Political Animal


April 04, 2013 3:43 PM Who’s the Audience For Black Conservatives?

By Ed Kilgore

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a New York Times column and a post at The Atlantic that say pretty much everything that needs to be said about the current cult of Dr. Ben Carson, who has rapidly morphed from being the brave “lecturer” of the president on the alleged shortcoming of Obamacare into just another African-American “victim” of “liberal racism,” and hence disposable. Unlike a lot of people on both sides of this “controversy,” Coates is personally familiar with Carson and his accomplishments, and finds him generally admirable—up until the moment that he donned “the mask” of “the Conservative Black Hope.”

The problem, notes Coates, is not Carson’s conservatism or his Republicanism:

Some of the most committed black people I know — in some other America — would be Republicans. But in this America, this conservative movement, has a fairly nasty romance with white racism. There are black conservatives (some Republican, some not) who manage to steer clear of this — Bill Cosby, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and possibly Tim Scott. And there are others who, to put it bluntly, profit from it.

Carson lost Coates’ sympathy not when he expressed conservative views, but when, like Herman Cain and Allen West before him, he played the victim of “the plantation” to an audience of white conservatives forever looking for the “anti-Obama” and seeking to invert their own suspect racial attitudes and then project them onto the opposition.

Not all black conservatives see it as their job to tell white racists that they embody the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr….
It’s perfectly respectable to think Obamacare is bad for the country. It’s less respectable to claim that Obama isn’t an African-American. It’s perfectly respectable to believe in a flat tax. It’s less respectable to tell a room full of white people that Obama, isn’t “a strong black man” or that he has “never been a part of the black experience in America.” It’s respectable to believe that the Ryan Budget is the key to the future. It’s less respectable to believe that equating same-sex marriage with child-rape puts you on Harriet Tubman status.
The corollary of that last metaphor — the idea of liberalism as a plantation — is especially noxious and deeply racist. It holds that black people are not really like other adult humans in America — people capable of discerning their interest and voting accordingly — but mental slaves too stupid to know what’s good for them.
When Ben Carson uses this language he is promoting himself at the expense of the community from which he hails. More, he is promoting himself at the expense of the community in which I once saw him labor. That is tragic.
Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • BillFromPA on April 04, 2013 4:00 PM:

    Quote: 'but mental slaves too stupid to know what’s good for them.'

    There are only two possible explanations for the 95%, and then some, black support for the Democratic Party. One is that the repugs are truely racist and that fact is obvious to African Americans, the other is quoted above. As for why the repugs even bother to tout examples to be found in the 5%, they need a fig leaf.

  • c u n d gulag on April 04, 2013 4:03 PM:

    There is no doubt that Dr. Carson was a brilliant, World-class, surgeon. One of the very, if not, THE, best in his field.

    But now, with his surgical career nearing its end, he has decided he still wanted to be famous, but not just in his own field, and he apparently decided that the best way to make a name for himself, is in politics.

    And how does a brilliant African-American get to the top of one of the two parties.
    The Democratic Party is full of all sorts of brilliant minorities - as a matter of fact, someone of the same race as Dr. Carson is POTUS right now.
    THAT'S a tough row to hoe, getting to the top of a the Demmocratic Party, which already has Barack Obama and Duval Patrick, among others.
    Besides, idealogically, you may not agree with Democratic position, since you've an "Elite" for a long, long time, and egalitarianism probably ain't your cup of tea anymore, if it ever was.

    It's much easier to become the African-American saviour of the Republican Party. And, obviously, especially if you lean towards Conservatism.
    Who's your competition in the Republican Party? Stooges, grifters, and losers - like Alan Keyes, Allen West, Michael Steele, and Herman Cain. Sure, the party also has Colin Powell and Condi Rice, but they're not as powerful as they once were.

    So, you want to build a political career fast?
    Or, a career as a pundit?
    You want money, you want power, you want all of the adulation you had as a World-class surgeon.

    But mostly, it's probably about the money. At least that's what I believe.
    And so, one sees the easiest path, and becomes a grifter and a shill for the Republican Party.
    They want you.
    They NEED you!

    Now, I believe that religion is the greatest grift of them all.
    You can be a hard-core Atheist, and still get money from people telling them what they want to hear.
    And then tell them what, and how, you want things done.

    But other good grifts, are race, gender, place/country of origin, and sexual orientation.

    The Republicans keep looking for the blacks, women, hispanics, and, in the future, gays, who can sucker "their" people into the Republican Party, and Conservatism, where they can be exploited for votes against the Liberal "thems."

    Conservatives assume that "those" people can be made like "us," and will like "us," if they hear it from one of their own "those" people.

    In other words, Conservatives want people to be suckers for the rich, like them.
    And the white followers don't realize that they're being suckered too - by people who are grifting for the rich and powerful powers-that-be.
    They are merely tools to be used as, and when, needed.

    And they convince themselves that blacks, women, hispanics, and gays, can be convinced to be suckers, too.
    If only they could find the right grifter and shill.

  • hornblower on April 04, 2013 5:06 PM:

    Rice and Powell were used the same way. They were smart enough to know it but went for the money and faux power anyway. Cosby, by the way, is no republican.

  • Andy Hall on April 04, 2013 5:32 PM:


    Coates isn't suggesting that Cosby is a Republican -- just that he often talks up small-c conservative values, and might conceivably be a moderate Republican if that party hadn't spent the last 30 years cultivating their base by appealing to racial bigotry within their base. As Coates says, that could conceivably happen "in some other America," not the one we actually have.

  • martin on April 04, 2013 6:36 PM:

    The most politically powerful black conservative in the US is Louis Farrakhan. Maybe it is time for the GOP to welcome him and his minions into the party.

  • bluestatedon on April 04, 2013 7:26 PM:

    What I was most gobsmacked about was not Carson's whiny retreat into victimhood, but his denunciation of evolution. How in the freaking hell a brilliant surgeon can take all those science classes and still reject something that has been accepted fact by the vast majority of scientists for the better part of a century is mind-boggling, and is a testament to the perverse hold that fundamentalist Christianism can exert on otherwise sensible people.

  • hornblower on April 04, 2013 7:34 PM:

    AH, telling kids to hitch up their pants and speak proper English are not conservative values. Either is the telling of kids in Philadelphia to stop killing each other. Cosby speaks frankly to black parents. Most of them agree with him.

  • Joe Friday on April 04, 2013 8:46 PM:

    Carson could be purple for all I care. What matters is he's a RightWing Fruit Loop.

  • Rick B on April 05, 2013 1:05 AM:

    The 5% Black conservatives are a combination of fools and highly paid Black Judas Goats intended to lead the herd to destruction. Cain and Allen West are examples of the Black Judas goats.

    The two categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 05, 2013 9:03 AM:

    Agree with the Cosby point (particularly Andy Hall's post above).

    I would consider most of everybody on my dad's side of the family to be "small c" conservatives on certain non-inflammatory values (self-reliance, frugality, hard work, education etc) that you tend to hearso-called GOP conservatives touting. And it probably isn't all that uncommon among black folk, especially if you consider those who served in the military or are fairly religious.

    I'm only speaking personally from my own family observations, but these conservatives values are probably more about matters of personal dignity. Especially among the older folks, like my dad, who grew up having their dignity robbed from them every day just because of their melanin.

    And the dignity bit may be a primary reason why a lot of small c black conservatives are probably repulsed by the likes of Herman Cain and Allen West. Whether the GOP appreciates or not, being intelligent and well-spoken is actually highly valued among certain blacks primarily because those qualities negate every negative stereotype that has ever been thought about black people. And right now The Obama's are probably THE Platinum Standard. Which makes it political suicide for the GOP to put an ignoramus like Herman Cain on a pedestal next to someone as sophisticated as Obama.

    I still get a kick out of the way my dad recounted watching the Herman Cain Libya Question: "He got to twisting in that chair and it hurt my feelings!!!"

    They'll forgive poor black people for their foibles: they know that the system works against them. But there's absolutely no excuse for people like Cain, West, or Carson to be so aggressively ignorant in public for the whole world to see.