The principal complaint of most African Americans against Black conservatives, particularly the intellectuals featured here, is that they provide cover for policies that do grievous harm to Black people. But the potential harm inherent in Black conservatism is a danger to all Americans.
June Jordan has observed that problems which first appear in poor African American communities-substandard schools, AIDS, violent crime-always eventually appear in middle-income white communities. At that point they leave the realm of the "culture of poverty" and become an "American problem."
The United States has never allowed full citizenship rights for all its citizens. It has never built a social culture devoid of racism, sexism, anti-Jewish bigotry, homophobia, or classism. Our economic system has never provided full employment at a sustainable wage. As a nation, we have never committed ourselves to providing as basic human rights a quality education for each and every child, universal high-quality health care, and a decent place to live for all people.
So long as the devastating inequities that characterize American society persist, and racism continues to exacerbate these inequities, there is absolutely no way to make meaningful, much less provable, statements correlating peoples' values with their socioeconomic status.
By tying poor African Americans' poverty to race and our supposed slavery-flawed culture, Black conservatives insult African Americans. They also divert attention from June Jordan's observation that Black problems inevitably become problems of the larger society. At some point, white Americans and middle-income Americans in general are going to be forced to confront the fundamental problems caused by this country's severe maldistribution of resources and its intolerance of diversity. Black conservatives delay that confrontation and in so doing, they do the entire country a grave disservice.
By uncritically promoting Black conservatives, liberal and progressive institutions not only undermine their own stated principles, they exhibit a not-so-subtle form of racism. As Adolph Reed, Jr. points out: who would listen if the word "Italian" or "Jew" were substituted in Black conservatives' characterizations of African Americans? We should be clear that stereotyping and victim-blaming is not more respectable because it is done by a member of the group being demeaned.
Deborah Toler holds a Ph.D. in political science. She is currently senior research analyst at the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First), in Oakland, California. Call or write Political Research Associates for footnotes for this article, which originally appeared in The Public Eye in the September 1993 and December 1993 issues. © 1995, Deborah Toler.
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