In my last post, I addressed an issue of priorities that drives politically conservative Christians to not only be drawn to the GOP but also feel compelled to endorse it’s candidate to uphold priorities. Specifically, I noted issues of life and traditional values and expressed the following.
These concerns are quite legitimate. We care about the rights of the unborn. And we care about the liberties granted us under the founding principles of this nation, that are to ensure freedom of worship. And so the typical response at elections is who will align with these values.
I confess that I had a particular audience in mind when penning that post, those who insist that the GOP platform is the most compatible with Christian values regardless of who their spokesperson is. For this crowd, these are concerns that are most directly linked to issues of life and morality. It is not lost on me that these priorities draw the conclusion that other concerns Christians care about don’t matter. These would be issues that have been under the lens, particularly with with the emergence of Black Lives Matter–issues of racism, policing, criminal justice, education, and poverty. These are issues of life and morality as well, which weigh heavier on people of color. For this reason, a major criticism of the right, and primarily Republicans, is that there is a disinterest and disregard for the concerns of minorities. Some will even label the Republican Party racist.
I do think there is some validity to this criticism. The elevation of abortion, religious freedom, and same-sex marriage has been a traditional platform of the Christian Right, made prominent in the 1980s with the so-called moral majority. Let’s be honest about who this movement represented: white Protestant America.
Unfortunately, this platform, and particularly with the insertion of Trump’s nationalistic populism, has gotten conflated with principles of true conservatism. The latter does in many ways treat the administration of ideological justice in a race neutral fashion. Sen. Ben Sasse describes it well here in this clip
But before we throw the whole conservative movement under the bus, here’s something to consider. The reason that people embrace conservatism and sign up for the GOP is not necessarily because of racial superiority or willful blindness, but because the principles of limited government and economic freedom as the underlying basis for human flourishing. Conservatives are not necessarily disinterested in issues of racism and racial justice but believe government imposition with it’s accompanying overregulation is not necessarily the most productive way to handle them and in fact, can have the opposite effect for minorities. Many will decry how liberal policies work against the advancement of black people, as evidenced in this article here. Restriction of personal liberties inevitably will have an impact on our ability to live productive lives. It’s also why conservatives will place a greater emphasis on personal responsibility and less on structural injustice to the point of even dismissing it’s existence. The institutions of family, schools, churches and various civic organizations all play a role in shaping the flourishing of communities.
Yes, it is true that some Republicans have a narrow lens in which the world is filtered through white normativity and might even reject the premise that racism and discrimination actually still exists. This is something worth noting and challenging for sure. But this is not the case with everyone who holds to these values. And this is particularly true of black conservatives. However, because of the conflation of the moral majority Christian Right platform with that of conservative values, black conservatives bear the brunt of charges of lack of concern, turning their backs on their own people and ignoring the plight of black America. No, this is not necessarily true.
The fact of the matter is that black conservatives are often keenly aware of the issues that are brought up by the Left. The difference is how these issues are remedied. So I wish we could dispense of this idea that black conservatives are Uncle Toms, ignorant of the plight of black people, or sucking up to whites. Hear what my brother Darrell Harrison says,
I grew up in one of the most dangerous and poverty-stricken communities in inner-city Atlanta – the Dixie Hills public housing projects on the west side.
I know all too well what it’s like to have only condiment sandwiches to eat (mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard) and get “free” breakfast and lunch at school because your parents couldn’t afford to pay for it. I’ve been robbed twice at gunpoint in black-owned barber shops. My older brother died of complications from HIV/AIDS at only 35 years of age. My father died of a massive heart attack at 64 – a young man. My mother worked for decades as a cook in public school cafeterias making minimum wage, and is now suffering from arthritis from being on her feet so much over the years. I know what it’s like to be hungry at dinner time and to have the utilities turned off so we could have something to eat.
I say all this not to garner pity or sympathy or empathy for myself. But to say that I know the so-called “black experience” first-hand because I’ve lived through it. The issues that are of relevance to the black community – and there are many – cannot be tip-toed around. They must be discussed head-on and without politically-correct filters. So, when I used terms like “nigger” in a post, please do not be offended or shocked. I use the term as it is actually spelled. It’s not spelled with asterisks (e.g.”n****r”) so I don’t use it that way.
There are those who tend to believe that black conservatives are uppity and condescending; that we’re not really “black” because we’ve supposedly had it ‘easy” in life. The fact is the exact opposite is true. We have suffered. We have struggled. Greatly. The vast majority of black conservatives I know grew up materially poor like I did. I say “materially” poor in contrast to “spiritually” poor (which none of use were.) We may not have had much materially speaking, but our parents made sure we were in church on Sundays. And it is my exposure to the church – particularly the Black Church – combined with the morals and ethics passed on to me by my mother and father, that shaped my conservatism.
That leads me to this excellent statement from Booker T. Washington, speaking to issues related to the Reconstruction period;
More and more, I am convinced that the final solution of our political end of our race problem would be for each state that finds it necessary to change the law bearing upon the franchise to make the law apply with absolute honesty, and without opportunity for double dealing or evasion, to both races alike. Any other course my daily observation in the South convinces me, will be unjust to the Negro, unjust to the white man, and unfair to the rest of the states of the Union, and will be, like slavery, a sin that at sometime we shall have to pay for.
Does the Right care about issues related to people of color? I confess that I do think some criticism is warranted, especially with those who will draw general caricatures of black people as lazy, wanting handouts, not being responsible citizens, etc. To be honest, it’s one reason I could not fully align with the GOP. There’s also the outright dismissal of systemic racism and injustice as if the sole problem rests exclusively on personal responsibility. I personally believe that if racism is a disease of the human heart, then certainly diseased people can form a culture in institutions. Particular when it comes to criminal justice, I don’t think we can designate America as a whole as corrupt in this regard, but there are institutional cultures that breed discrimination and such should be addressed where they exist.
The truth is black lives matter tremendously to some conservatives but the difference lies in ideological remedies. You’re just not going to see participation in protests and call for America to correct transgressions to it’s black citizens through reparations, affirmative action, or other collective forms of imposition. Though leery of big government remedies, many will be actively involved on the ground in efforts to address issues that plague disenfranchised communities, address educational disparities, work with local and state policy efforts to increase economic opportunities, forge relationships between law enforcement and communities with a justifiable mistrust. I also believe the church can and does play a key role in these endeavors and present a reconciling voice, demonstrating it’s mandate to be salt and light in their sphere’s of influence under the proclamation and umbrella of the Lordship of Christ. No doubt, there are countless pastors at work in the communities they serve, the unsung heroes who work tirelessly to bring justice. It’s also important to note the bi-partisan efforts on the federal level that have been underway regarding criminal justice reform have targeted issues related to fairness for people of color.