Politics Mondays: E- Letter To Joe Watkins and 1210-AM WPHT, "The Big Talker" Re: The Cultural Challenge of The Black Conservative
Your show Saturday morning was so interesting to me that I did something that I have not done in 16 years. As you know, I called into your show and was pleased to have the honor of speaking with you on-air about your topic - the brawl between some members of the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers and fans present at The Palace In Auburn Hills.
As you might remember my call came after a few of the earlier callers who wasted no time moving into the racial dynamics of the media's reaction to what happened in Auburn Hills, as well as their own views on the relationship between professional sports athletes and moral and cultural decay. I believe it was the two initial callers into the show who remarked that the behavior of Ron Artest of the Indiana Pacers, in particular, and other professional athletes, in general, is indicative or the result of the breakdown of family and the result of inadequate or improper upbringing. You were sympathetic to this view and expressed agreement with it and articulated that the problem should be framed around the issue of personal responsibility.
Next came a caller named "Tony" who reacted to the previous callers by stating his concern that their language amounted to racial code words and that there is a double-standard for improper behavior by Black athletes. He explained how there have been fights involving baseball players and fans as well as the traditional violent element to the sport of hockey, involving White athletes, that is rarely if ever said to be the result of a breakdown of family, improper child-rearing or cultural decay. Again, you were sympathetic to this view and expressed your sentiment of agreement with some of it and articulated that the problem should be framed around the issue of personal responsibility.
Sprinkled in your monologue and in between calls you added additional comments including your support of Bill Cosby's recent articulations about the cultural condition of the Black community. You referenced your recent appearance on CNN's Paula Zahn Now, which I happened to have viewed with great interest.
After a couple of other calls, including one from a Black caller who accused you of providing an inviting forum for anti-Black race-baiters, I was brought on-air. You might remember that I made the point that I enjoyed your show, appreciated your tone, and hoped that you would be able to manage the racial component to the discussion. And I expressed my belief that you were innocent of the charge of inviting race-baiting.
I then expressed my general agreement with "Tony" and explained, as briefly as I could why. I included my view that it does appear to me that although there is a clear problem with arrogance and sportsmanship in pro sports, I do notice the Black athlete being made the poster child of the problem. I specifically pointed to the beer commercials that feature the problem-child prima donna Black athlete, "Leon".
In what I said, I encouraged you to probe a little bit deeper into the basis and reasoning of callers into your show who state that there is a correlation or causation between the behavior of professional athletes and cultural upbringing and family values. This would allow you to determine whether or not, and how, they might be making distinctions between Black and White professional athletes in their criticisms. I added that I noticed a certain sentiment among those who presented that position - family structure and cultural upbringing - as a basis for why the U.S. Olympic team - comprised entirely of Black Americans - lost in Athens, Greece this year (I did not have time to specifically share with you the story of a White male U.S. postal office clerk who helped me mail a package on the day the United States Olympic team played Lithuania, who informed me that he was so turned off by the American team that he was rooting for Lithuania in a preliminary matchup. I imagined he was pleased to see the U.S. go down to defeat in that game. I did not have time to inquire about his views of Major League baseball all-star teams from America who have increasingly been losing to Japanese all-stars in international competition.) I added, in my comments made on your program, that I have also perceived a double-standard in how the degeneracy in Hip-Hop music is pointed out much more vigorously and aggressively than that which exists in rock and heavy metal music.
I also remember cautioning and encouraging you to keep in mind that it is important that any discussion like the one in reaction to Bill Cosby's remarks, revolving around personal responsibility and the cultural condition of the Black community, be discussed in a realistic way that is honest, with "indigenous" sensibilities - acknowledging that this kind of discussion has consistently taken place in the Black community - among individuals and groups - and that Whites generally will never acknowledge or tolerate a full discussion of the matter partly because they do not approve of or understand the value or role of all of the participants in that "indigenous" discussion. I pointed to the fact that Minister Louis Farrakhan has been a consistent voice on this subject - personally making his case directly to Black entertainers and athletes for decades - but that you would not hear the most vocal Whites supposedly concerned about the cultural condition of the Black community acknowledging his role and the value of his voice and work in "cleaning up" the Black community. I added that people like you and even Bishop T.D. Jakes and grassroots activists would not be adequately acknowledged or referred to as leaders on this crisis by a great many of the White Conservatives who are currently harping on Bill Cosby's comments and using them to further an ideological and partisan cause.
Herein lies the great potential value of the Black conservative community, and its challenge.
You may not know but I have had a friendly professional association with Armstrong Williams (I have been a co-host on his show, we at BlackElectorate.com regularly feature his column with his kind permission, and he and I speak from time to time about Black politics and political realignment) for years and have been a public defender of former Congressman J.C. Watts, not because I am a political conservative or a Republican (I am neither), but fundamentally because I see them as members of a natural Black family, and because I do know that the ideological political spectrum is only a reflection of the entire range of human nature. A spectrum is a band of colors produced when sunlight is passed through a prism. Politics is not sunlight to me, but rather a prism through which the sunlight or life force is maintained and governed. We have an essence in us that seeks order, change, growth, security, freedom, justice and equality, and if one carefully examines their fundamental basis, the conservative, liberal, libertarian, progressive, socialist, even fascist, anarchist and totalitarian political schools of thought reflect aspects of human nature and the capacity even for imbalance and extremism in the human being and society. So, I know that the political conservative ideology, however imperfect, is not simply an artificial construct that was generated in a vacuum, devoid of truth. It has relevance and resonates with so many people because it speaks to part of the range of human nature. It is one of the colors along the spectrum. It has productive utility as well as a destructive potential depending upon how it is constructed, understood and applied in public policy. While only a ray in the political spectrum, and only reflecting an aspect of human nature, it does have value in diagnosing and repairing the condition of the Black community. I also believe that Black Republicans have an important potential role to play in securing the self-enlightened interests of the Black electorate. Unfortunately, in my estimation, the Black conservative and Republican community, as a whole, is not where I would like to see it, for the benefit of the masses of Black people.
The immediate challenge for the Black conservative is to find a way to make their ideology and partisan relationship serve the Black community at least as much as it serves the White Conservative establishment and the bank account of a relatively small group of opinion leaders who have commercialized their expression of conservative thought in a growing communications niche and business model. The Black conservative, if sincere, in my view, must do so in a way that does not misrepresent the Black community to those outside of it.
The Black conservative opinion leader has to balance the power and influence they have, largely derived from a platform provided them by Whites, with finding a way to engage the Black community in a meaningful dialogue that results in positive change on the ground. Many Black conservatives fall into the trap of painting an unrealistic picture of the community overstating the influence that political liberalism has on Blacks and exaggerating the potential that political conservatism has to "save" the Black community. It appears, too often to me, that Black opinion leaders on the right revel too much in the one-variable approach of explaining to overwhelmingly White audiences what is wrong with the Black community rather than building bridges or expanding their influence within Black America. This does not mean that the truth should not be told. It should. But I think, in a way that establishes it, not just in the minds of White listeners and readers, but within the community around which the discussion revolves - Black America. I have often found it peculiar that many Black conservative writers and talk show hosts seem to believe that they are changing Black America by almost exclusively communicating in media outlets majority controlled and read by White Americans.
I find that too often Black conservatives are so satisfied or even drunk from applause and gestures of agreement from predominately White audiences, that they have either forgotten the value of or do not care about three things: 1) speaking more truthfully and comprehensively about the dynamics on the ground in the Black community 2) engaging a wide range within the community of Black leadership and organizations in civil society, not for the purpose of recruiting them, but for the purpose of finding a path to unity that will lift the condition of all Black Americans and 3) independently developing solutions and ideas that correct, refine, or build upon what White conservative intellectuals have authored and fathered.
On this third point I have to say that the majority of Black conservatives that I have met in Washington, D.C., in particular, are too satisfied with regurgitating talking points fed to them by their White peers and think tanks, none of which are truly led by Blacks. And they are too satisfied with going to the same network of financial benefactors to support their movements aimed at reaching Black Americans. This disproportionate feeding at the foot of White individual donors and institutions for thought and money, I believe, compromises the message, breadth, and depth and effectiveness of the Black Conservative's worthwhile work in Black America. That is why I tend to smile when I hear Black conservatives, liberals and progressives fighting each other, with many of the Black conservatives saying the Black liberals work on a plantation; the Black liberals saying the Black conservatives are Uncle Toms and Aunt Thomasinas; and the Black progressives, at times, referring to both as sell-outs.
My personal experience (which includes very specific anecdotes that I am holding back to avoid embarrassing specific Black opinion leaders) shows me that some of the Black progressive support from White Unions; the Black conservative support from conservative and libertarian foundations and think tanks; and the Black liberal support from White political interest groups equates to the same thing - Black dependence on Whites. There is nothing liberal, conservative or progressive about this fact. I don't think any of these groups would be immune to appearing as pawns, sell-outs or on a plantation, upon scrutiny.
To me it is simple, a Black conservative should care more passionately about what is going on in the Black community than what is happening at the Heritage Foundation, Republican Party, CATO Institute, or Conservative talk-radio. And they should be mindful that they do not further the Black inferiority-White supremacy complex in how they personally relate to their non-Black peers, when the subject is money and intellectual ideas.
At least in your appearance on Paula Zahn Now and your radio program this past Saturday, I liked what I felt of your spirit, as it related to applying your ideology to a discussion and analysis of the cultural condition of the Black community and your membership in the Black family. Your witness was firm but inviting, sincere and humble, I felt.
I am just getting familiar with you, but I like and appreciate what I am hearing from you and want to publicly encourage you to keep going in that direction.
You can play an important role in making political conservatism relevant to the Black community, in a way that changes the consciousness and improves the quality of life of Black America.
I hope that your spirit will continue to reflect and place a concern for Black life over that of personal gain, White applause, partisan affiliation and votes.
Sincerely - Your Brother,
Monday, November 22, 2004