Conservative People Of Color Are Not "Minstrels."

Jamelle Bouie defends a Charles Blow column that has outraged conservatives, because it accuses several Tea Partiers of color of engaging in "minstrelsy." Conor Friedersdorf writes of Blow's piece:

It’s this kind of piece that causes people on the right to think that on matters of race, they’re damned if they do, and they’re damned if they don’t — if they don’t make efforts to include non-whites they’re unenlightened propagators of privilege, and if they do make those efforts they’re the cynical managers of a minstrel show, but either way, race is used as a cudgel to discredit them in a way that would never be applied to a political movement on the left.

There are cultural and historical reasons for that, which Friedersdorf doesn't seem willing to acknowledge. More to the point, though, Blow's reaction, which I think was unfair, was a visceral one related to seeing people of color engage in what Bouie refers to as the "elaborate tribal rituals" necessary for them to gain acceptance in a conservative setting.

This isn't mere conjecture on Blow's part. Think about Republican Congressional Candidate Corey Poitier calling Obama "Buckwheat," or Michael Steele assuring Republicans that Obama only won because he's black, or Marco Rubio insisting the president is an idiot savant who just knows how to read from a teleprompter. Is it any surprise that black conservatives feel like they have to engage in baroque gestures of solidarity, considering that merely being a black stranger in a conservative crowd puts one at risk of being mistaken for a member of ACORN?

The disturbing implication of these events is that many conservatives use skin color as a shorthand for identifying those who are "on their team," and Friedersdorf seems uninterested in addressing this. White liberals can't really do exactly this because the Democratic Party is much more diverse, but liberals also often make problematic assumptions about black people and their politics. If you think the old tribal instincts can't be rekindled on the left, I would direct you to some of the liberal reactions to Prop. 8's passage in California. No party or ideology has a monopoly on racism, but let's not pretend that there isn't anything implicitly racial or problematic about a movement that claims the mantle of being "real Americans" and just happens to be overwhelmingly white.

In any case, what conservative Tea Partiers are doing in Blow's piece is not minstrelsy, which implies an active effort to harm other black people for personal gain by reinforcing long-held black stereotypes. The Tea Partiers of color here are instead trying to signal solidarity with a group of people who are suspicious of them because of their skin tones, and that's both sad and frustrating. But they are ultimately trying to purchase access to a political community that they feel better suits their views, and they're entitled to that. Being black and conservative does not make you a sellout.

Where Blow is reductive, Friedersdorf is oblivious. Friedersdorf writes that he is certain that the Tea Partiers Blow criticizes are "interesting people with honestly held convictions that are understandable outgrowths of their reason and experience." Of course. But why is part of their experience having to try so hard to convince their ideological cohorts they're on the same side? Instead of asking this question, Friedsdorf whines that conservatives are held to a different standard on issues of race than liberals, which is a funny question to ask during Confederate History Month.

-- A. Serwer

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