Anyway, I wrote about all of this last year, when I was profiling Cosby. A quick excerpt:
After Washington's death, in 1915, the black conservative tradition
he had fathered found a permanent and natural home in the emerging
ideology of Black Nationalism. Marcus Garvey, its patron saint, turned
the Atlanta Compromise on its head, implicitly endorsing segregation
not as an olive branch to whites but as a statement of black supremacy.
Black Nationalists scorned the Du Boisian integrationists as stooges or
traitors, content to beg for help from people who hated them.
Garvey argued that blacks had rendered themselves unworthy of the
white man's respect. "The greatest stumbling block in the way of
progress in the race has invariably come from within the race itself,"
wrote Garvey. "The monkey wrench of destruction as thrown into the cog
of Negro Progress, is not thrown so much by the outsider as by the very
fellow who is in our fold, and who should be the first to grease the
wheel of progress rather than seeking to impede." Decades later,
Malcolm X echoed that sentiment, faulting blacks for failing to take
charge of their destinies. "The white man is too intelligent to let
someone else come and gain control of the economy of his community,"
Malcolm said. "But you will let anybody come in and take control of the
economy of your community, control the housing, control the education,
control the jobs, control the businesses, under the pretext that you
want to integrate. No, you're out of your mind."
Black conservatives like Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan, the leader
of the Nation of Islam, have at times allied themselves with black
liberals. But in general, they have upheld a core of beliefs laid out
by Garvey almost a century ago: a skepticism of (white) government as a
mediating force in the "Negro problem," a strong belief in the singular
will of black people, and a fixation on a supposedly glorious black
Now this isn't Obama's approach totally--but he's clearly pulling from this tradition. That anecdote yesterday about whipping other people's kids, was pulled right from the Book Of Black Conservativism. The whole notion of black people as "fallen" as needing to be better fathers and mothers goes all the way back to Booker T. and extends up to the MMM--which Obama attended. He came back a critic--like a lot of us who went. But I'm willing to be that Obama, with his parental background, felt a special attachment to the March's rhetoric.
I think it's easy to underestimate how much this Organic Black Conservative tradition resonates. It really is one of things that connects us. It's about going up school to check on your son, and finding out that the kids that are cutting up the most in class, are the one's whose parents are the least involved. It's about walking up Lenox, at ten in the evening on Sunday, and seeing eight year-olds out playing. There's a deep sense, in all of us--even left-wing me--that we aren't doing enough.
I don't know that that sense is rational. I don't think it makes policy. But we have a strong need to believe that we don't have to wait on policy reform (read: the consent of white folks) for change. That if we just change how eat, how we raise our kids, our study-habits, how we talk to each other, then everything will be OK. I feel like that all the time. It is the religious part of me.