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November 29, 2004

Conservatism and The Black Image

Ed Brown has been jabbing me in the ribs every week about why the Black Right hasn't defended Earl Graves when he did right, or why the Black Right didn't defend Kwesi Mfume when he did right. I don't have specific answers to that, just a general one. Black Conservatives don't play the 'Positive Black Images Game'.

My theory is fairly simple. Once you step outside the homestead of black liberal politics, you're on your own. And one of the first notions that goes out the door is cosmic justice. You see, you will realize very quickly as a black conservative, that a sizeable majority of blackfolks don't have your back. Black conservatives haven't lost their minds, they've only lost the benefit of the doubt. It is that benefit of the doubt (which is more or less the confirmation of an archtype / stereotype) you suddenly cannot be a 'black leader' as they are popularly understood to be. You lose the right to publicly call yourself poltically black without a measure of controversy. And to the point of this essay, you lose the credibility accorded those who might protect the image of the black man and the black woman. That's a job that black conservatives are not allowed to have, despite the upper middle class desire latent in all Americans to have black conservatives represent. The positive black image is a conservative cultural fact that is denied by liberal politics.

This afternoon I considered the possibility that there is a class of black entrepreurs in the rap industry who are more influential than anybody dares say. I just hear tell of some producer who is under indictment for money laundering to the tune of 1 million dollars. Now we can all pretend not to be impressed with such a figure, but not many people get their hands on that kind of cash. Obviously it's drug money we're talking about; half of gangsta rap is an open source biography of ex-drug dealers and hustlers. So who represents black businessmen? Well, if you count what goes on television, and who gets documentaries made about their life stories, the answer is clear. Big ballers. They control the image. It's their surly lifestyles who make up the public knowledge of our rich and famous.

For me, becoming a Republican, as an expression of black conservatism has been difficult. But becoming Republican for its own sake was easy. The difficulty of being a Black Republican has everything to do with fighting every perception about blackfolks that doesn't fit with every perception about Republicans. Most of my conservative black cronies get over this hump, but most blackfolks, including many conservatives I know personally, have a hard time with this reconciliation. So they are 'independent'. I understand that most folks of this sort have nothing to prove politically, and so it's not so critically important that they make something of their political identity. Nor is it so important that I make something of it. But for those who take political activism and politics more seriously, the identity issue with black Republicanism is real.

The battles are fairly shallow and interminable. They go on and on about the same idiot things. It's a trap that liberals never seem to tire of baiting. Black Republicans take a measure of false pride in their embattled status and do a good deal of sniping back. But in the end, the existentials of Black Republicanism are acheivable in short order. You get over it, you're in, and the world keeps turning. But if there is one real lesson that black Republicans learn quickly, it is that they have very little control over their image. It is just another species of racism. No matter what black Republicans do, we can't seem to get enough credit for it to outweigh the stereotypes.

Out of this experience it is clear to me that the manipulation of the images of blackfolks continues to have significant payoffs to certain political interests which are aligned with the interests of racist and the non-thinking of the ignorant. This is a consistent fact whether one is conservative and liberal. Somebody is always challenging with ignorance or with lies, the image of the African American you have in mind. The significant difference between conservatives and liberals on this matter is that liberals fight for absolute control over that image and conservatives inevitably relent. The liberals have won.

The maintenance and construction of the image of the African American is a perennial liberal project. They're all putting in work. It's a task they win whether or not positive images are maintained, because there is a liberal interest in portraying blacks as oppressed. There is also a liberal 'responsibility' for black success too. The only image that disconcerts black liberals and presumeably most whites (liberal whites + racist whites) is that of the independent self-made black, aka 'uppity negro'. Ironically, many rappers fit that mold perfectly.

We in the Old School are happy enough with our own well-understood image to overcome existential burdens faced by the multitudes who fret and sweat over media images. That doesn't make the lies more digestible, but underscores the value we place on self-understanding (starting with Woodson). But whether we opt out of the uphill battle of correcting popular stereotypes, or ignore the whole game with some self-satisfaction, it's clearly not our bag. While the occasional Cosby is quite welcome, ultimately we have to say that we knew who we really were all along. But I believe that even when we say what we are all about and try to exemplify, we're never going to win the images battle. Nevertheless, we have the reality of individuality and truth on our side. That's good enough for me.

Posted by mbowen at November 29, 2004 10:05 AM

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Brotherhood Blogging from baldilocks
Is Alberto Gonzales--mentioned in the last post as President Bush’s pick for Attorney General—a La Raza member? LaShawn provides some answers and commentary. Cobb presents the Thanksgiving Cuteness Factor and then gets even more serious about image... [Read More]

Tracked on November 29, 2004 03:13 PM

Images from Vision Circle
If the image is rotten and coming from "Black liberals" or if the image is rotten and coming from "Black conservative" or if the image is rotten and coming from whites, or if the image is rotten and coming from rappers, ... I'm going to do my best to f... [Read More]

Tracked on November 29, 2004 09:46 PM

Conservatism and Black Images from Vision Circle
I'll bite. Ed Brown has been jabbing me in the ribs every week about why the Black Right hasn't defended Earl Graves when he did right, or why the Black Right didn't defend Kwesi Mfume when he did right. I... [Read More]

Tracked on November 30, 2004 07:05 PM

Images from Vision Circle
To continue on Cobb's piece. Cobb writes: Black Conservatives don't play the 'Positive Black Images Game'. I disagree with this one. I can point to the examples of Black conservatives speaking out against the negative imagery of Black life put... [Read More]

Tracked on November 30, 2004 08:36 PM