As Juan Williams put it last year: “Yes, it has got to be tough to be a black Republican in the Trump era.” I agree, but I would add that it is difficult being a black conservative in any era.
In the eyes of many today, it is nothing short of an oxymoron to claim simultaneously to be both “black” and “conservative.” Those African-Americans who consider themselves conservatives can hardly go a day without being called a “sellout,” an “Uncle Tom,” or being told they are ignorant of the plight of African-Americans throughout history.
One has to look no further than to the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’ lengthy essay, My President was Black about Barack Obama’s presidency to find an unnecessary dig at the conservative black businessman-politician Herman Cain. While Coates praised Obama as being able to offer “white America” trust earlier in the paragraph, he knocks the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination candidate as performing a “shucky ducky act,” as contrasted from how “Obama isn’t shuffling before white power.” This is an unfair, but typical, assessment of a black conservative.
Some people think that a black person could not possibly be “duped” by the conservative ideas of free markets, a strong military (and police force), and a preference for traditional social values over moral relativism. They ask: how could these black conservatives be so confused as to not see the systemic racism perpetrated by white people?
Sadly, many falsely equate racism, which has existed in our nation’s history, with conservatism. They seem to imply almost that racism and conservatism are one and the same. If one were to hold that view, then it would only make sense that he would see conservative African-Americans as being something of racial traitors.
Speaking as a conservative black American, this could not be further from the truth. But this racialized shame tactic—unsurprisingly—was illustrated by Keith Boykin’s remark to to the conservative Paris Dennard: “The reality is that President Trump has not done enough, and I’m ashamed that you as an African-American, Paris, will not say that.”
Is it really that hard to appreciate that individuals, such as Mia Love, Tim Scott, and Kay Cole James can love both their skin color and their country? They know that there have been transgressions on the part of white Americans, but they have concluded that in order to move forward they cannot live in the shadows of the past.
It should not cause any alarm or disdain to see black conservatives being vocal about their ideals, even when those ideals do not align with the current mainstream narrative. In a fair and honest society, individuals ought to think for themselves, even when they receive backlash for holding an unpopular opinion.
As Juan Williams put it in an opinion piece last year: “Yes, it has got to be tough to be a black Republican in the Trump era.” I agree, but I would add that it is difficult being a black conservative in any era.
Recently, Senator Tim Scott decided to respond to someone through social media who had accused him of being a “manipulated prop” for President Trump. The blogger argued that Scott was merely a tool for Mr. Trump; in other words, Mr. Scott was someone whom the President could use to show that he was not a racist. Unfortunately, this is a narrative that is quite frequently used by those on the Left. The thought that Scott, who had worked hard on tax reform, might want to stand beside the Commander-in-Chief during the post-vote celebration was apparently inconceivable.
Being an African-American and living by a conservative social and political philosophy, I always need to be prepared to defend what I believe very vigorously, given how often I face criticism for the views I hold. It’s important to defend these beliefs in a civil manner, even when civility is not returned. However, there is always hope that more people (not just African Americans, but yes, especially African-Americans) will see conservatism and the values it celebrates as beneficial to both the United States and the African-American community.
Jerome Danner is a member of Project 21, an initiative of The National Center for Public Policy Research.