Black Conservative

(In writing this, I chose to use "we" when referring to conservatives because I agree with the goals and ideals presented in this specific instance. As I said in an earlier post, I'm more conservative than progressive, but I dislike political labels almost as much as I dislike t-shirt labels. They're both a pain in the neck.) In looking at the status of the Black community, it seems clear that the Black conservatives have a valid point in suggesting that the mainstream Black "leadership" and the traditional civil rights structure has failed us. When I look at the status of the majority of our people, with the outrageous rates of Black-on-Black murder (not to mention other types of crime), teen pregnancy, and joblessness, it seems obvious that there must be a more effective strategy in curing the problems that ail our community, and in a wider sense, our country. The government cannot solve our main problems. The government is not going to step in to protect our young men from each other. The government is not going to stop our daughters from getting pregnant before they are mentally or financially ready to do so. The government is not going to make us economically viable. If we are going to make changes in this sorry state of affairs, the onus is literally on us. While I tend to agree with my conservative brothers and sisters on the manner in which our problems should be addressed, I disagree with the manner in which they present their message. Too often, it seems that the larger Black community is discussed as a "they" instead of as a "we." While this may help us to distinguish ourselves from the civil rights "industry," it also serves to distance us from the people we seek to help. Because a major part of our message is harshly critical of individuals and institutions that have traditionally expressed interest and concern for the welfare of the average Black person, the conservatives must be sure to demonstrate a connectedness to the larger community. In order to reach the people, we must go beyond our comfortable realm of operating at the level of the individual. While I agree that the only way to change our collective lot as a people is for us to improve our individual lots, I think that if we truly seek to shift the paradigm away from "victimhood" to self-determination, we must engage our communities. One important way of engaging the community would be to reform the manner in which our message is presented. While the traditional civil rights discourse has become hegemonic and any dissent is viewed as traitorous, I would suggest that there are ways to broaden the scope of the dialogue and critique the ineffective methods without alienating the people who subscribe to those ideas. The main way would be to present our message as Jesus did. To paraphrase, we should say, "We are not come to destroy civil rights but to fulfill civil rights." If we truly believe that ours are the best ideas for building our community, then we should emphasize that fact. Ignoring the pathologies that run rampant in our community is helpful to no one. Neither is constant critical harping. Jesus was effective because he was not afraid to confront the power structure but also because the main thrust of his activities was not to discredit that power structure. Jesus' principal dealings were with the people. He went about doing good. He sat with and ate with the common people. Even as He knew that He was not an ordinary person, he associated with the ordinary people and made them feel included in his movement, for lack of a better term. In our case, the struggle is somewhat more complicated than that. In Jesus' day, he could go out among the people and the good that he did was spread by word of mouth. These days, we have the media to contend with. Because we are already going against the recognized and accepted power structure, simply doing positive things on an individual basis is not sufficient. Indeed, our own emphasis on the individual over the community hampers the effectiveness of our message. While I do not suggest that we abandon the basic tenets of our ideology, I think that just as we seek to expand the political discourse in Black America, we must expand our own means of presenting our ideas. I am cognizant of the fact that our message is likely to be received by the civil rights establishment as well as Jesus' message was received by the religious establishment of his era, but this represents the point at which our focus must be its most defined. If we are more concerned about making things better for the people in the community, then the form of our message should reflect that. If our concern is merely touting our own intellectual perspicacity or showing that all Black people don't think the same way, then our message will suffice as it is. Since I don't believe that we are nearly as preoccupied with form as it sometimes appears, I believe that a change in the manner in which we critique the modern civil rights movement would lend itself to a better hearing of our message. One of the principal failures in our communication of our ideas and values is that we do a very poor job of entering the dialogue in manners that are readily accessible to the common people. It is one thing to espouse conservative values in The Economist or on Townhall.com, where there is a decidedly smaller Black audience. With all due respect to Stanley Crouch and his work on jazz, where is the conservative Michael Eric Dyson, who will discuss our ideas within the framework of popular culture, especially hip-hop? Too many times I have seen conservative commentators critique the negative messages in hip-hop without acknowledging the positive messages as well. It would almost seem as if there were some animus towards hip-hop itself and its primary audience. Knowing that this is not the case, I posit that this is one of the main areas in which we should focus our energies. Not even necessarily to, say, put a conservative rapper out there, but to find commonality within the framework of hip-hop as it currently exists and to emphasize that. For instance, I have seen many instances where Chuck D of Public Enemy is quoted when he espouses ideas with which the authors disagree. However, there is no mention of the fact that Chuck D regularly addresses the self-destructive behavior of Black people in his music as well. By integrating hip hop and other popular culture into the vocabulary we use to espouse our ideas, we can build a bridge to the larger community, as including those elements in our dialogue necessarily means we see them as valuable contributions to our cultural fabric and as a valid means of bringing ideas to the marketplace. In his review of Scam by Jesse Peterson, Casey Lartigue discusses two elements that I think are critical to any attempt at "winning over" the average Black person. The first is that we should provide a better alternative. The second is love. According to Lartigue, Black "leaders" regularly engage in activities that prove their loyalty to the Black community, like showing up to protest when there is a problem, or even by doing things as simple as speaking in friendly terms to callers on radio talk shows. These acts engender the loyalty of the Black community. If conservatives want to chisel in on some of that action, we have to "put out." In order to get love, we have to give love. Honestly, telling people the ugly truth instead of a pretty lie is showing love. It's actually more loving than allowing people to wallow in their victimhood. But you know what? That's not going to cut it. We aren't going to get a substantial portion of Black people on our side until we convince them that we're on their side. That means that means my conservative friends who oppose affirmative action need to be the first ones trying to get an explanation when another Black man gets killed by the police. If it turns out that the police are not at fault, then it turns out that the police are not at fault. The result is not necessarily the most important thing. It's all about the effort. It's about being there when the people need an advocate. In short, I think that conservatives have the best message and the best political answer to the problems that beset the Black community. So far, our principal strategy in articulating that message has been to question the mainstream Black leaders and the ideas they present. I believe that if we are really looking to make a difference in the lives of Black people, our action needs to move beyond the level of the individual and our conversation needs to move beyond those individuals. Since we have a better alternative, we should present it as just that: a better alternative. There's nothing wrong with a healthy critique, but in order for the critique to be received as more than just criticism, we must demonstrate unconditional love. In order to get the Black community to move forward, we may have to bend over backwards. In the end, though, it would be worth it.