“Trayvon Martin is an example of what happens when these black boys and girls are raised in single-parent households,” conservative provocateur Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson recently said on CNN. This is the same man who, after Katrina called victims “welfare-pampered,” “lazy” and “immoral” who “waited for the government to bail them out.”
In an interview with the same host, conservative shock jock Larry Elder opined most black Americans’ problems would be solved if we stopped “wav[ing] the flag of victimhood.” “Hard work wins,” he lectured. “Get an education. Don’t pay attention to negative people. Stay focused. And you’ll be ok in America.”
After President Obama asserted racially discriminatory experiences many African-American men have experienced, ex-Congressman Allen West took to Facebook to declare he – a black man no less! – never had the experiences Obama described. “I am a black male who grew up in the inner city of Atlanta and no one ever followed me in a mall,” or clutched their purses. “I guess having two awesome parents who taught me to be a respectful young man paid dividends.”
All three – Peterson, Elder, West – advance a familiar argument from black conservatives: if the rest of black people would just be like us, everything would be ok. Skipping over Peterson’s factual errors – Trayvon Martin was not raised by a single parent – this discourse illustrates a deeper issue.
In this author’s hometown there is a woman about 90 years of age, whom we will call “Misses R.” This author once witnessed the followed exchange between Misses R and a friend whom we will call, “K”:
K [observes paper towel rolls on her floor with newspaper stuffed inside]: “Mrs. R, I’m going to throw away these paper towel rolls for you.”
MR: “No I use those [as a reacher] to pick up my shoes”
K: “Mrs. R, I’m gonna get you a new broom” [edges severely frayed on her current broom]
MR: “No, I don’t need a new broom. I use that one for scrubbing.”
K: “Mrs. R, you want me to put this bacon [on the counter] away?”
MR: “No, I’m letting it thaw.”
K [observes chair seemingly out of place]: “Mrs. R, do you have this chair like this to help you walk?”
MR: “No, for when someone’s here so they can sit facing the couch” [for conversation]
The conversation continued like this all afternoon.
The irony is from Big Gulps to guns to taxes to florescent light bulbs, conservatives are the ones who built a brand on tweaking “busybody,” “intrusive,” “Nanny State government” that “thinks they can run your lives better than you.” Yet, such voices see no contradiction in lecturing low-income or minorities or single mothers about what’s wrong with their lives.
What a discourse about supposed “social pathologies” of the poor often misses is the observation by civil rights legend Bayard Rustin: what, to middle class eyes, looks like a disease, may, but not necessarily, be “healthy adaption” to circumstances.
“Cultures,” the great scion of conservatism Thomas Sowell observed, “are not ‘superior’ or ‘inferior. They are for better or worse adapted to a particular set of circumstances.” The only way we black Republicans will reach more than marginal numbers amongst African-Americans is to bring about a diminution in the prominence of Peterson, Elder, and West’s ideas, and fuse, build upon, and elevate the much better thought currents among us.