Black Conservatism in Large and Small Caps

About a year ago, I penned a post entitled “Taking Thomas Seriously”, about the particularly political ideology held by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In it, I noted that both liberals and conservatives misunderstood Thomas’ orientation because the tried to map him onto “standard” (White) political categories. Thomas is a conservative, yes, but specifically he is a Black Conservative, which is a very particular philosophical tradition that does not perfectly align with plain old vanilla White conservatives.

Not all Black conservatives are Black Conservatives (that is, there are conservative Black people, such as Ward Connerly, who I would not identify as part of the Black Conservative tradition), and, more importantly, not all Black Conservatives are conservative (in that, on our “traditional” left/right axis, some would be placed on the left). However, because most people, particularly most Whites, aren’t familiar with Black Conservative ideology, it leads to significant misunderstanding about where its adherents are coming from when they do show up on the national stage. All this is preface to point out that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, he who has nearly derailed Obama’s campaign, is a Black Conservative. To be sure, he’s not a conservative (needless to say, capitalization matters in this post). But he’s not a “liberal” either — his political alignment doesn’t comfortably fit onto models premised on White ideological positioning. Black Conservatism, like Black Liberalism, is not wholly divorced from “standard” Conservatism and Liberalism — but at best they intersect at odd angles.

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  • elrod

    But how does Clarence Thomas fall under this definition of Black Conservatism. Thomas doesn't believe racism is hopelessly dominant in society. He believes racism is just a mirage, actually.

  • schraubd

    Where did Thomas say anything like that?

  • elrod

    I just thought that was assumed. He always spoke of lifting himself up by his own bootstraps, and that remedies to racism were worst than racism itself.

  • CStanley

    elrod: if I understand it correctly, that last part is Thomas' belief- that remedies to racism are worse than racism itself (or perhaps more correct to say that the remedies that are imposed actually make the problem worse instead of better.)

    That's different (quite a bit different, actually) than believing that racism is a mirage. I think that's the disconnect that a lot of conservatives never noticed- that Thomas wasn't 'on their side' in believing that racism wasn't a big deal. Instead, he very much believes it's a big deal but feels that policies like affirmative action make it worse instead of better. Even though it's unfair, he feels (I think) that blacks just have to accept the inequity that forces them to work harder to achieve the same results, because any attempt to level the playing field just confirms the racist's belief that blacks can't compete without assistance.

  • schraubd

    Yeah, I think CStanley is correct. Thomas certainly isn't shy about talking about how racism has been an obstacle in his life (as seminary student; calling his confirmation hearings “a high-tech lynching”) — but unlike a Black Liberal, he thinks it a rather futile hope to fight it head on.

  • domajot

    I think I understand the distinction between a Black Conservative and a conservative who is black.

    What troubles me about Thomas, though, is that he is a very angry conservative, no matter which brand of conservatism he embraces. This level of emotion in a judge at any level of the court system raises questions about his ability to absorb and contemplate opposing arguments.and the consequences, in the real world, of a judicial decision.

    Give me the pragmatism of O”Connor any day of the week, no matter to which party, ideology. or sub-group a judge belongs.. It takes a big dose of dispasionate thinking to arrive at decisions that serve the country, instead of furthering the private ideals of a judge. Clarence Thomas appears to be fighting a very personal battle, and that troubles me a great deal.

  • superdestroyer

    I find it odd that the wirter at TMV who supports racial quotas, race based reparations, raced based social engineerings, and separate and unequal treatment based upon race is using the phrase “black conservatives” when he really means black nationalist or black racists.

    It is like the post modern progressives and look through history and whatever they do not like, they assign to either Republicans or conservatives.

  • schraubd

    Nationalism is, of course, a (paleo-)conservative ideology (as is racism, for that matter), so it really shouldn't surprise us that Black Nationalism would fall under the broader philosophical category of Black Conservatism (of course, not all Black Conservatives are, I think, Black Nationalists — Derrick Bell on the left and Booker T. Washington on the right would be examples of the former who are not part of the latter). Many of us would take as a hint that these elements of paleo-conservatism are popping up in Black Political Thought as to where those theorists lie. Nor is Black Conservatism a philosophical school something I just made up, anymore than I could make up philosophical Liberalism (Mill, Rawles, Nozick) or Communitarianism (Sandel). It's very well-established to those of us who are educated on the topic in question.

    Finally, I don't have any intrinsic objection to Black Conservatism per se, though I'm not myself one (I explain why in the extended post) and there are plenty of Black Conservatives who I do object to quite strongly. But on its own, Black Conservatism is not something I “do not like”, and in some ways I find it an admirable counterweight to Black Integrationism/Idealism/Liberalism.