The Black Conservative Anomaly

Pastor Mark Burns at the RNC (Screengrab via YouTube)

For many, the term “Black conservative” comes across as a bizarre, almost inappropriate oxymoron. However, the Republican National Convention was a distinct reminder that not all Blacks view right-wing ideology with contempt.

I could author an annotated series unpacking the encyclopedic ignorance of Black conservatism, but instead, three prime examples from the RNC should suffice in summing up the problem with this belief system while teasing out why most consider Black adherence to these ideals a suspicious glitch in the matrix.

We begin with South Carolina Pastor Mark Burns’s benediction, which likely drove the more rationally minded among us into existential musings. Straightaway, Burns, like the majority of folks in the right-leaning camp, conflated politics and religious ideology. This is an unambiguous staple of conservative politics, a turn-off not only for those who don’t partake of that brand of Kool-Aid, but for anyone who values the separation of church and state. His benediction/endorsement of Trump began and ended with the story about how this one time, at band camp, Trump stated a belief in the Christian understanding of Jesus—as if that alone qualifies Trump to become head honcho of an entire nation.

But wait, there’s more!

Burns was later given another chance to address his conservative comrades. This time, he continued his hype-man bravado, and in so doing the pastor more fully revealed his murky, line-toeing views. He referred to Democrats as “race-baiters” and said, “Democrats will do whatever it takes to keep us Americans focusing on the colors that divide us and not the colors that unite us.”

His statements highlight a beguiling cornerstone of social conservative politics, which is to vilify any attempt to candidly discuss the pervasive nature of racism in this country. While liberals assuredly have issues with racism, the conservative’s rabid colorblindness is rather impressive in both scope and depth. This dedication to racial avoidance overlooks comprehensive racial disparity statistics, ignores the impact of non-white racial identities, and invalidates non-white experiences with racism while doing nothing to redress or even acknowledge all the ways white supremacist values influence every aspect of social, political, and cultural life.

This is a key reason why social conservatism simply doesn’t jive with most Black Americans. This disingenuous outlook erases the unique and disproportionate treatment Blacks encounter on a daily basis and attributes victim-blaming conclusions to many issues that mire Black communities. There’s only one hitch with this logic: the law of cause and effect doesn’t work in reverse.

Nothing is solved through avoiding a problem. In fact, avoidance usually leads to the perpetuity and exacerbation of an issue. Just like sexism can’t be solved through merely declaring “We’re all just people” while discounting the implications of toxic masculinity, and just like homophobia won’t be tackled by chanting “All Sexualities Matter” while rationalizing every instance of heterosexism, anti-black racism cannot be dismantled by pretending humans are an undifferentiated category or that race-based discrimination doesn’t play a considerable factor in public attitudes and structural systems.

Up next at the RNC, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke delivered a speech that can best be described as odious. His words focused on reinforcing and placating the “white gaze,” a term that refers to a white-centered hegemonic outlook wherein aspects of culture are distilled through an interpretation of the world told by white people for white people. When this viewpoint is normalized, cultural ideas and social mores are calibrated to this custom of whiteness. We see the implications of the white gaze everywhere, including in media, beauty standards, Hollywood, literature—and Clarke’s personal favorite, policing.

Clarke’s fearmongering and demonizing of Black Lives Matter played well with the anxieties and incuriosity of an audience that refuses to see the error in comparing this country’s longstanding tradition of anti-black policing tactics and conduct with the shooting of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The two recent shootings of police do not somehow erase the pervasive and well-documented fundamental flaws in law enforcement practices that result in the unequal regard extended to non-whites. The horrifying actions of both shooters were not motivated within a vacuum—rather they were deadly responses to a systemic issue of repeated police violence against people of color that many still choose to ignore.

Dog whistle politics are nothing new. Trump choosing to follow Nixon’s lead by marketing himself as a “law and order” candidate raises red flags for Blacks with a decent understanding of the disenfranchisement this political declaration carries with it. Since the bulk of this nation’s Black population has more awareness, experience, and understanding of the reality of racial profiling, police brutality, and mass incarceration, which disproportionately targets people of color, many consider this species of anti-black propaganda typically co-signed by black conservatives as anathema.

Lastly, Darryl Glenn, Colorado’s Republican candidate for Senate, promoted a few mythic narratives many Blacks know run counter to common sense and society’s actual state of affairs.

Glenn employed familiar conservative rhetoric in pejoratively characterizing policies to maintain the minimum threshold of poverty as a “handout.” This debunked myth wrongly stereotypes people of color, stigmatizes poverty while disregarding conditions leading to poverty, endorses a callous outlook towards the less fortunate, and relies on victim-blaming—an attribute in the illogical arsenal of conservative thinking.

He advocated a heteronormative view on family values that marginalizes queer identities while also taking a subtle jab at single mothers, a narrative that typically denigrates Black women.

Glenn also referred to President Obama as the “Divider-in-Chief,” ascribing the nation’s racial division to Obama—because racism is just a “silly” fad that the nation grew out of like bouffant hairdos and cork pop guns. Just because the Civil Rights Movement occurred and mainstream media now mythologizes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy doesn’t mean Black lives are no longer dehumanized. As Ta-Nehisi Coates suggests, it will take more than a president to terminate this time-honored form of social stratification. Racism takes many forms. It’s absurd to fault Obama for the insidious nature of a beast that thrives off the downplaying or denial of its existence.

This is why stating “all lives matter” is perceived as tone deafness. The Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t discredit all other lives but rather emphasizes the fact that some lives are granted a surplus of value where others are granted a shortfall. Those who employ intellectual honesty get this. Many whites get it. Hell, even fourteen-year-olds get it. Sadly, it appears conservative reasoning can’t be bothered with appreciating the real world beyond their insular vantage point.

Again, that isn’t to say liberals don’t have a ways to go to better redress racial injustice. However, social progressivism has the capacity to evolve and attempt to update conditions within society, a principle that tends to aid misrepresented and marginalized groups.

Contrast that with social conservatism, a stance that brazenly exclaims, “No! I don’t like change!” This obstinate viewpoint is encapsulated in three words uttered by Justice Clarence Thomas: “I ain’t evolving!” Conservatives are eager to die on the hill of so-called traditional values and demonstrate an unwillingness to change despite contradicting facts or developing circumstances within society that necessitate growth.

Conservatives proudly subvert multiculturalism and the social advancement of non-whites. In other words, they oppose anything that dilutes white-centered, white supremacist social systems. The fact that the vast majority of conservatives are white isn’t an accident.

Black conservatives, along with their brethren, favor respectability politics and place faith in the idea of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”—both notions supported by a victim-blaming rationale that neglects the way some identities are privileged over others. Though equal opportunity has a nice ring to it, it remains a fairytale. Race matters, which is why respectability politics didn’t save behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey from almost becoming another dead unarmed Black man.

A steadfast allegiance to willful ignorance isn’t the same thing as the absence of disparities. The world, along with all the uncomfortable realities it presents, doesn’t magically disappear just because we choose to close our eyes or employ selective perception to identify red herrings. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that Black conservatives catch major side eye from Black America.