Tuesday, November 9, 2010

African-Americans and the "tea-party" movement

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page noted that one of the "underappreciated, overlooked" stories coming from last week's election was the number of black candidates who ran as conservative Republicans and even as "tea-party" sympathizers; two even won. ABC News aired a similar story, and my right-wing former colleague Ruth Ann Dailey, who still writes for the Post-Gazette, was giddy that the Democratic Party might finally be losing its stranglehold on black voters.

Don't be fooled one bit, however -- because it won't change a thing. These two new black Congressmen were elected from majority-white districts, which means that, while they may represent their respective districts, they likely didn't have many fellow African-Americans voting for them.

And here's where it's important to understand that, contrary to popular conservative opinion, blacks do not vote for black candidates based simply on color; like everyone else, African-Americans vote their interests, which are rarely -- if ever -- aligned with the conservative political agenda. The black community isn't really enamored with the Democratic Party or doesn't hate the Republican Party, truth be told; it just has a deep contempt for the political right dating back to the 1960s. Keep in mind that the political ancestors of today's conservatives, North and South, opposed the civil-rights movement, and they still have not dealt with the latent racism that even today is considered part-and-parcel of the political right.

And, to a certain extent, conservatives actually understand this. Over the years they have been willing to pay top dollar to African-Americans willing to ally with them and try to sell their program -- not to other African-Americans, mind you, but to white "moderates" not well-versed in history to demonstrate that, well, they don't deserve that reputation of racism. Twelve years ago a right-wing group reached out to me after I wrote an op-ed for the PG that not only espoused a "conservative" position but was also critical of the NAACP, which the right hates with a passion. (I never responded.)

However, just because conservative organizations may hire and promote blacks (ironically, practicing a form of "affirmative action" that they say they oppose) doesn't mean that they have actually repented. One example was the American Enterprise Institute, which had hired African-American economists Glenn Loury and Carter Woodson as fellows; however, they quit in 1996 after Dinesh D'Souza, another fellow, published the book "The End of Racism," which they considered racist in its own right. Black conservatives are often considered by other African-Americans to be "sellouts" because, in practice, they often are; if you see or hear any African-American spouting the conservative line, you can bet that he or she is being paid. Handsomely. (It doesn't matter whether he or she actually believes it, only that he or she says it.)

That's the backdrop of last week's election results -- and why this supposed breakthrough shouldn't be taken all that seriously; African-Americans already know or suspect what's behind it, so don't look for many to cross the line. Former congressman J.C. Watts Jr., who once represented a largely-white Tulsa district and had risen to the No. 4 position in House leadership, eventually understood that; before the 2008 election he announced that he was considering voting for Barack Obama because the Republican Party had ignored black voters and their concerns. Cynicism? Not really, because that history can't be ignored.

No comments: