Despite being one of the godfathers of multiculturalism and somewhat obsessed with pointing out the double standards active in America's race relations, Ishmael Reed remains one of the most entertaining and thought provoking writers in the nation.
It was from Reed that I first encountered a favorable presentation of Booker T. Washington from a leading black leftist. Reed's contention that Washington's call for self-reliance, community control and alternative black institutions was not merely conservative, but a populist program of necessity given the racial climate at the time, stands in stark contrast to the narrative presented by many Marx obsessed lefties of various ethnicity's. To them W.E.B. DuBois was the real black leader of the post-"Civil War" period. Reed is no fan of DuBois and suspects his status with intellectuals has something to do with his "talented tenth" theory, an inherently elitist, quasi-Leninist idea that calls for ten percent of "educated, worthy" blacks to infiltrate white society, forming a vanguard that would somehow eventually lift all boats by virtue of their mere existence.
In my view that analysis by Reed is dead on, and in his collection of essays, "Mixing It Up" Reed offers up another interesting interpretation of black conservatism that deserves some serious consideration. Referring to playwright August Wilson, Reed writes:
For some African Americans, including myself, white conservatism is a euphemism for racism. Unlike traditional conservatism, American conservatives seem to have one issue: out-of-wedlock birth in the black underclass, about which they still write op-eds and long, ignorant books, even though the black teenage pregnancy rate has declined while that of white and Hispanic women is soaring.
If August Wilson's plays have a conservative line, it was not an appeal to critics who misread him but a reflection of the attitudes of a large segment of the African American community. Wilson's conservatism was his, that of Booker T. Washington, Elijah Muhammed, Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey, all of whom preached self-help and individual responsibility, and all of whom did business with white people; not theirs, which often took the form of vicious and nasty comments about the underclass. As Wilson said, "The ground that I stand on has been pioneered by my grandfather, by Nat Turner, by Denmark Vesey, by Martin Delaney, Marcus Garvey and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad
What interests me here is not necessarily Reed's myopic, and in my view misplaced, appraisal of what he calls "white conservatism". Though Reed is right to take issue with the bizarre obsession certain "think tank" conservatives have with black parenting skills, he is wrong in arguing that such attitudes are defining trait of the American Right. In fact the "white" American Right has no defining trait, precisely because it has abandoned its principles.
What does interest me about the above quote is the argument that conservative principles are an authentic reality of Black America and that black conservatives actually adhere to those principles unlike their white counterparts.
In the past when I have argued for Malcolm and Garvey as expressions of conservatism I have been accused by folks on both the left and the right as being horribly misinformed. Usually they cite no evidence for their "counter arguments" that prove I am "crazy", presumably because there aren't any.
It breaks down like this; the right doesn't want anything to do with Malcolm, Garvey, et. because they have been pigeonholed as "radical leftists" and such associations frighten them. By contrast, the left is happy to claim ownerhsip of any and all black leaders in order to maintain their monopoly on identity politics and the "oppression narrative". Everyone is happy in the end because the status quo is protected and serious thinking is kept to a bare minimum.
The unfortunate byproduct of this covert alliance is that American blacks who have no interest in maintaining the welfare/warfare state have no place to go. The Shelby Steele/John McWhorter axis of black think tank intellectuals show little concern for black institutions and black communities and primarily concern themselves with the very attacks on the black underclass that Reed rails about. They are descendants of the "progressive" W.E.B. DuBois, talented tenthers of the heart, and nominally "conservative" even by contemporary standards. Meanwhile many non-conformist blacks point to the anti-statism of men like Elijah Muhammed and are told by their allegedly "conservative black leaders" that the Nation of Islam is a "left wing hate group".
It should not surprise anyone that black separatists, nationalists and self-help movements have been pushed into the waiting arms of the left, by the corporate American Right. Though principled conservatism is inherently suspicious and adversarial toward government largesse and imperialism, the fiercely unprincipled, political, bastard offspring that claims the mantle today is primarily interested in maintaining massive profits for the heavily subsidized industries of high finance. Uppity blacks that don't "know their place" have no business in a "conservative" canon devoted to the idea that all working class folks should be serfs on the CEO's manor.
The emergence of this "corporate conservatism" is in no way the fault of authentic black conservatism. The ideas of black capitalists and businessmen like Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, have no influence on these folks. These "conservatives" bought their way into the movement, just as they bought their way into our government. The "diversity" plans and "tolerance" training they promote is supposedly a gift toward American blacks, but these are not the ideas of black men like the framed martyr, and black conservative, Denmark Vesey. Those men were largely advocates of community control, and were indifferent to diversity at best.
In fact the average black American is far closer to the principled conservatism of the Old Right, than are those who identify as "conservative" because they read National Review or agree with Bill O'reilly. Blacks generally take an "America First" view on foreign policy, oppose mass immigration (illegal or otherwise), and are culturally far to the right of most suburbanite whites who vote GOP. They are deeply suspicious of public officials, elected or otherwise, for good reason. Blacks also tend to be interested in their tradition and heritage in ways that many American white conservatives would find bizarre.
This seems strange to many middle class whites who reflexively assume that blacks are "liberal" because they overwhelmingly vote Democrat, but it shouldn't. Republicans have done little to attract blacks and for strategic reasons that has probably been to their benefit. This however does not change the fact that a significant number of black leaders have been outright conservatives or promoted platforms, causes and movements that had explicitly conservative agendas and goals.
The truth is that in America today there are two different movements that have roots in the principled conservatism of small government, community control, family values and traditional culture. One of them is the almost entirely white paleo/traditionalist conservatism. The other is the black conservatism of the Nation of Islam, the Black Arts Movement, et.
The real goal for conservatives of all ethnicities should be to advocate for principle over politics, but this remains difficult when those that control the historical narrative continue to pretend that Malcolm X was to the left of Martin Luther King Jr. He was not. He was considerably to Dr. King's right, which is precisely why American elites came to find MLK as a hero and Malcolm as a radical degenerate.
In the world of the elites liberalism will always be defended and conservatism always shunned.