The Progressive Bloc is a weekly opinion column by Contributing Writer Quinton Bradley that discusses politics, society and culture from an unapologetically left-wing perspective.
Traditionalists? Concerned citizens? Patriots? Grifters? Or woefully misinformed political dissidents?
In the United States, conservative thought among the Black community is nothing new. From the days of Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, Booker T. Washington’s appeals toward Black self-reliance in place of fighting for civil rights, Malcolm X’s fixture within the Nation of Islam (prior to his trip to Mecca, which lead him down a more left-leaning path before his assassination) and the appointment of Clarence Thomas—regarded as America’s most conservative Justice on the Supreme Court—in 1991, Black Americans have always had some presence within conservatism.
This presence, however, has been traditionally small over the past 40-odd years—and for good reason. One only has to briefly run down the litany of incidents both historic and contemporary to conclude that the Right side of the political aisle—be it center-right, moderate republican, neoconservative, “paleoconservative” or the far-right “identitarian” sects (neo-Nazis, the alt-right, etc.)—is no tent that we should consider encamping ourselves under.
A look at late Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s rallying cry of “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” during his 1963 inaugural address, Barry Goldwater’s opposition of Civil Rights during his 1964 presidential campaign and the dog-whistling utilized during the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and President Trump prove that the right’s adherence to the “southern strategy” won’t be going away any time soon.
With that being said, why then has there been an uptick in young, MAGA hat-wearing Black conservatives professing their love of both Trump and the Republican party over the past year?
I started picking up on the trend during the summer of 2019. Little by little, I would see African Americans popping up on social media that would (rightfully) bash the Democratic party for its feelings of entitlement toward the Black vote and party’s penchant for using the tactic of “pander, not policy” when courting Black voters (famous examples of this apply to both Bill and Hillary Clinton, with the former’s sunglasses-clad saxophone riffs on the Arsenio Hall Show in the nineties and the latter’s cringe-inducing “hot sauce in my bag” line from her appearance on “The Breakfast Club” morning show, which holds a predominantly Black audience).
The formula was similar for each of the Black men and women “bravely” coming out of the conservative closet: a rebuke against the democratic party, a rebuke against the media and a rebuke against the establishment (Note: the conservative view of the “establishment” is far different than the progressive view). As the five-to-ten minute rant was near its end, the man or woman would announce their conversion to the Republican party and their support of President Trump while encouraging other Black men and women to do so.
Yes, after delivering fiery orations against corrupt politicians, corporate lobbyists and monied special interest groups, these men and women followed it up by pledging a newfound allegiance to the Republican party. Let that sink in for a bit.
The growing trend of young African Americans joining the GOP was profiled in a Vice documentary titled “The Young Black Conservatives of Trump’s America,” which premiered on YouTube on Jan. 24, 2019. The video centers around three young Black conservatives, the most high-profile among them being Candace Owens.
After her political transformation in which she “became a conservative overnight,” Owens has been riding a swift ride to prominence within conservative circles since she began popping up in the media since 2017.
With her 1.9 million Twitter followers, her spear-heading of the failed “Blexit” movement that tried to encourage African Americans to join the Republican party en masse and the cosigns she’s received from the likes of Kanye West, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk and even President Trump himself, Owens is poised to replace Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Tomi Lahren as the right’s new rhetorical machine gun: fast, loud and not very accurate.
Chief among these inaccuracies is her assertion that it is the Democratic party—the party that supported the Civil Rights bill, unlike the Republican party—is the one that is filled to the brim with white supremacists.
While claiming that the Republican party is in fact not discriminatory and is welcoming to all, Owens and her ilk have to routinely defend their camp whenever Trump makes a racial or sexist remark, whenever the “Unite the Right” rally is mentioned or when a non-Black conservative decides to take the mask off and reveal how they truly feel about minorities, such as in the incidents involving conservative political organization Turning Point USA (TPUSA) in which several employees were reprimanded for using racial slurs. Owens had worked with TPUSA from 2017 until 2019.
A favored truth that Owens and other Black conservatives love to spout is that while our ancestors were slaves, the Republicans at the time supported the abolition of slavery while the Democrats were opposed to it. Yet, all one has to do is refer back to my earlier mentioning of the southern strategy along with the case of the racist, disaffected southern Democrats who switched to the GOP after the Civil Rights bill passed to deduce that the two parties are vastly different than they were 200 years ago in terms of social issues.
As a side note, Abraham Lincoln, the Republican president who led the effort to end the chattel slavery of Black men, women and children in America, was not only a reader of Karl Marx (one of the Right’s favorite “communist” boogeymen), but even corresponded with the man himself in 1865. It is thought that Marx’s influence played a role in Lincoln’s opposition to slavery.
Goes to show how dramatically things can change in politics over time.
- The Holy Trinity, the Conservative Right and Capitalism: A Philosophical Analysis
- The Mainstreaming of White Supremacist Rhetoric
- The Right is (Somewhat) Eating Itself
Speaking of “change,” prior to becoming a right-wing firebrand, Owens, back in 2015, wrote opinion pieces for a blog that was related to the website of a marketing agency called Degree180, of which she was also the CEO. The blog itself was full of anti-Trump and anti-conservative writings. In one piece that Owens wrote, she even referred to Republicans as “bat-**** crazy.”
One year later, Owens had found herself “doxed” (having one’s private information, such as their street address or social security number made public) as backlash for attempting to start SocialAutopsy, a website which had the goal of “exposing bullies on the internet.” The site became of fixture of the “Gamergate” controversy and was condemned by both progressives and conservatives involved in the debacle. After reportedly blaming members of the left for her doxing (of which she had no evidence for), Owens gained support from alt-right (hence, neo-Nazi) figures Milo Yiannopoulos and Mike Cernovich.
Following this embrace from members of the far-right, Owens stated “I realized that liberals were actually the racists. Liberals were actually the trolls…Social Autopsy is why I’m conservative.”
And thus, Owens’ 180-degree heel-turn into a think tank-funded talking head was complete, saying that African Americans don’t deserve reparations, that Black people were actually better off shortly after the abolition of slavery than they are today (in which she conveniently avoided mention of the Jim Crow laws that arose during the Reconstruction period) and that the problem with Adolf Hitler was that he “had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize,” she remarked at a Turning Point UK (TPUSA’s British offshoot) speaking event. Had Hitler simply stayed within Germany’s borders to “…make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine.”
Whether in the form of new blood such as Owens, TPUSA newcomer Rob Smith and former police officer-turned Trump cheerleader Brandon Tatum or cable news mainstays and academics such as Larry Elder, Walter E. Williams or Thomas Sowell, their messages do nothing more than mask the soulless, dog-eat-dog, winner-take-all, survival of the fittest hyper-capitalistic mindset conservatism adheres to under the guise of promoting black self-sufficiency.
On the surface, there is absolutely nothing intrinsically bad about promoting a higher degree of black business ownership, a wish for a lesser percentage of Black Americans having to use some form of government assistance and a want for the high percentage rate of out of wedlock births among African Americans to drop back down to its relatively low figures prior to the 1960s.
Note that “on the surface” is the operative phrase here.
Diving below said surface, certain questions come into play. Under the free market, little-to-no regulatory big business paradise that conservatives envision for America, how are one’s rights as a worker going to be protected when the conservative rule would slowly but surely strip away those protections? Am I to expect that a Black business owner with few restrictions to adhere to won’t exploit my labor just because of our similar melanin count?
Addressing the number of African Americans on government assistance (in which Black conservatives ironically feed into the “welfare queen” narrative by using it as a talking point), how would an immediate stripping away of benefits result in an emergent “do-it-yourself” line of thought across the Black community, which, due to our already drastically dire economic standing in the U.S., would inevitably lead to an even higher rate of violence (the same violence in poor Black communities that Black conservatives love to cite) with the severing of that tiny safety net?
How exactly would Black Americans lessen the percentage of out-of-wedlock births in the community by adhering to conservative thought? Though other racial communities have vastly lower percentages of out-of-wedlock births compared to ours, a nuclear family doesn’t solely guarantee happiness and stability. With the high rates of depression, suicide and mental illness that have been plaguing the Black community (in which free, universal healthcare would assist in remedying), wouldn’t addressing these concerns be more expedient than simply urging people to be locked into a potentially unhappy (or perhaps even life-threatening) marriage?
In case you haven’t noticed it yet, the main theme of these and any other talking points that one may hear from conservatives—regardless of their hue—is one of “self-reliance.” It’s disingenuous when spoken from the mouths of creepy billionaires like the Koch brothers, Robert Mercer and the numerous political groups and think tanks who promote “fiscal conservatism” out of their own greed and self-interest, but it’s even more insidious coming from a member of an economically depressed group who gets paid to promote the (economic) interests of billionaires.
Be they honest actors or shameless grifters who’ve hitched a ride on the billionaire-funded money train of book deals, college campus appearances and cable news shouting contests, Black conservatives act as mere sock puppets for the financial livelihood of the rich Americans who can afford to buy politicians and aim to pay as little taxes as possible.
Black conservatives, while in some cases (specifically in the early 20th century) appearing genuinely concerned with the economic and social well-being of other Black Americans, have nonetheless been conned whether they realize it or not.
While I hold mutual disgust for both parties, moderate Democrats like the Clintons, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will simply pander for Black votes while offering no legitimate structural change as they shake hands with Wall Street and offer African Americans and other disenfranchised groups crumbs from the table.
Republicans will roll back or completely eliminate the programs that allow many African Americans to scrape by day-by-day in an economic system that prioritizes the rich over the poor. If they face any resistance along the way, they can just dog-whistle to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis on their side, all while threatening the lives of many innocent people.
The goal is not to merely change the appearance of those in power, it is to spread said power as equally as possible among a unified collective public.
The appearance of those who wield the chains of oppression (be it racial, social, economic, gendered or environmental) does not matter. Whether or not they are willing to break the chains does.