Republicans and conservatives in general have a very serious problem. 90% of the Black community, around 13% of the American population, votes for the other side. It’s safe to assume that most if not all of them believe that conservatives hate them and/or wish them harm. The recent events and reactions surrounding Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Stephen Scalise only emphasize what some in the conservative movement have known for years: the right has a serious race problem.
Many conservatives tend to be dismissive or angrily in denial about this fact. Many exclusively blame the biased media or the Democratic political machine, which works overtime to tar all conservatives as the equivalent of the KKK. Some will point out that policy-wise, many of the ideas promoted by conservatives – ending restrictive labor laws, school choice, cultural support of nuclear families – are undeniably beneficial to Black men and women.
Many of these points are valid, but they miss the bigger picture. While the liberal and media elites certainly bear a great deal of responsibility for the right’s image among Blacks, so does the GOP itself. Right-wingers have made very serious mistakes in trying to reach out to the Black community which have only made the situation worse.
Let’s start with the obvious problem: actually getting the message out to Blacks. Far too often, conservatives defend their record on race in print and online publications which are more likely to be read by either white liberals or white conservatives than Blacks. They seem more interested in arguing with Democrats than they are with convincing Blacks. You can’t complain about people not getting your message if you don’t make a point of writing or speaking in venues which your target audience likes to read or listen to.
Going further, no publication or online discussion can replace face-to-face engagement. Democrats have this right: to engage a community – you have to pound the pavement, talk in community centers, and engage in public discussions with said community. In this, the GOP is horrifically derelict. I never cease to hear about how little the GOP, at the state and national levels, invests in pro-Republican Black activists or groups.
To complain about how Blacks vote Democrat without even trying to engage is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If conservatives make a serious, ongoing effort over years and then completely fail, then we can talk. Until then, this defeatism is mere whining.
A related complaint I hear regarding talking to the Black community is that this requires “pandering”. Really? When politicians talk to white groups and show sympathy for their concerns, it that pandering? When they talk to Christians or members of other religions, is that pandering? Talking to people rather than at people is not pandering, it’s called basic human decency.
But talking is not good enough. What the GOP gets very wrong is their tendency to talk at rather than with Blacks. On talk shows and radio, they take the mantle of the scold, ignoring and often dismissing all Black arguments and feelings as manufactured or what not. It does not matter how true any of these dismissals are – such a flippant and uncaring attitude can and does turn people off.
Take Milton Friedman as a wonderful example of how to do things right. Friedman always made a point of smiling whenever he made a public appearance. More importantly, he listened. He showed that he took his audience and their arguments seriously, even when he disagreed with them. Even more important, he came across as someone who was genuinely interested in his fellow human being, always taking care to explain that his policy proposals were not just meant to help abstract concepts like “the economy” or “the national debt” – but you, the ordinary human being, regardless of race or creed. There is no reason conservatives and Republicans cannot adopt such a method. No ideological “selling out” is required. To take a Jewish term – just be a mentsch.
Admonitions or solutions?
Which brings us to the biggest problem of the conservative movement – moral preaching. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no problem with pointing out moral problems among anyone; no-one is above legitimate criticism. But such arguments should be geared towards helping people change, not just making the speaker feel morally superior. Far too often, conservatives feel like they’re more interested in the latter than the former.
Take the biggest issue being talked about regarding the Black community: crime. Many conservatives openly support law and order and admonish the Black community for its admittedly high crime rates. Alongside this come arguments about deadbeat dads and the like. All of this is unfortunately true.
But here’s the thing – what solution are you, the conservative, proposing?
As heterodox thinker John McWhorter once pointed out, for the Black community to get its act together and rid itself of its dangerous people or at least help get themselves out of the hole means confronting a large section of their population – including family members and close friends. That’s a tremendous thing to ask of any community, certainly one in as difficult straits as many parts of the Black community.
What incentive – cultural or political – are you giving the majority of Blacks to do so? You complain of rap – where are the cultural alternatives you are cultivating? You complain about thug culture – where are the news items in the conservative media on regular Blacks who made it legally? You claim that Democratic institutions are poisoning Black minds – OK, where are yours?
You complain about “deadbeat dads” – well, what incentives are you giving these guys to “man up” other than yell at them? Will you protect their right to custody and visitation? Will you encourage women to not have children out of wedlock (in whatever way is effective, not which makes you feel better)? Will you encourage cultural – art, music, literature – material which makes marriage a positive option?
And crime – how can you complain about overcriminalization without understanding that it disproportionately affects poorer communities like Blacks? How hard are you working to ensure that the disproportionate amount of Blacks who end up in jail can make it for themselves once they leave? What assistance are conservative groups giving to help, to the extent that they can?
This Problem Can Be Fixed
Some conservatives will shrug their shoulders after reading this and say: well, is there any indication that the 90% number will ever shift in our direction? Because otherwise this sounds like a waste of resources and effort.
As a matter of fact, there is. According to the conservative news site Dignitas News, younger Black men have begun increasingly, if slowly, to tilt more right. Think what this means – the very population of young Black men which one would think is most hostile to conservatives for various reasons is listening even with little to no institutional support. Imagine what actually investing in this population would bring.
So the bad news is that, yes, conservatives and the GOP have a serious race problem. The good news is that it can be repaired. It requires patience, compassion and hard work in the face of adversity – the very ideals which best embody that noble tradition.