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September 23, 2005

A Minority Minority Party

I was introduced today to Ragged Thots, something I've been missing for a while, an old head Republican apparently from the 'hood. In the wake of Katrina, there's something of a bit of resignation in the air between Republicans and Bush that I really haven't been paying attention to, but I find myself agreeing with P6 on the matter of hardness. He has no such bonds.

Although I haven't looked at my writing in a while to see if it accurately reflects it, I am done being a black republican. I'm a republican, period. In other words I've used, it's all about 'do' and not about 'be'. So I'll take this moment to start into tearing identity politics a new one, because I'm afraid that this is an ugly part of black conservatism.

The same impulse that takes the personna of George W. Bush more seriously than the party of his origin is that same sentiment that says who is nearly as important as what, or how. If we are to lead our nation's policy through polling, then Bush's popularity matters, but I think it doesn't, at least until Congress is willing to undertake some kind of vote of no confidence.

Bush has spent exhorbitantly. This is not in question. But he is not as cocky as Reagan was with the economic voodoo. If Greenspan is to be believed, we're not yet in trouble, nor is it certain that trouble is just around the corner. That doesn't change the fact that 'fiscal conservative' is not simply a label. Republicans are going to be concerned about government spending no matter who is in office, and that's the important lesson here. Principle and ideological fidelity count for something more than just litmus tests. And for these reasons, blackfolks, whitefolks whomeverfolks shouldn't so heavily weight their attraction to the party based upon the personalities involved. In the case of Katrina and 9-11, a bunch of money had to be laid out. And while I think it's clear that the debacle that is unfolding over the incompetence of W's massive reorg of our security agencies, I hardly think it's a reason to bolt the party. Then again, I discounted Bush's organizational ability a long, long time ago.

From the very first day I decided to join the Party, I understood that it would be a long hard slog to getting black popularity. My premise is and always has been that class similarities between traditional Republicans and upscale blacks would make for a natural fit, but that it would be foolish to expect that more than 25% of African Americans would go for it. I did so with the express understanding that a lot of hard-working politicos have tried and failed to get that bread-breaking thing going on. So I have always anticipated that being a interracial broker for the black masses and the GOP would be a dead-end job. Quite frankly, I think it's a dead-end job no matter where you're trying to broker relations with 'the black community'. That's because you're ultimately playing with stereotypes. It's hard enough for me to keep things rolling with Progressives I understand and respect, much less try to get the black hoi polloi to come the a Republican Jesus.

In 1992 I had a baseball cap stitched with my email address on it. Wearing it backwards in Brooklyn elicted very little curiosity. In fact, I think the only person whom I didn't know who noticed it was a research prof I walked past on in first class on a plane flight. While black college professors were ginning up their vocabulary to rail against another phantom institutional racism soon to be known as the 'Digital Divide' I had to basically take a stand. "The Internet", I said, "is for me and people like me. The rest of y'all can take the bus." But I did so after a not-insignificant amount of effort to communicate the benefits. I reasoned that being way ahead of the curve would put me in the ranks of 'first blacks', and so it did. But being first didn't really help in the end. I am inclined to believe that 'first black' is a trap, as is racial brokerage. There's always a bigger fish, and second and third generations not on the bleeding edge have fewer headaches. Of course I knew more about the Internet than Richard Parsons, but Parsons got to be the boss of AOL, making a lot more splash than any of the pioneers at The Drum, Netnoir or NYOnline. In the end, you simply have to be comfortable being alone. It's nobody's responsibility to nudge the race along. You and your 1000 black friends are still a molehill in this great big crazy world. Again, it boils down to principles and ideological fidelity.

Chances are, that whatever it is that gives you the cojones to lead, is the same conceit that will make it difficult to get people to see things your way. Unless you are just in a popularity contest, the only people who are going to get it are those people who have been trying to get it. And so it goes with black Republicans, who will all inevitably be compared (by those who don't get it) variously to everyone from Clarence Pendleton & Alan Keyes to Thomas Sowell & Condi Rice. Cults of black personality. Is that what Republicanism is all about?

There is something greater at stake here, and I don't know exactly how to communicate that yet. But somehow racial identity must be subsumed for a higher and more substantial purpose which is core to Western values.

In the meantime, with the understanding that we must make sense of individualism, at the heart of our culture we're going to have to go it alone. Or to quote P6:

"This shit is hard, and you have to be willing to deal in the kind of truth that pisses off both friends and enemies. Not like you should try to piss them off...if you constantly search for the angry truth, you got issues. But if you be avoiding things, it's not your friend you're hiding from."

Posted by mbowen at September 23, 2005 02:15 PM

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Well buddy, first good luck. To bad you chose a crappy party to fight an uphill battle for. It would have been cooler if you were an independent fighting an uphill battle for a unique vision.

Secondly how are western values derived as the correct values to be pursued? Was it simply a matter of personally what you found in your best interest? Secondly is what is in your best interest simultaneously in the best interest of the race as a whole?

To eliminate identity politics per se is to say that politics in general and specifically the politics that you choose to pursue (Republicanism) that are non-identity based are in the best interest of that race the you want to subsume the identity of.

What this means in practical terms is that you believe the majority in power (which is whom in reality you will be subsuming to) will have a sufficient altruistic or pragmatic in some instances rationale for having a platform the considers the minority. If the minority and the considerations of the minorities needs have provide no pragmatic value in terms of the majority then the minority continues to have its needs unmet. That is the law of power. How do you deal with that if you eliminate in this instance identity politics?

If the majority pay your bills, and the minority neither vote your way, nor provide any other 'value' what incentive is there to see to them? Nada.

Now, for your position to have any efficacy in improving blacks collective position in America, if you care about blacks at all (I won't hold you to that) you would first have to prove that your merging yourself into a generalist position and fighting for that cause would be more pragmatic and effective than holding to a position of specificity that is targeted.

I am interested in hearing your arguments for generalism as opposed to specifism.

Posted by: Dell Gines [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2005 06:12 PM

Quoting Boyd. Heh. Good on you.

I've been following everything you've been writing recently with great interest and agreement. Thanks.

Posted by: Chap at September 23, 2005 09:44 PM

I think, Dell, that you are conflating a lot of terms here, but we can straighten all that out.

First of all, I don't believe that a Mercedes-Benz engineer considers the race of the driver for which he builds his vehicle. And while I have never personally driven a Mercedes, I am highly confident that it is a superior automobile and that my black ass will be perfectly comfortable in the seat.

The problem with the black minority position in American politics is that it assumes that the Mercedes of American power will discover their asses to be black and for that reason alone, activate an ejection seat. And so they keep protesting at the Mercedes Benz plant, and talking about all the crooks who drive Mercedez, and demanding that Mercedes make a Black Power edition and querying the number of Mercedes in Africa. They do all of that instead of saving money to actually buy a Mercedes.

I am saying that identity politics is exactly the same thing, and instead of appreciating America for the Mercedes of nations that it is, these eternal minorities actually believe that their complaints are improving the quality of America. Nothing could be further from the truth - they are orthagonal to American values and throw the baby out with the bathwater. They refuse to understand how the country works, ie the engineering of the Mercedes, rather than what kind of music is playing on the stereo.

I don't have to care about black people if I care about human beings.

The fact is I especially care about certain black people because what they do, rather than who they are. In the political arena that means putting values in sharp contrast. That's why I communicate from the perspective of the Old School, so that people can see what some intelligent work has been done in understanding the ideas that move the country forward. If the majority of black people don't understand those relevent ideas, then that doesn't dilute the value of the ideas. It just means those people are wrong. If they don't correct themselves, that is their responsibility, I'm not going to preach and spam them away from watching Urkel on TV or whatever it is they do that keeps them in relative ignorance of the great wisdom here in this corner of the blogosphere.

BTW, what Chap is talking about is my new number one quote from Boyd:
"The most important thing in life is to be free to do things. There are only two ways to insure that freedom — you can be rich or you can you reduce your needs to zero."

So the question in light of this is whether blackfolks are reducing their needs to zero or trying to be rich. Obviously if they hate rich (in the personna of Bush) then they should be reducing their needs to zero. Are they?

Posted by: Anonymous at September 24, 2005 10:21 AM

I don't have to care about black people if I care about human beings.

That would make you Oprah Winfrey. ;-)

Posted by: brotherbrown [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2005 08:25 PM

I am saying that identity politics is exactly the same thing, and instead of appreciating America for the Mercedes of nations that it is, these eternal minorities actually believe that their complaints are improving the quality of America. Nothing could be further from the truth - they are orthagonal to American values and throw the baby out with the bathwater. They refuse to understand how the country works, ie the engineering of the Mercedes, rather than what kind of music is playing on the stereo.

"I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."*

Posted by: George Kelly [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2005 10:25 PM

Fortunately, James Baldwin knew what he was talking about. Yet I seem to recall that he died in exile. He struggled mightitly as an artist simply to tell the truth as he saw it, and we are better for his clever insight. Such is an artist's duty. But what is artful in any of the empty slander heaped upon the person of GW Bush?

Baldwin, like most great writers of fiction made us see ourselves in new ways. He created space for a person who did not exist in the popular imagination, and most importantly, he did so with loving care. I'm no expert on Baldwin, but that's what I read. In that he was a great crafter of identity. But is identity and loving care the central basis for democracy? Is the crafting of policy like the crafting of fiction? Is the business of government to give us a sense of self? No, no, no. The business of politics is to reach a fair ajudication of our conflicts of interest, and it is foolish to assert that it is a sense of self which generates the politics of the Republican Party. Those who believe so are both misinformed and unclear about the very concept. They are stuck in existential matters and oblivious to the reality of politics.

How many times have I called these fools on that very question? They will sell their votes and support to anyone who calls them by the name they want to hear. Rhetorical patronage I called it. And when Howard Dean said he'd talk about racial identity, some saw him as the second coming of JFK. But when it comes to demanding anything more than vagueries of 'caring' ..

To be sure there are many levels of politicking working in this nation. And I suppose we must leave people to their notions. Surely somebody in Congress can get re-elected on the basis of not calling certain people 'refugees'. It's a free country. There are Coalitions of the Damned everywhere who look for clever ways to undermine public support for the police. There are wooly intellects of dubious repute who will span the globe (especially Venezuela and Cuba) to find radical critiques of the American system, and certainly such ideas have their place. But I wonder in all of that perpetual criticism if it is done more to secure the place of the critic, than it is to aid and abet the nation itself.

I have my doubts.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2005 12:34 AM