Colorblind Conservatism

At, Sincere Kirabo writes about black conservatives. In the piece he dismantles the arguments of African-American speakers at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. A task simplified by the fact that there were so few, most fit in one magazine column. A sample quote below:

Black conservatives, along with their brethren, favor respectability politics and place faith in the idea of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”—both notions supported by a victim-blaming rationale that neglects the way some identities are privileged over others.

Sincere Kirabo, “The Black Conservative Anomaly

Though Kirabo’s focus is the current lineup of black conservatives in the GOP, black conservatism is an ideological current with a long history, something I learned during my years in graduate school. In fact, it was the scholarship on African-American ideologies, particularly the work by Michael Dawson and Melissa Harris-Lacewell (today Harris-Perry), what inspired me to write a dissertation on Latino ideology.

In this regard, Kirabo’s piece reminds me of Chapter 3 of W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk. That chapter is a serious takedown of the respectability politics and black conservatism of Booker T. Washington.

There’s a big difference between Washington and today’s black conservatives in the GOP. Washington’s conservative rhetoric included actions, such as the founding of the Tuskegee Institute. He was part of a debate about how to improve the conditions of the African-American community after the collapse of Reconstruction. Today’s GOP black conservatives deny there’s a problem at all, or that the problem lies in individual responsibility.

Which leads me to the contradiction of today’s GOP. As the party has moved from “dog-whistle” statements about race to explicit racism, it has also seen a boom in elected officials of color. The Party of Trump has South Carolina’s Tim Scott, the only African-American U.S. Senator, two Latinos in the U.S. Senate (Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz), as well as governors Brian Sandoval (NV) and Susana Martínez (NM), Indian-American governors Nikki Haley (SC) and Bobby Jindal (LA). Let’s not forget Dr. Ben Carson’s and Alan Keyes’s presidential aspirations. This shows that the party’s base may be racist, but also colorblind. They will elect anyone who spews the hateful rhetoric and reality-denying views they like.

The other day I was watching cable news in room as I waited for a meeting. I don’t recall which network it was, but I recall hearing something like this: A commentator asked where are the reasonable black conservatives like Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and Michael Steele. And I though to myself, if Michael Steele is now considered a reasonable black conservative, the Republican Party is beyond salvation.

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