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Recently, some conservative writers have asked why most blacks reject Republicans.
According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, one-third of all black Americans self-identify themselves as conservatives. Twenty-seven percent self-identify themselves as Christian Conservatives. Only a third identify themselves as liberals. In spite of these facts, 90 percent of black voters cast their votes for Al Gore and Democratic Congressional candidates. So what gives?
Black voters vote for politicians who at least give lip service to issues that are important to them. Most Democrats do; most Republicans don’t. And the voting pattern of blacks reflects that stark reality.
I used the words “lip service” on purpose. Blacks, unfortunately, have been willing to accept mostly happy talk from Democrats. However, many blacks believe that if their choice is between liberal politicians who at least talk about issues important to them versus conservative politicians who ignore or ridicule their issues, what choices do they have?
A second problem for conservatives is subtler. Far too often, we embrace black columnists or radio talk show hosts who heap scorn on the black community. To be sure, any community that embraces the likes of Jesse Jackson has problems, but you don’t build bridges by concentrating on the negative.
What conservatives don’t do is celebrate the successes in the black community. Instead of holding up “black avengers” as a role models, we need to support the millions of men and women in the black community who do the right thing for the right reasons even when no one is watching.
However, the most important thing that conservatives can do is to finally admit that they erred in standing on the side of states’ rights instead of civil rights.
I’ll never forget reading “Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater. The more I read, the more it excited me. Then I got to the chapter that talked about states’ rights and civil rights. Goldwater lost me because he said that my people and I should be patient. He said that it would take a long time for whites in the South to let go of segregation. We should not, he recommended, demand that our constitutional rights be immediately enforced. In that one chapter, he told me that conservatives had a wonderful philosophy, if you were white. And since I wasn’t, I walked away from the conservative movement.
Decades later, when they had dismantled the legal apparatus of segregation, I revisited the conservative movement and decided that I liked what I saw. However, many of my brothers and sisters haven’t forgotten that most conservatives did not join the fight for our freedom. They will not let go of their disdain for our political leaders until they see years, if not decades of consistent change in the attitudes of conservatives toward blacks.
A perfect example of why most black Americans don’t trust conservatives can be found in the growing debate about black reparations. Randall Robinson, Johnny Cochran and others have launched a campaign to force the U.S. government to pay reparations to all Americans of African descent to compensate them for the slave trade. This is a controversial issue and many oppose paying reparations to anybody for anything.
I have no problem with people opposing reparations. However, I have a huge problem with people attacking the black reparations movement with half-truths and breathtaking demonstrations of ignorance. And that is exactly what a trench warrior in the conservative movement, David Horowitz, has done.
Last month, David tried to publish an ad on college campuses called “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks — and Racist Too.” It was part of a publicity effort for his current college speaking tour. Most colleges, being institutions of political correctness, refused to run his ad. They were wrong.
While David’s ad is filled with half-truths and blinding mistakes of fact and reasoning, it still raises important issues that we should debate openly. Unfortunately, much of what he says shows a breathtaking and dangerous ignorance of what it has been like to be black in this country during the past 50 years. David’s “work” reinforces the suspicions of most blacks that conservatives just don’t get what it has been like to be black and live in America.
I will respond to the first half of David’s arguments in today’s column. I’ll finish the job next week.
1. There Is No Single Group Clearly Responsible for the Crime of Slavery.
David says that only Africans and Arabs were responsible for enslaving the ancestors of African Americans. It is true that slavery could not have lasted for more than a week without the active participation of black Africans. However, David completely ignores the role that American, Danish, Dutch, British, French, Spanish and Portuguese slave traders played in controlling the slave trade between the United States, the Caribbean and South America.
To completely ignore the role of whites in the slave trade is journalistic irresponsibility of the highest and most evil level.
2. There Is No One Group That Benefited Exclusively from its Fruits.
David claims that blacks were the primary beneficiaries of our slavery. As evidence for this patently outrageous claim, he points to the fact that black Americans make more money than black Africans. This “reasoning” is defective for several reasons. First, it ignores the wealth those black Americans would have created if we had been free from slavery when we came to the United States. Second, the main reason Africa is such a mess is because of the slave trade. For centuries, they stole millions of Africans from their communities and shipped them off into the void.
Countless numbers of my ancestors died before their slave ships landed in the “new world.” A million others were raped, beaten, murdered and abused by their slave masters. Those Africans who were left behind had to deal with a bloodsucking European colonial system that destroyed communities, cultures and existing economic systems. It is not surprising, then, that the economies of black Africa are still a mess. After all, the last African colony, Namibia, didn’t receive its freedom until the end of the 20th century.
To claim that blacks were the primary beneficiaries of the slave trade is obscene and evil.
3. Only a Tiny Minority of White Americans Ever Owned Slaves, and Others Gave Their Lives to Free Them.
This is correct. However, many Americans didn’t support the decision of Earl Warren and the U.S. government to put Americans of Japanese descent into concentration camps during World War II either. Despite that fact, the U.S. government paid $20,000 in reparations to every Japanese American to compensate them for the injustice that their people suffered. They took part of this money from the taxes of blacks and others who opposed the concentration camp effort.
4. America Today is a Multiethnic Nation and Most Americans Have no Connection (Direct or Indirect) to Slavery.
It is true that many Americans came to this country after slavery ended. Some even came to America after segregation ended. Nevertheless, everyone who is in America today is a direct beneficiary of all that African slaves created in America. Quite bluntly, African slaves built the foundation of America’s economic success.
5. The Historical Precedents Used to Justify the Reparations Claim Do Not Apply, and the Claim Itself Is Based on Race Not Injury.
David claims that only Jews, Japanese-Americans and blacks who were the direct victims of abuse have a just claim to reparations. After all, he says, all slaves and all of their children have died. So even if reparations were due, those whom we should pay no longer exist.
If we are to believe David Horowitz, all vestiges of slavery disappeared 150 years ago. If we are to believe David Horowitz, very few Americans of African descent have any reason to complain about how we have treated them for the past fifty years. David doesn’t know what he is talking about.
David ignores the fact that, although slavery legally ended in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation, Jim Crow laws and de facto segregation didn’t end until the 1970s. All blacks living today either experienced segregation or are the children of people whom segregation directly affected.
I am proud to be an American, but far too often I have been judged by my skin color. I went to public schools in Los Angeles during the ’50s and ’60s. I received an excellent education in spite of being regularly told by my white teachers that I wasn’t as good as my white counterparts because of my skin color.
Fortunately, my parents were strong enough to counter that garbage, and I had enough white friends to know that not all whites were racist. However, I was the exception. The constant, aggressive, offensive effort of white teachers to destroy the confidence of black students in the Los Angeles public schools destroyed the lives of many of my friends. Instead of going to college where they belonged, they went to Vietnam and died.
Parents who grew up in a racist country raised me although they lived in Philadelphia, which calls itself “the city of brotherly love.” My mother told us what it was like to have a grandmother who was a slave. My father, who received his Divinity Degree from Columbia University, still resents the refusal of the Methodist Church to assign him to an integrated church in Southern California in the 1960s.
Slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation and racism harmed and warped the life experience of every American of African descent. Some of us used the offensive opposition of racism as a goad to force us higher. But far too many of my friends and brothers and sisters were ground down by the relentless pressure of a system of prejudice and segregation that has only recently started to abate. These folks have experienced real, palpable harm, David, whether you like it or not.
Today, I am proud to be a conservative, but far too often people assume, because of my skin color, that I am a liberal. I am a pro-life Christian, but far too often people assume, because of my skin color, that I support Jesse Jackson and killing babies. I have been an officer and board member of an organization that provides financial support to the families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, but more than once, police officers have stopped me solely because of my skin color.
Last week, my wife and I spent a week in Hawaii. We visited the Bishop Museum of History and learned about the role that many different ethnic groups played in the development of Hawaii. How different their experience was from those of my ancestors struck me. The Bishop Museum chronicles the lives of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Puerto Rican, German, Spanish and Portuguese immigrants whom they brought to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields. Each group’s story ended with the descendants of these chattel workers either leaving Hawaii for greener pastures on the mainland or setting up businesses of their own and prospering.
The unrestrained pursuit of happiness, success and wealth is at the heart of the American dream. And that is exactly what they denied most Americans of African descent until the later part of the 20th century.
Those are the facts. The only issue is what should America do to atone for her reprehensible history of abuse of people of African descent.
Next week, I’ll finish my analysis of Horowitz’s claims and tell you what I think America should do to close the book on this shameful chapter in her history.