Why the Left Smears Black Conservatives As Race Traitors
Hoover Institution fellow Shelby Steele writes that after the 1960s, “[v]ictimization became so rich a vein of black power—even if it was only the power to ‘extract’ reforms … from the larger society—that it was allowed not only to explain black fate but to explain it totally.” A black conservative, says Steele, “is a black who dissents from the victimization explanation of black fate … when it is made the main theme of group identity and the raison d’être of a group politics.”
Black conservatives represent the antithesis of black leftists, who, for decades, have relentlessly cast African Americans as the perpetual victims of intransigent societal racism; who are intolerant of anyone rejecting the notion of universal black victimization; and who interpret as treason any deviation from their own intellectual orthodoxy. Some examples will serve to illustrate:
- In 2002, NAACP chairman Julian Bond referred to Ward Connerly, a black California Board of Regents member who had led the fight to end affirmative action in California’s public sector, as a “fraud” and a “con man.” Bond likened black conservatives in general to “ventriloquists’ dummies” who “speak in their puppet-master’s voice.”
- Jesse Jackson has called Ward Connerly a “house slave” and a “puppet of the white man.” He also condemned Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s vote to place limits on affirmative action programs, characterizing Thomas as an “enem[y] of civil rights” and likening his black judicial robes to the white sheets of Klansmen.
- In November 1996 the front cover of Emerge, which billed itself as “Black America’s News Magazine,” featured a cartoon depiction of Clarence Thomas alongside the caption: “UNCLE THOMAS: Lawn Jockey for the Far Right.”
- The late columnist Carl Rowan sarcastically suggested, “If you give [Clarence] Thomas a little flour on his face, you’d think you had [former Klansman] David Duke.”
- San Francisco mayor Willie Brown called Justice Thomas not only “a shill and cover for the most insidious form of racism,” but also a man whose views are “legitimizing of the Ku Klux Klan.” Brown added that Thomas “should be reduced to talking only to white conservatives,” and “must be shut out” by the black community.
- The late political scientist Manning Marable asserted that Thomas had “ethnically ceased being an African American.”
- Movie director Spike Lee calls Thomas “a handkerchief-head, chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom.”
- The late author June Jordan characterized Thomas as a “virulent Oreo phenomenon,” a “punk-ass,” and an “Uncle Tom calamity.”
- The late Haywood Burns, who was chairman emeritus of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, called Thomas a “counterfeit hero” whose ideals had “crushed or forever deferred” the dreams of millions of blacks.
- Columnist Julianne Malveaux told a television audience, “I hope [Thomas's] wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter, and he dies early, like many black men do, of heart disease…. He’s an absolutely reprehensible person.”
- From the podium of an NAACP convention, Thomas was denounced as a “pimp” and a “traitor” to the black community.
- The Reverend Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference once said he was “ashamed” of Justice Thomas because he “has become to many in the African-American community what Benedict Arnold was to the United States, a deserter; what Judas was to Jesus, a traitor, and what Brutus was to Caesar, an assassin.”
- Missouri Democrat William Clay smeared black conservatives as “Negro wanderers” whose goal is to “maim and kill other blacks for the gratification and entertainment of ultraconservative white racists.” Clay described black conservative Gary Franks—when the latter was a Connecticut congressman—as a “Negro Dr. Kevorkian who gleefully assists in suicidal conduct to destroy his own race,” and who exhibits a “‘foot-shuffling, head-scratching ‘Amos and Andy’ brand of ‘Uncle Tom-ism.’”
- Former NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks denounced black conservatives as “a new breed of Uncle Tom” and “some of the biggest liars the world ever saw.”
- The late Afrocentric historian John Henrik Clarke called black conservatives “frustrated slaves crawling back to the plantation.”
- In 2011, Ivy League professor Cornel West said that conservative black Republican Herman Cain, who had stated that racism was no longer an impediment to black progress in the United States, “needs to get off the symbolic crack pipe and acknowledge that the evidence [of racism in America] is overwhelming.”
- Time.com contributor and author Toure Neblet said of Cain: “There is this constant minstrelsy aspect that [he] keeps bringing up…. And yet Cain allows the GOP to have this sort of force where it’s like: ‘Well, we’re not racist. We are supporting this black man.’” He also characterized Cain as a “Clown” and as the “black Sarah Palin.”
- Los Angeles Times journalist and contributing editor Erin Aubry Kaplan wrote: “I don’t support conservatism in its current iteration, and I support black conservatives even less…. Here is a man [Herman Cain] who, like most black conservatives, has had to do an awful lot of personal and political rationalizing to pay dues…. It’s hard to imagine that such compromises and cognitive dissonance don’t exact a psychological toll at some point.”
- On June 25, 2013, Minnesota state legislator Ryan Patrick Winkler used his Twitter account as a forum for deriding the Supreme Court’s decision (earlier that day) to strike down a section of the Voting Rights Act requiring states to obtain federal preclearance approval of any changes to their election laws and procedures—e.g., the enactment of Voter ID requirements. Tweeted Winkler: “VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas”—a reference to Clarence Thomas.
- USA Today columnist Barbara Reynolds once derided Clarence Thomas for having married a white woman: “It may sound bigoted; well, this is a bigoted world and why can’t black people be allowed a little Archie Bunker mentality? … Here’s a man who’s going to decide crucial issues for the country and he has already said no to blacks; he has already said if he can’t paint himself white he’ll think white and marry a white woman.”
- Howard University’s Afro-American Studies department chair Russell Adams directed a similar charge against Clarence Thomas: “His marrying a white woman is a sign of his rejection of the black community. Great Justices have had community roots that served as a basis for understanding the Constitution. Clarence’s lack of a sense of community makes his nomination troubling.”
- California state Senate Democrat Diane Watson similarly mocked former University of California regent Ward Connerly: “He’s married a white woman. He wants to be white. He wants a colorless society. He has no ethnic pride. He doesn’t want to be black.”
- In January 2014, Rev. William Barber II, the head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, derided Senator Tim Scott (a black Republican representing South Carolina) as a pawn of “the extreme right wing.” “A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy,” said Barber.
- On February 12, 2014, reporter Mary Sell of The Times Daily and Decatur Daily tweeted that Alvin Holmes, a black Democrat in the Alabama House of Representatives, had just said, from the House floor, that he disliked Clarence Thomas because “he’s married to a white woman.” When another reporter later asked Holmes to explain his comment, Holmes said that he had been misinterpreted: “I said some people might say I didn’t like him because he was married to a white woman.” He then added that Justice Thomas was an “Uncle Tom.”
Because of ubiquitous character assassinations like these, many blacks who otherwise would venture to challenge the prevailing leftist dogmas of our time are prevented from doing so by the fear that they will be branded as sell-outs, “Uncle Toms,” “Oreos,” and race-traitors. Shelby Steele puts it this way:
“Today a public ‘black conservative’ will surely meet a stunning amount of animus, demonization, misunderstanding, and flat-out, undifferentiated contempt. And there is a kind of licensing process involved here in which the black leadership—normally protective even of people like Marion Barry and O.J. Simpson—licenses blacks and whites to have contempt for the black conservative. It is a part of the group’s manipulation of shame to let certain of its members languish outside the perimeter of group protection where even politically correct whites (who normally repress criticism of blacks) can show contempt for them.”
One man who has not been cowed into silence by such measures, however, is none other than Clarence Thomas, who says:
“Long gone is the time when we [blacks] opposed the notion that we all looked alike and talked alike. Somehow we have come to exalt the new black stereotype above all and demand conformity to that norm…. [However], I assert my right to think for myself, to refuse to have my ideas assigned to me as though I was an intellectual slave because I’m black.”
In February 2014, Justice Thomas told an audience at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida that the “worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, [were] by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”