Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One Latino's Fascination with (and Celebration of) the Black Conservative Movement

April 12, 2011

I think the first time I became aware of Black conservatives or Black Republicans was in Spike Lee's movie "Get on the Bus." I was as surprised as the rest of the men in the movie to discover that the gay character was also a Republican. As one character put it, "A Black gay Republican?? Now I know I've seen it all!" But, I was also pleasantly surprised that Spike Lee portrayed the Republican in his movie in a sympathetic way.

My awareness of Black conservatism then reached another level when I first got my hands on Thomas Sowell's essay "Black Rednecks & White Liberals" - an eye-opener to say the least. And thus began my fascination with a movement that I very much identified with because it addressed issues near and dear to minorities, but from a Conservative perspective.

I consider myself a Latino Conservative not because I belong to any organization bearing such a description, nor as a representative of any such movement, but simply because I happen to be a) Latino and b) Conservative. And what I offer here are just a handful of brief observations about what it is about the Black conservative movement that so resonates with my own political values:

1. Race-consciousness is (kinda/sorta) OK within these movements.

In many conservative circles there is an aversion to "hyphenated-Americans," or "multi-culturalism", etc. There is of course some validity to this sentiment and it is an admirable thing to wish for and work towards a truly color-blind society. However, it is simply a fact of modern American life that there are some issues that affect African-Americans and Latinos uniquely. Primary among these are the problems of the inner city - we have a higher proportion of single-parent homes, a higher proportion of the prison population, disproportionate drop-out rates, etc. And in the case of Latinos, there's the issue of immigration, which affects our communities more so than others.

From what I've observed (as an outsider), Black conservatives are trying to develop a political identity and philosophy that remains true to the principles of conservatism, yet doesn't blindly deny the issues that affect minority communities. Maybe this is only a temporary phase within these movements, but in the meantime it probably is necessary to speak of "Black issues" and "Latino issues" that need to be addressed. For example, in the following video, Black conservative leader Deneen Borelli defends a controversial mentorship program at a public school that involves temporarily separating black boys and girls during the school day to be mentored by Black teachers to address their underperformance:

Similarly, Latino conservative groups have not shied away from issues of race, rightfully calling their fellow conservatives out on the nativist/racist tone of their anti-immigration rhetoric. Conservatives would usually frown upon the idea of playing the "race card" or "crying racism," but Latino conservatives have had to do so when the immigration debate has moved in that direction. Recent examples include Somos Republicans, a Hispanic conservative group, speaking out against groups like FAIR, the use of terms like "anchor babies," and the potential for abuse with laws like Arizona's SB 1070.

2. Pragmatic and moderate politics.

Many within the Black conservative movement and the urban conservative movement are very much connected to minority (read: "urban") communities, either because they work there, grew up there, or even live there. When one has their feet planted in the very communities which academics only discuss from ivory towers afar off, one cannot help but begin to moderate one's own ideology. I for one lean ideologically in a libertarian direction when it comes to economics. But if I want any of my ideas to gain traction in an urban setting, I cannot insist on ideological purity. Let's imagine that a Republican miraculously managed to win in an urban district. (As far as i know this rarely or never happens. I volunteered for Star Parker's recent Congressional campaign in the 37th district of California, representing Long Beach and Compton, only to see her get blown out by the Democrat incumbent). But assuming a Republican ever did win in such a district, he or she would have to:

a) work closely together with lots of democrats to get things done.

b) work in an environment where the progressive idea of government as Provider is firmly entrenched,


c) work in an environment where some government programs ARE in fact necessary given the brokenness of other primary institutions (e.g. the family).

Similarly, the Latino conservative movement is of a more moderate nature precisely because many Latino communities are inside the same urban areas just mentioned, and also because that movement cannot follow lockstep with the ultra-conservative immigration policies advocated by many in the GOP. Latino conservatives are often times still immersed in the immigrant communities in which they were raised (as is the case with me), and they cannot realistically think that they will be able to win the hearts and minds of their fellow Latinos to the conservative cause, while simultaneously advocating for the indiscriminate deportation of people in their own community. So of course one would seek some sort of middle ground in regards to this issue.

3. Social conservatism.

It almost goes without saying that Latinos and Blacks are social conservatives. The reason is obvious. Both communities have been greatly influenced by different Christian traditions. Traditional Catholics, conservative Evangelicals, and Pentecostals remain staunchly pro-life, in a few cases to the point of being anti-birth-control. And even though the mainline denominations have become more socially liberal over the last few decades, the minority-dominated congregations of even these denominations retain their social conservatism. The denomination I belong to for example, the American Baptists, has begun little by little, in certain regions of the country, to become more socially liberal, yet because of the influence of the Los Angeles and Southwest regions of our denomination, the American Baptist denomination has retained much of its conservatism. It just so happens that the congregations in those regions have large numbers of African Americans and immigrants (Asian, African, Pacific Islander, Latin-American, etc.).

How was the supposedly ultra-liberal California, a state that voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in the 2008 election, also able to pass the controversial Prop. 8, that would define marriage in California's Constitution as being between one man and one woman? It wasn't the affluent white neighborhoods of San Francisco and Westwood that supported it, it was the religious community, much of it Latino and African-American. Many have commented that because the candidacy of Barack Obama attracted so many African-Americans to the polls, the Prop. 8 cause gained that much more support in the ballot box. I imagine that had the large number of undocumented Latinos in California been able to vote in '08, Proposition 8 would have passed with an even larger margin.

These family issues are a very natural point of alliance between Black and Latino conservatives, and a common challenge to be addressed by the leaders of both movements. Both of our communities feel the acute negative effects of broken families in our neighborhoods, and many more civic and religious leaders are now stepping up to address it. I believe it's the most important of our common challenges because so many other problems of poverty, violence and illiteracy in the inner city originate from the destabilization of the family. I think this issue in particular presents the Black and Latino conservative movements a unique opportunity to put their ideals into action and bring about a desperately needed change.

4. The spirit of black conservatism.

Finally, I think I've been drawn to the Black conservative movement because of the energy and excitement behind it. It's a new sense among this emergent movement that their vote and their political allegiance can no longer be taken for granted by the Democrat party. It's a rejection of the patronizing and condescending attitude of the white/liberal academic and political class towards "poor colored folk." It is also a reclaiming of the Republican's long history as a civil rights party and a truly progressive party. And it is a repudiation of the conceit of left-wing ideology - a rejection of the quasi-socialist New Deal-ism and Great Society-ism which didn't actually empower blacks and latinos, but instead locked them into housing projects, and created a culture of government dependence among them.

I celebrate this movement's "rediscovery" of the legacy of Frederick Douglass, who I sometimes refer to as the patron saint of Black conservatism. The same Frederick Douglass who said the following in response to the question, "What shall we do with the Negro?":

"I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! ... And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall ... All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don't disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot- box, let him alone, don't disturb him!... If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone, ... Let him fall if he cannot stand alone! ... If you will only untie his hands, and give him a chance, I think he will live. He will work as readily for himself as the white man."

Beautiful! Some may cynically call this "boot-strap" idealism, but you know what? Douglass' ideal inspires me and reminds me of our God-given potential to create our own destinies, more so than today's liberal frame-of-mind of victimhood and helplessness. I prefer to dream of my own people's creative potential than to feel I am inevitably trapped by the powers-that-be.

Along the same lines, I am heartened whenever I read or hear anything by Alveda King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece, who unapologetically decries the Democrat party's staunch defense of abortion - calling it for what it is - not a truly liberal idea, but rather a continuation of Margaret Sanger's and the Old South's war against darker-skinned people.

Even the spirit of Malcolm X is invoked. Of course many conservatives may be uncomfortable with this historical figure, and not all of his ideas resonate with me, but there's no denying that his rejection of white liberal patronage is very much in tune with the spirit of Black and Latino conservatism. I cannot help but be a little emboldened when I hear Malcolm say,

"This government has failed us, the government itself has failed us. The white liberals, who have been posing as our friends, have failed us. Once we see that all these other sources to which we've turned have failed, we stop turning to them and turn to ourselves. We need a self-help program, a do it yourself philosophy, a do it right now philosophy, an it's already too late philosophy. This is what you and I need to get with... "

Can I get an Amen?

And finally as a Latino Conservative, I feel a certain kinship to Vannesa Jean-Louis, the "Afro-Conservative," an up-and-coming Conservative leader whose recent speeches and writings have caused many a Black and Latino to pause and reconsider their unquestioning allegiance to the Democrat Party. I leave you with one of her videos, in hopes that you might likewise be inspired, or at the very least cause you to pause and reconsider....

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