mother them as much myself. Or my husband having to change work, and all the soul-searching that would have meant for him. It's unimaginable. I can't envision a path that we would have been able to so comfortably just sail on over to Hills School. And, yeah, [we would have had to] go through a lot of heart-wrenching decisions about Alexander [school and tutors]. But they never had to do with money. None of these decisions have had to do with money. I can't imagine it being any other way.

As I post this, I am concurrently writing a piece about a few of my cohorts, the young gifted and black. I consider our fate in light of what I understand about wealth. All of my best friends are extraordinary achievers coming from relatively modest circumstances. I'm consider myself very lucky in that, and all of us seem to be drawn to each other in that way. I beleive that this hunger we have is a good thing, but that we ultimately will be replaced. Some other set of historical circumstances will create the Jordans of the next era. It is part of my aim to capture some of that spirit here as I write about myself and the Old School. It's the spark of Black Nationalism to challenge every aspect of America for the fate of true self-determination within us. How have we transformed that in our lives to meet the demands of survival and achievement?

For myself, I have found in America this very real matter of class. The notion that we are not class-bound is a foolish sentiment. We all recognize it vaguely, just as we recognize race sharply. But the success of the Civil Rights Movement and of Multiculturalism have take the edge off race. And yet we have not, as a society made that transition completely with regard to our acknowledgement. Too many are still thinking of black and low class in the same bucket and that has always rubbed me the wrong way, even in elementary school.

I bring forth the idea of 'Natural Aristocracy' again. It is more than simple meritocracy in that it involves values as well as merit. Consider this coming from a white family, something people like us, and notably Cosby, would often say:

I had cousins growing up in the city, andthis is my own blood, but basically they turned out really trashy. Their friends were trashy. [I] did not even want sometimes to bring my own children around my cousins, because their lifestyles were different, their values were different. Things that were important to us were not important to them.

And Also

It is unfortunate that it is bound by race too. As far as I am concerned, that has nothing to do with it [lack of diversity]. I think it's economic because it's the same issue we dealt with when we lived in the city. It didn't matter if our neighbors were white or black, as long as they had the same standards we had.

This is precisely the attitude of the Old School and I am not surprised to hear it from upscale white families. I happen to believe that many of our white neighbors are a bit more wealthy and a bit less talented, which makes for an interesting edge in our relations, but we're still in the same world. My point is that this is the way the Natural Aristocracy replaces itself, through family values. It's not only talent and merit, but manners and priorities and values and these are things that arise from the socialization of families in neighborhoods, and they are maintained that way.

Noblesse Oblige is an absolute requirement for this kind of Conservatism to work. Careerism cannot prevail. People who are incapable of recognizing how success must be replicated and how the fate of the group depends upon how the resources of the successful are employed are to be weeded out. This is expressed in different way by successful blacks but consistent with Old School values.

I will conclude by saying that my generation has peeled back the onion. We have done Corporate America and we have done international business. Our parents may have marched in Mississippi, but we manage deals in Milan. We are bringing home strong understanding and valuable lessons. Our children are poised to make waves, but wealth is the key and we know it.

Posted by mbowen at August 28, 2004 09:24 AM

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You have raised many good issues; however when you consider the Lawrence Otis Grahams and "Jack and Jills" race must rank far below culture and class in America. The real "Two-Americas" are divided along cultural and cognitive stratification lines.

The greatest impediment facing my students is their refusal to absorb the successful elements of American culture. The shameful and wasteful legacy of hip hop will be the fact that it pushed out the hard won old school knowledge of your generation for pseudo-defiance and a mass marketed image. Everyday we argue your assessment of hip hop in the schools, and the students fail to see that hip hop doesnt generate capital and only acts as a negative indicator.

Posted by: Dexter M. Duck at August 28, 2004 05:01 PM

I have know well-placed bros who reject MLK's "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" as being inconsistent with the rest of the stuggle. I cannot fathom this.

Character, values, principle - these are the things that count. I live in a fine little community - multimulti ethnic - but we have shared values and I've never heard a harsh word related to racial differences.

I HAVE heard one neighbor admonish another of like race who wasn't holding up his principles.

Posted by: True_Liberal at August 29, 2004 08:07 AM

People only reject King when his own words are taken out of context...as is the statement about "the content of our character." Because remember, in that same speech he talked about America giving black people a check that bounced for insufficient funds.

Posted by: Lester Spence at August 29, 2004 07:15 PM

Cobb, I'm guessin you'd be a great person to talk to, one on one. I'd even pay good money to hear you speak somewhere, as long as there was a Q & A session afterward.

But my occasional problem with your posts is that sometimes you pack em too densely. Sometimes there're a lot of concepts and too many assumptions about the meaning of some terms. Things get all tangled and fused. Like a handful of string licorice under a heat lamp.

There is "conservatism" as being reserved, moderate in dress, manner, etc. and there is "Conservatism" in the political sense w.r.t. opinions on affirmative action, immigration, etc. etc.

Conflating all that with being 'trashy' and "different" values and "old school" and "natural aristocracies" etc etc. It strains m'brain. In a conversation, i could briefly interrupt to ask for clarification as you went along.

*Sigh* well, i'll try to keep up with the tour. check out Drezner's pointer to the splintering of "conservative" and you might get a better idea of my confusion.

Posted by: memer at August 30, 2004 08:00 AM

Based on that paragraph, Brooks has nailed it once again. The Republican party is not just a big tent, it's a big mess, and having won the majority it cannot execute the discipline it once did.

At the airport yesterday I picked up a book by Pat Buchanan about how GW has destroyed Conservatism. Huh? What? But the premise is sound. One of the reasons I think conservative blacks can make a big impact in the coming years is because of this split, and believe me, I really want to kick Pat Robertson to the curb.

I need to get the density out when it occurs to me, but I hope to expand in all the directions implied to make my cases. It's hypertextual I know and I beg your indulgence. It will all be clear in due time.

I think I'll end up speaking at some point in the future, but I need to get 'successful millionaire businessman' under my belt. When I'm 50, things will be a lot more fun. AHAHAHAHa

Posted by: Cobb at August 30, 2004 11:21 AM

LOL! Cobb, you're fun. Bigheaded, but fun. Perhaps you could use a How to get Rich book.

I'd be curious to know what you think Black Conservatives can bring to the table that Moderate Conservatives aren't already holdin down.

Posted by: memer at August 30, 2004 11:45 AM

I think conservative blacks *are* moderate republicans and that moderate republicans can use all the help they can get. We will be greeted with enthusiasm.

I think black conservatives are part of the VRWC. I don't understand the evolution of thought of black conservatives from an organic african american perspective, but I don't believe all thought need be organic. I would estimate that many are christian fundamentalists and that those people who 'strive to put Jesus in every part of their lives' ahead of political philosophy swell their ranks. That would include a whole lot of blackfolks.

as for the book. yike.

Posted by: Cobb at August 31, 2004 08:23 AM

I think conservative blacks *are* moderate republicans and that moderate republicans can use all the help they can get. We will be greeted with enthusiasm.

Ahhh, ok. Gotcha. Fair enough. I'm not sure how the 'evolution' works organically for black folk, either. but you had a line a little while ago about how it doesn't really matter how you got to the 'right' conclusion (just that you get there).

still chewing on that (i think my present ish is in deciding why one would choose the centre of the Right over the right of the Left)

Posted by: memer at August 31, 2004 05:01 PM

I'll write about organics tonight; today has been illuminating.

The example will have to do with Phyllis Schlafly and James Dobson. So my question to answer the question about black conservatives vs conservative blacks would have to do with whether african american voters have come to the republical party via the kind of activism of those two or of their own accord.

Posted by: Cobb at August 31, 2004 05:27 PM