Monday, April 03, 2006

Neo-Black Conservatives

The media lens over Newark, NJ (Jersey’s largest city) has grown to epic proportion over the last month, as longtime mayor Sharpe James (equated to a corrupt African dictator by myself) announced that he will not be running for re-election, leaving Cory Booker as his likely successor. An all-American running back at Stanford University, Yale Law School graduate and Rhodes Scholar, Booker lost to James in the last election for Newark several years ago in a tightly contested -- and highly theatrical -- race.

As few questions can be posed concerning Booker’s capability and credentials, many have anointed him America’s next great black leader. Increasingly, the face of popular black leadership has taken a conservative approach (see: the cartoon above) and Booker seems to follow this trend, as a significant level of his backing finds its roots in the corner of the hard right.

Ignoring the urge to delve into the political ramifications within Newark (as that proves to be a lengthy discussion and one that is most relevant for NJ’s residents) if Booker wins the upcoming mayoral race, I pose the following questions:

Is conservative black leadership in America a legitimate hindrance to a progressive black agenda?

More plainly: why are black conservatives frequently ignored, ridiculed and labeled as Uncle Tom’s and sellouts?

Can’t a progressive black agenda be driven from both sides of the political machine?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I will try to take a stab at your questions.

Let’s start with the government system, a representative government. A true democracy would have around 300 million congressmen/senators. Well unfortunately the idea of 300 million senators is kind of hard; I think the problem is there are not enough chairs or something like that. Thus the need for a representative government. Unfortunately the 'representatives' don't always accurately represent the interests of the people they are representing. Don't know about those in NYC, but when billionaire Bloomberg was calling the transit workers with 4 kids to raise and making under 30k “thugs” was he really representing you? That is part of the root of the sell out/uncle tom moniker. Usually conservative leaning black leaders, tend to represent the interests of 'other' parties.

Let’s delve deeper, the adverse effect of conservative politics often disproportionately affect members of the black community. A snapshot of some conservative policies- the Rockefeller drug laws, three strikes and you are out. Who has taken the brunt of this law? There are now almost 15,500 drug offenders in NY's prisons; most of them minor offenders with no history of violent behavior. Over 92% of the people locked up in NY for drug offenses are African American or Latino, despite research showing that the majority of people who use and sell drugs are white.


That said, I am not saying conservative policies are racist, but if we look at the group of people often negatively affected by them, they tend to be disproportionately black or minorities. On the other hand, those that benefit most from conservative policies tend to white- can we say tax cut for the wealthy! While polls show that black Americans are consistently more liberal than white Americans. A better question would be why black conservative politicians are often highlighted as spokespeople for the black community?

Brother Lightness said...

Anonymous,
thanks for offering that response. I appreciate the distinction you make concerning conservative policies that are beneficial to a majority of the population, while not purposely conceived to adversely affect a black minority.

In turn, allow me to take a stab at the question you pose: "why black conservative politicians are often highlighted as spokespeople for the black community?"

One of the more insightful discussions I've had concerning this matter has pointed to what appears to be black America's endless obsession with finding the next great black leader. In essence, black people are looking for the next MLK Jr. to lead them to a promised land of equality and prosperity.

Admirable in its origins, it beckons of a cultural dependance that inhibits organic (or grassroots) action and growth among black America.

Some would even go so far as to argue that black history is steeped in the tradition of great leaders who have repeatedly guided their followers to the land of milk and honey (Harriet Tubman, MLK, Jr., and countless figures in the black church).

That being said, conservative politicians seem to fit the bill for black leadership because they are accepted by the majority while occupying the oft vacuous space of black leadership.

Brother Afrocan said...

"...conservative politicians seem to fit the bill for black leadership because they are accepted by the majority while occupying the oft vacuous space of black leadership."

Good point brother lightness, but as anonymous pointed out, are these people really representatives. Is the uppity-negro, bourgeois, easily accepted by the majority, type of black leader really a good representative for majority of the black population? Look at yourself brother lightness, in 10 or so years when you are riding a 760i BMW (the 2007 model is hot! -www.bmw.com) with kids in private school- what will your opinion be on the Rockefeller drug laws, on incarceration as a solution to crime, on tax cuts. Will your primary concern be not getting your car jacked by a crackhead? Will it be maximizing your tax return for your retirement account?

Look at Condelezza Rice who at the age of 26, she received her Ph.D. from the Graduate School of International Studies at Denver and in addition to English, speaks Russian, French, German and Spanish. (Wikipedia.org). A very well accomplished woman and a true role model for black people all over the world, but is she a good representative for the interests of these same black people that look up to her? Or is she more likely to represent the interests of highly educated, well-accomplished, successful upper-middleclass to rich individuals?

In as much as there is a vacuum for leadership, filling the void with people 'who fit the bill of a leader' often leaves black people hurling derogatory terms like Uncle Tom and sellout, seething with frustration and bitterness over leaders who neither get them to the promised land nor even represent/share their interests.

qwerty said...

Is conservative black leadership in America a legitimate hindrance to a progressive black agenda?

No, blacks are hinderance to a progressive black agenda. Conservative black leadership is but the perfect scapegoat. I hear some twisted things coming out the mouths of blacks. Too many trully believe Abraham Lincoln was a friend of black people and Thomas Jefferson loved the sistas and black people.

Calling someone an Uncle Tom is a cop out! It's dismissive and it's weak. It's rare to find someone with whom one can really discuss "the issues" among people who say this mess.

As long as we are not represented in the Republican party and the Republican party sees that they don't need us to get elected they will not cater to us. How can they when they don't trully know what we need? Of course they're going to enact laws that are detrimental to us when they don't have someone among them who will bring the lower- to middle-class black american perspective.

"You have to learn to be an African American and we don't have time to train you."
-Sharpe James

This is beyond disgusting. And Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson back this man? I appreciate what they did during the civil rights movement but they need to sit down somewhere.

When the Democrats can count on 85-90% of our votes regardless of what they spew we have no voice. And for all the talk of Bill Clinton being the first "black president" the man never put a black person in his cabinet. Democrats ain't diddly, either.I'm just sayin'...

RAK said...

A couple things.

First, vouchers are growing more and more popular within liberal black political circles. They are one of those odd policies that gets embraced by both edges of the political sphere. I don't like them, but support of vouchers does not automatically show that someone is a neo-con. So I'd love to know more about Booker's policies (his website is pathetic for not having any positions on it that I could find). I remember seeing him at Williams and he was, as the NY Times magazine article his website links to, weak on policy ideas, strong on politics. I have not seen all of "street wars", so maybe it is in the documentary, but could one give me more evidence of Booker as a neo-con?

Someone once forwarded me a defense of Clarence Thomas as following a legacy of black conservative views that go back to Booker T. Washington and attacks on Thomas were racist assumptions of liberalness in blacks. It was an interesting read, but it did not really address the point many critics of Thomas (and other neo-con blacks) note: that they often use the "race card" (and I shudder to even use the term, as cheap a stunt as it is both when used and when someone accuses someone else of its use) and deny it to other minorities.

Also, Clinton did appoint Ron Brown Commerce Secretary, and Ron Brown was black. In fact, over his whole tenure, there were three black men and two latinos. Not many, but certainly not zero.

qwerty said...

I stand corrected.

Alexis Margaret Herman
Rodney Earl Slater
Hazel Rollins O'Leary
Togo Dennis West, Jr.
Jesse Brown
Ron Brown

Is it too late to amend my statement and show my prejudice? He never appointed any black cabinet member that the average American could name. Granted, the average American probably can't name the vice president, but that's besides the fact...

Still, that doesn't change the fact that I "got served," as the kids say.

RAK said...

and i got served for missing the two black women. curse you google (and my impatience to read the sentence after the one that told me about the men in the cabinet in the article I found), curse you!

What's most interesting about it, is that though Clinton tried to parade his diverse cabinet, Bush got a lot more press for having a diverse cabinet because it was so unexpected of him. Which, with hindsight, is quite odd: someone who is expected to do something good gets little credit for it, but take someone slimy and have him do good, and he gets really good press.

the burden of high standards for Democrat politicians? Seems similar to what is going on with Republican pushes to gain black voter interest: "Don't vote Democratic, they've always been better than us at serving your needs (since Civil Rights realignment, at least). Now that their almost as dysfunctional as we are bad, its a wash!" What scares me is that it might work...even though I would argue that blacks in the Democratic party receive more attention than any policy based liberal constituent group of the party. The real problem is that a bunch of panzy moderates took over the party.

Also, as I correct slight errors in this post, I'll add a note to anonymous' attack on Bloomberg. First, Bloomberg's really a Dem, he just had to switch parties to get elected. but that's an aside. Second, the average NYC transit worker is making $48,000, the average bus driver $63,000. Plus, they paid nothing out of that salary for health care (one of the strike's reasons was the MTA's demand for workers to pay 1.5% of their income toward health care). I know little of the details of their strike and whether or not it was warranted, but they are not the poor. It's a surprisingly well-paid profession in NYC!

RAK said...

To try to confuse anyone who wanted to box me in a corner, let me swerve far left of anonymous' original post and argue that laws such as Rockefeller are racist. Ahh...the wonders of critical race theory. Disproportionate effect not immediately made proportionate is a sign of institutional racism, and if anything fits that bill, it is the Rockefeller drug laws.

Let me argue a somewhat more boring answer to Brother Lightness' note that the face of popular black leadership has taken a conservative bend. The face of all American leadership has taken a conservative bend because conservatives are in power. Were Gore or Kerry president now, no one would be thinking about Condi Rice except the people at Stanford under her (who, I hear, are secretly pleased she's no longer there because they didn't like her leadership). Colin Powell might actually still have a whisp of legitimacy because he wouldn't have gone in front of the UN to present the Iraq war case, and we wouldn't have had this discussion. With power comes exposure, right now neocons of all colors have the exposure.

I want to return to the original cartoon. I'm still trying to find out Booker's views. The black commentator does a fantastic job exposing how his support for vouchers has given him support from the right. But, beyond that one issue, they've got nothing to call him a neocon. Again, I despise vouchers and find them perfectly absurd (and the classic reason why I wish economists would stop trying to write policy), but there is an undercurrent of support for vouchers within the black community that is found in both conservative and liberal people.

To compare to the Supreme Court, Booker is less like Clarence Thomas who has always been an clearcut conservative, and more like Anthony Kennedy, who got appointed precisely because it wasn't clear what his views are. Booker might be tricking people into thinking he's more to the left than he is, as theblackcommentator.com claims, or he might be the moderate he claims (the moderate democrats love him too), or he might be a pure technocrat with no allegiance to ideology.

Honestly, that was all just a loooooong plea for Brother Lightness to go into the lengthy discussion of NJ political ramifications, because I'm a former resident.