My conservatism caught me by surprise.
While raised in the peculiar isolation of Jehovah’s Witnesses by a white mother and a black father, politics was as elusive as birthday celebrations and gifts on Christmas morning (prohibited by JW theology). In elementary school, as other children would cover their hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I stood silent with my hands at my side. Participation in the political system of men was a betrayal of the kingdom of God, or so I had been taught. I therefore had little frame of reference for, or interest in, the political discourse.
I thus came into middle school ripe for indoctrination. My first impression of the major political parties was imprinted by a social studies teacher who explained as a matter of fact that Republicans were the party of the rich and powerful while Democrats were the party of the little guy. That settled it. Lacking in wealth and power as I was, if I was ever to be political, I was clearly to be a Democrat. Thus guided, I dutifully cast my ballot in the mock election of 1992 for the well-coifed champion of we little people – Bill Clinton.
In the years that followed, something happened which my teachers did not intend. I enrolled in my state’s postsecondary enrollment options program, and came to spend half the day at a local community college. My schedule was such that I drove between my high school and the college right when a certain talk radio personality took to the air. In a way, listening to Rush Limbaugh proved a form of youthful rebellion. My curiosity was aroused by leftist characterizations of the man as a bigoted hate-monger. Surely, listening to the rantings of a modern-day Klansman would prove entertaining.
You can fill in the rest of the story. What Limbaugh had to say on those daily drives to college proved more enlightening than what I was offered in class. I was not converted so much as matched with the ideology I implicitly held.
As I came of age politically, the reality of being a black conservative was no more isolating than being a Jehovah’s Witness. I had grown used to being a minority within a minority, the odd guy out, and having to routinely explain myself to others. While I eventually dropped the religion, I maintained its contentment with abnormality. As a result, I did not endure quite the same trials which many other black conservatives do when they reveal their values to a community enthralled by liberation theology.
Nevertheless, life as a black conservative has granted me insight into the plight facing those who stand up for what they believe in. Here are 5 tips for coming out as a black conservative.
5) Realize That “Conservatives” Are the Modern Radicals
Everything your teachers taught you about the political spectrum is wrong. I use the term “conservative” out of necessity, as a shorthand to convey generally which side of the given spectrum I am on. However, in truth, we on the political Right find ourselves less conservative and more radical each day. By that I mean we seek change from the status quo to a new paradigm. Indeed, those commonly thought of as liberal are the real conservatives by a strict definition, striving to maintain and expand establishments of coercion and cronyism. Thus so many among the rank-and-file have been disillusioned by President Barack Obama’s failure to deliver on “hope” and “change,” because he really stands for much more of the same.
“Conservative” and “liberal” are always relative terms. The founding fathers were liberal in the classic sense, though their ideology is today thought reactionary. They dramatically elevated their new nation from underneath a centuries-long rule of men to a newly conceived rule of law. Once that vision was established, the effort to maintain it could be called conservative. However, as the “center” of the political discourse has moved further to the statist Left over the past century, we have abandoned the rule of law for a repackaged rule of men. That leaves those on the Right, we who seek limited government constituted to protect the rights of individuals, as radicals amidst a sea of leftist reactionaries seeking to drag us back to the dark age.
This is important for you to realize as you come out of the political closet and reveal your values, because you will be cast as a self-hating negro who seeks the comfort of the master’s house. Fellow blacks will call you reactionary, even as they snuggle at the feet of Democratic patrons begging for rations.
4) Find Contentment in Abnormality
If you are going to come out as a black conservative, you must find peace as a minority of one. In his article “The Loneliness of a Black Conservative,” Shelby Steele artfully conveys the plight awaiting you:
The problem for the black conservative is more his separation from the authority of his racial group than from the actual group. He stands outside a group authority so sharply defined and monolithic that it routinely delivers more than 90 percent of the black vote to whatever Democrat runs for president. The black conservative may console himself with the idea that he is on the side of truth, but even truth is cold comfort against group authority (which very often has no special regard for truth). White supremacy focused white America’s group authority for three centuries before truth could even begin to catch up. Group authority is just as likely to be an expression of collective ignorance as of truth; but it is always, in a given era, more powerful than truth.
All of this is made worse by the fact that black Americans have been a despised minority surrounded by indifference and open hatred. An individual’s failure of group love is a far greater infraction among blacks because it virtually allies that individual with the enemy all around. An Uncle Tom is someone whose failure to love his own people makes him an accessory to their oppression. So group love (in one form or another) is a preoccupation in black life because of the protective function it serves, because we want to use the matter of love as a weapon of shame and thus as an enforcer of conformity. Love adds the seriousness and risk to nonconformity.
Read the whole piece. Steele describes how the rod of shame is used with great success to herd blacks into a prescribed mold. In coming out of your political closet, you are defying that mold and inviting discipline. There is no getting around it. It must be endured. The ostracizing Steele recounts serves as a modern fire hose turned upon advocates of liberty.
3) Cultivate an Unassailable Self-Esteem
As you might imagine, the shaming of black conservatives knows no bounds. Prepare to have your very blackness called into question. Your detractors will reveal race to be more a system of belief than a physical description. Prepare for accusations of bigotry, as irrational as such claims may prove. Prepare to have your credentials ignored, your intelligence mocked, and your accomplishments dismissed. Prepare to lose friends, opportunities, and respect.
As Steele notes, “truth is cold comfort.” Nevertheless, take what solace you can from the fact that your chosen values are rational. Personal attacks are so prevalent from the Left because, in the end, ad hominem is all they have. Their arguments fail objective analysis, leaving ridicule and marginalization as the only available weapons. However, as a weapon, ridicule is uniquely flawed in that its victim must consent to the assault. Don’t provide that consent. An adult does not flinch from the insults of a child, but rebukes immaturity with authority. You’ll find children come in all ages.
Realize that ridicule is at root an expression of insecurity, an eruption of vitriol from a caldron of cognitive dissonance. Pity your attackers. They walk away from your encounter as impotent as they came, refusing the insight you graciously offer. Is this arrogance on your part? Not at all. Arrogance is pride unearned. You are right, and you objectively know it. The arrogance is theirs.
2) “Cheat Out” Your Arguments
In a theatrical play on a common proscenium stage, actors must conscientiously present themselves to the audience, standing at an angle to each other which would be awkward and unnatural in real life. This is called cheating out, and reigns as perhaps the most common note given to student and amateur performers. Even though actors engage each other in dialogue as though no one else were watching, cheating out acknowledges those seated beyond the invisible fourth wall as the true intended audience.
So it is in our political discourse. It proves sadly true that the vast majority of opponents you engage in argument will never be converted to your position. Accepting this futility removes “winning the argument” as a reasonable goal. Instead, tussles with those among the Left serve one of two purposes. Private discussions act as reconnaissance, revealing what your opponent believes and why he believes it. In public debates, whether formal or impromptu, the intent is to convince onlookers.
Some time ago, I was invited to speak about the Tea Party to a public audience at a college campus known for its leftist bias. There was an outburst and walkout during my presentation. The subsequent question-and-answer session exposed me to profoundly hostile criticism. I endured, none the worse for wear. Afterward, I was tepidly approached by a young man who confessed in hushed tones that he appreciated what I had to say. His sentiment was delivered with all the caution one might expect from a resistance courier working through an enemy occupation. He was my audience that day, the until then unknown purpose of my visit. You never know who you may be connecting with.
1) Keep Thinking Independently
Were my complete philosophy to be splayed before everyone I know, were it to be translated into a platform, it is unlikely anyone would fully support it. Social conservatives would flinch from my distinction between sin and crime. Libertarians might object to my stance on foreign policy. Surely, my objectivist friends would scoff at my Christian faith. I don’t fit into a convenient category. In fact, I’ve spent a great deal of time defining my own.
When you come out of the closet as a black conservative and thus abandon your group identity, you may be tempted to find another to replace it. Human beings legitimately crave companionship. However, a sense of belonging attained by compromising principle is false and unfulfilling.
Independent thinking got you here. Independent thinking will keep you going. Group identity, or more specifically the group authority Shelby Steele writes about, degenerates into herd instinct in the unthinking. Individual rights can only be effectively defended by those who have rejected any claim upon their life. You do not belong to anyone. Your life is yours. Your mind is yours. Direct it intentionally. Choose what you believe and know why you believe it. Never let someone else, anyone else, tell you what you must think or do. By all means, consider trusted advice, but take responsibility for your decisions once made.
A new generation of black activists must reclaim the civil rights movement and pursue true equality under the law. To do so, they will need to confront the cultural monolith of black entitlement. The large victories in this culture war will be preceded by hundreds and thousands of quiet coups by individuals like you. It may sometimes seem a lonely path. However, in stepping from conformity’s warmth and comfort, you will stand in good company alongside history’s abolitionists and legitimate civil rights leaders. When the tomes of history are written, such deviants grace its pages.