Do traditionalists have anything to say to blacks?
I have an ongoing conversation a self-identified conservative black pastor. This pastor is a close acquaintance and has no issue taking Obama to task for his ugly statism. However, he did concede that Obama’s election gave him (and many blacks he knows) both a sense of pride and one of misgiving. The misgiving stems from the utility and habit of believing blacks (of ability) remain oppressed in modern liberal society. Obama makes that claim more difficult to sustain. I realize that you’ve demonstrated that no amount of black accomplishment will put to rest the overarching liberal and black contention that racism is systemic. However, for more reasonable blacks (and liberals?), Obama does seem to challenge that idea. Seems like David Horowitz in his article about Obama’s inauguration that you’ve criticized was celebrating this possibility.
This reminds me of a question I’ve wanted to ask you for some time. I’m curious if VFR has any black readers who are largely in agreement with your views on race. You see, your writings and those of many of your readers, have greatly influenced my views over the last few years. I’m looking for reasonable ways to engage in conversation with conservative-leaning blacks, such as my acquaintance, that will move them toward traditionalism without alienating them. Is there room in traditionalism for reasonable blacks? In other words, is there a way to express ideas we believe to be truthful that seem highly likely to offend or at least be met with serious resistance?
There have been black readers from time to time who had some sympathy with my views, but no one I can think of who stuck around and became part of the conversation. To my astonishment, Ward Connerly has liked a lot of my stuff that I thought would have gone too far for him, and he has published several articles of mine, though not stuff, about race differences.
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As for your question, I think the only solution is in an acceptance of realities that modern America is dead set against accepting and would regard as odious, namely acceptance of differences, acceptance that people aren’t all going to end up in the same place. That would require giving up modern liberalism and modern mass democracy with its expectation of total equality, with its organization of the whole of society to achieve equality by dragging down whites and raising up blacks, and a return to a more traditional kind of society in which there is a more natural separation between different communities and people do as well as their abilities and aspirations take them, and let the chips fall where they may. It would be understood that only blacks can raise the condition of blacks. Just as all people through history have been raised by themselves, not by other people. It’s absurd to think that one people can be raised to a higher level by another people, it’s mad.
In my 2005 FrontPage Magazine article, “Guilty Whites,” I suggest the outlines of a different kind of racial arrangement and reconciliation in America, along the lines of Booker T. Washington’s ideas of separate development. Here are sections from that article:
Any suggestion that the causes of blacks’ low scores lie in blacks themselves is never considered, and anyone who raises that possibility is attacked as a racist. If rational discussion of the possible causes of the problem is forbidden, how can rational responses be found?
A handful of conservative black thinkers, such as John McWhorter, have argued that it is up to blacks to help open up a more honest discussion about race. This approach harks back to Booker T. Washington’s idea—roundly rejected by the modern civil rights movement—that blacks’ condition in America can only be improved by blacks themselves, through the effort of building up their own capacities as individuals and communities; and, further, that it is folly to expect whites, or government, or the society as a whole, to do for blacks what only blacks can do for themselves. As Frederick Douglass said in 1865:
What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us … I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! … And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! … [Y]our interference is doing him positive injury. 
The thought that today’s blacks, following in the tradition of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, might liberate whites from the strictures of racial correctness, including the deadly notion that whites are responsible for the well-being and progress of blacks and are guilty of racism if blacks do not succeed, is appealing for a number of reasons. But given the vested interest that most blacks and virtually all black organizations have in the existing racial preference system, it is highly unlikely that such a transformation in racial discourse will be initiated by blacks. Further, since it was the white majority that actually created the current system of black racial spoils and white racial guilt, it is the white psychology about race, not the black psychology, that holds the key to turning this problem around.
* * *
From the Emancipation Proclamation to the mid-twentieth century, blacks lived under far worse conditions of inequality than exist now, without whites bending themselves out of shape over perceived racial differences. Both the race differences in performance and the naturalness of social separation between the races were taken for granted by most whites, including Northern liberal whites, until the mid 20th century (and were also accepted by black leaders like Booker T. Washington, who famously declared: “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress”)….
* * *
… If whites finally dropped the liberal expectation that all groups be fully integrated and perform equally in all walks of life, if they accepted Booker T. Washington’s sensible notion of encouraging each group to develop in its own way according to its own talents and qualities, they would stop attributing to their own imaginary racism every failure of blacks to achieve economic parity or social integration with themselves. The entire structure of thought by which whites and America have been demonized would collapse. But if whites continue to believe that there are no differences between groups in their abilities and qualities, and that the black achievement gap can only be explained by white racism or white indifference, then the blaming of white America, and the resulting diminishment of our culture and civilization, will continue. More than any other factor, facing the truth about race and race differences could help re-moralize our society.
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Wayne N. writes:
Dan M. asks, “Is there room in traditionalism for reasonable blacks?” He mentions this within the context of his relationship to a black pastor.
However this brings up the question of the value of speaking with black INDIVIDUALS? What is the value of doing this on an individual basis? I have an acquaintance who is black, has a professional career, and a middle class family reared in traditional Christian values. Yet one of his sons got into trouble with the law by running with a gang of other blacks. His daughter is failing at school.
It’s been my experience that black individuals may acquire traditional Western values but rarely are those passed on to succeeding generations of blacks. Jackie Robinson was the model black athlete (who even became a Republican). But is today’s professional black athlete in the main a model citizen? Think of the number of criminal activities that NFL blacks have been involved in the past decade.
One has to address the black race and the black culture as a GROUP. While whites always imagined differently, the approach to civil rights on the part of its proponents was never an INDIVIDUALISTIC strategy. Yes we have the Star Parkers, the Thomas Sowells, the Walter Williamses. However the problems we are seeing do not occur at the individual level but as a group. It is at the group level that the black race is manifesting itself within the Democratic Party.
The group and tribal aspect was brought to my attention most forcefully a few days ago. T.J. Jakes, a black evangelical, who has been associated with traditionalism and the evangelical church, when asked by Larry King on CNN about spiritual inspiration, quoted from Obama’s book “Dreams Of My Father.” It was at that point that I understood that the black persona is so different from our own that a supposed black traditionalist can gather inspiration from a left-winger.
You’re making a fundamentally important point; a point that white liberals (of all stripes, including “conservatives”) never understand.
An interesting article.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 25, 2009 11:43 AM | Send
I don’t believe, however, that there is much room for traditionalism among blacks, with one exception.
The problem is that all the American traditions that blacks might admire come from white people! Moreover, none of these traditions, when practiced genuinely (not as phony, recently invented “traditions”) ever genuinely espoused full equality and inclusion of blacks. Yes, the Founding Fathers famously wrote that “all men are created equal,” but many of them were slaveholders. Traditional religious congregations may have espoused a universal brotherhood of all mankind, but were always extremely segregated. The freemasons, who were among the earliest adopters of doctrines of universal equality, still have segregated lodges to this day. And on and on.
There is a “tradition” of radical egalitarianism in the U.S. that can be traced back hundreds of years. But it only represented the views of a small minority of whites and was rejected by the American mainstream until the 1960s, at which point the genuine traditions were swept away, and radical egalitarianism became the cultural law of the land. A black could view Martin Luther King as his Founding Father and trace his “traditions” forward. But the result would be a very young tradition of multiculturalism that rejects the older, genuine traditions.
A “traditionalist” black in America is in the same awkward position that an American would be in if he moved to Japan and tried to become a Japanese traditionalist. Not only would he have to adopt the values and belief system of a different race and reject his own. He would have to accept that much of the tradition he so loves involves the exclusion or denigration of people like himself; and he would never be really accepted by the very people he admires.
The only exception is in black churches. They do have a long and honorable tradition; they are culturally conservative; and they provide a welcoming community for black people. But they are, of course, totally racially segregated. And black conservative evangelicals often end up in an uncomfortable position vis-a-vis the larger black community because they are ideologically at odds with that community’s liberalism. While black evangelicals can often accept economic liberalism (welfare state, high taxation, etc), they can’t accept such things as “pro choice.” This forced a small number of blacks to vote against Obama—again an awkward state of affairs.
I don’t envy that tiny group of highly intelligent ultraconservative black intellectuals who come to admire and yearn for traditional Western civilization. They’re in a very tough spot!