Blacks and Conservatism

July 07, 1991|By CLARENCE THOMAS

Much has been said about blacks and conservatism. Those on the left smugly assume blacks are monolithic and will by force of circumstances always huddle to the left of the political spectrum. The political right watches this herd mentality in action, concedes that blacks are monolithic, picks up a few dissidents, and wistfully shrugs at the seemingly unbreakable hold of the liberal left on black Americans.

But even in the face of this, a few dissidents like Tom Sowell and J. A. Parker stand steadfast, refusing to give in to the cult mentality and childish obedience that hypnotize black Americans into a mindless, political trance. I admire them and only wish I could have a fraction of their courage and strength.

Many pundits have come along in recent years, who claim an understanding of why so many blacks think right and vote left. They offer "the answer" to the problem of blacks failing to respond favorably to conservatism. I, for one, an not certain there is such a thing as "the answer." And, even if there is, I assure you I do not have it.

I have only my experiences and modest observations to offer. First, I may be somewhat of an oddity. I grew up under state-enforced segregation, which is as close to totalitarianism as I would like to get. My household, notwithstanding the myth fabricated by experts, was strong, stable, and conservative.

In fact, it was for more conservative than many who fashion themselves conservatives today. God was central. School, discipline, hard work, and knowing right from wrong were of the highest priority. Crime, welfare, slothfulness and alcohol were enemies. But these were not issues to be debated by keen intellectuals, bellowed about by rousing orators or dissected by pollsters and researchers. They were a way of life; they marked the path of survival and the escape route from squalor.

Unlike today, we debated no one about our way of life -- we lived it. I must add that my grandparents enforced the no-debate rule. There were a number of concerns I wanted to express. In fact, I did on a number of occasions at a great price. But then, I have always found a way to get in my two cents.

Of course, I thought my grandparents were too rigid and their expectations were too high. I also thought they were mean at times. But one of their often-stated goals was to raise us so that we could "do for ourselves," so that we could stand on our "own two feet."

This was not their social policy, it was their family policy -- for their family, not those nameless families that politicians love to whine about. The most compassionate thing they did for us was to teach us to fend for ourselves and to do that in an openly hostile environment. In fact, the hostility made learning the lesson that much more urgent. It made the difference between freedom and incarceration; life and death; alcoholism and sobriety. The evidence of those who failed abounded, and casualties lay everywhere. But there were also many examples of success -- all of whom, according to my grandfather, followed the straight and narrow path.

I was raised to survive under the totalitarianism of segregation, not only without the active assistance of government but with its active opposition. We were raised to survive in spite of the dark oppressive cloud of governmentally sanctioned bigotry. Self-sufficiency and spiritual and emotional security were our tools to carve out and secure freedom. Those who attempt to capture the daily counseling, oversight, common sense and vision of my grandparents in a governmental program are engaging in sheer folly. Government cannot develop individual responsibility, but it certainly can refrain from preventing or hindering the development of this responsibility.

I am of the view that black Americans will move inexorably and naturally toward conservatism when we stop discouraging them; when they are treated as a diverse group with differing interests; and when conservatives stand up for what they believe in rather than stand against blacks. This is not a prescription for success, but rather an assertion that black Americans know what they want, and it is not timidity and condescension.

Nor do I believe gadget ideas such as enterprise zones are of any consequence when blacks who live in blighted areas know that crime, not lack of tax credits, is the problem. Blacks are not stupid. And no matter how good an idea or proposal is, no one is going to give up the comfort of the leftist status quo as long as they view conservatives as antagonistic to their interest, and conservatives do little or nothing to dispel the perception. If blacks hate or fear conservatives, nothing we say will be heard. Let me relate my experience as a designated black/conservative/Republican/Reagan appointee in the civil rights area -- our soft underbelly as far as our opponents are concerned.

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