Let me preface all that I have to say this morning by point out that I am neither Republican nor Democrat. Nor am I an Independent. In fact, at this time I have no affiliation with or membership in any political party or organization.
I feel that I must begin with that disclaimer because in the past when I have been critical of any party or politician, I have been accused of being decidedly partisan. However, this cannot be further from the truth.
But if I must choose a category, a label, I would more than likely categorize myself as a pragmatist. When making any decision, political or otherwise, I measure the ideal against the reality and seek a solution in the nexus that lies between.
Now, having said that, allow me to begin this exposition. The other evening I had occasion to have dinner with a group of my colleagues, all of whom categorize themselves as conservatives. We get together every now or then just to talk and argue politics and other interesting news stories. The discussions do get heated, but we all manage to leave as friends. And I knew all of the gentleman present except two African Americans gentleman who were guests of one of the usual participants.
But as discussion ensued, something very curious happened. As we argued back and forth, as we conceded certain points while standing firmly behind others, the two African American conservative gentleman refused to concede any point. When the other conservatives reluctantly admitted, with more than a little embarrassment, the specter of racism that has become part and parcel of the conservative movement, they refused to do so. When the other conservatives lamented the lack of a coherent message, platform, or obvious leadership, they actually sneered at them.
If fact, these two African American conservatives were even more dogmatic in their responses than their white colleagues. It is almost as if they had absorbed every talking point from every right wing talk show and were repeating them verbatim. But this is not what disturbed me the most.
I was most dismayed when every time they spoke of African Americans and the African American community, they spoke in terms of “they” as opposed to “we”. In fact, at one point I corrected one of the gentlemen when he used “they,” by asking the question, “Do you mean we?”. But he only continued, this time emphasizing the word “they”. It is almost as if the two gentlemen had divorced themselves from the African American community completely. And they were most strident in their denunciation of that community, so much so that I could see the embarrassment on the other conservatives’ faces.
And don’t get me wrong. The problems in the African American community are myriad; however, I tend to believe these problems have more to do with class than race. But also keep in mind that past racism and discrimination have set the stage, provided the impetus, for many of these problems.
And even further, no political party has effectively addressed these problems. They have instead chose to settle for short term politically expedient balms as opposed to long term fixes.
But it appears that in considering the problems facing the African American community, black conservatives have taken to attacking the people and not the problem, the individuals as opposed to the behaviors. By framing the problems in terms of "they" and not "we", their problems and not our problems, thereby excluding themselves, they reveal a belief in a certain racial transcendence, a post-race America, that evidence does not support.
Certainly, racial transcendence is what we are working toward. Certainly, racial transcendence is at the very root of all African American civil rights efforts. We desire to be recognized and counted as individuals, not as a group. If I might paraphrase MLK, Jr., we desire to be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin.
But do you think those disrupting town hall meetings in protest of health care reform, those teabaggers holding up placards of an African American—let’s just suspend the fact that the African American in question is the president of the United States—clad in primitive garb with a bone through his nose, those representing him as a terrorist, those ripping up photographs of Rosa Parks and other icons of the Civil Rights Movement, do so without thought or regard to race?
If so, then why do they choose these particular images? Are there not other images that would better articulate their dissension, their grievances?
Perhaps I am being overly sensitive, but when I hear Socialist, when I hear Nazi, when I hear alien, what I really hear is nigger, nigger, nigger; there is more than one way of referring to one by that racial epithet without ever articulating the word.
But let us suspend judgment for a moment. Maybe there is a certain thread of truth in conservatives’ arguments. Maybe the president along with the left is really plotting a Socialist takeover of the government. It is unlikely, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they actually believe this, and they are protesting out of love for country and nothing more.
Perhaps their solutions to the morass this country this country finds itself in are the best solutions though I still do not know what these solutions are because none have been put forward.
However, as much as I attempt to hear conservatives’ message, as much as I try to measure the reality against the ideal, I cannot hear, I cannot concentrate, I cannot even begin to think or reason above the din of the clamor caused by the ever increasingly racist rhetoric.
And because I am a prideful person, because I insist that in dealing with others they at least recognize and respect my humanity, I cover my ears and turn away. I will not be insulted and degraded to my face.
And also, I recognize the inextricable link between me and all other African Americans regardless of class, regardless of level of education, regardless of any other factor that might distinguish us, and I fully realize that in deploying this racist rhetoric, they are speaking in terms of the collective and not the individual. They are naming each and every one of us, not just a handful of those that seemingly will not conform to societal standards.
They speak in terms of “they” without respect of person or individual, and I refuse to take part in my own degradation by speaking in those exact terms.