The other day I tried to tease out the difference between African Americans with conservative politics, and African Americans who promote themselves at the expense of the community from which they hail. To understand what it once meant to be an African-American conservative, it's worth checking out this old Washington Post piece on former Rep. J.C. Watts, who represented his beliefs but wanted to be something more than the guy who assured Jesse Helms that he was not racist.
You can see the other side of this dynamic in the recent panel of "black conservatives" convened by Sean Hannity. Among the participants was Jesse Lee Peterson. If you have a moment I urge you to listen to Peterson's analysis of slavery. Again, it is one thing to believe that deficit reduction is the most important issue of the day. It is another to imply that the Middle Passage was like "riding on a crowded airplane when you're not in first class." It is one thing to believe that America must always have the world's strongest military. It is another to say, "Thank God for slavery." It is one thing oppose gun regulation. It is another to say, to "the white man for going there and getting us here, I want to say 'Thanks.'"
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:
Negroes are human, not superhuman. Like all people, they have differing personalities, diverse financial interests and varied aspirations. There are Negroes who will never fight for freedom. There are Negroes who will seek to profit for themselves alone from the struggle. There are even Negroes who will cooperate with there oppressors. These facts should depress no one. Every minority and every people has its share of opportunists, profiteers, free-loaders, and escapists."
There's nothing about being "conservative" that necessarily puts an African American among that group. I would gladly put, say, Kwame Kilpatrick -- who fleeced his city, then hid behind the specter of racism -- in that category. But the category does exist. When you are thanking "the white man" for slavery, you might be well a contestant for the summer-jam screen.
UPDATE: Included the full King quote. Quote is from King's book Why We Can't Wait.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.