Hoover Institution Fellow Shelby Steele, who is black, writes that after the 1960s, “[v]ictimization became so rich a vein of black power—even if it was only the power to ‘extract’ reforms … from the larger society—that it was allowed not only to explain black fate but to explain it totally.” A black conservative, says Steele, “is a black who dissents from the victimization explanation of black fate … when it is made the main theme of group identity and the raison d’être of a group politics.”
Indeed, black conservatives represent the antithesis of black leftists, who, for decades, have relentlessly cast African Americans as the perpetual victims of intransigent societal racism; who are intolerant of anyone rejecting the notion of universal black victimization; and who interpret as treason any deviation from their own intellectual orthodoxy. Some examples will serve to illustrate:
- In 1984, Maxine Waters said that President Ronald Reagan ran on a platform “which snidely suggested that he was going to put Blacks in their place once and for all.” She derided Reagan’s black supporters, meanwhile, as “Uncle Tom” and “Aunt Tomasina.”
- In 2002, NAACP chairman Julian Bond referred to Ward Connerly, a black California Board of Regents member who had led the fight to end affirmative action in California’s public sector, as a “fraud” and a “con man.” Bond likened black conservatives in general to “ventriloquists’ dummies” who “speak in their puppet-master’s voice.”
- Jesse Jackson has called Connerly a “house slave” and a “puppet of the white man.” He also condemned Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s vote to place limits on affirmative action programs, characterizing Thomas as an “enem[y] of civil rights” and likening his black judicial robes to the white sheets of Klansmen.
- In September 1996, Quanell X told an audience of Texas Southern University students: “I refuse to allow some foot-shuffling, some head-bowing, knee-bending, boot-licking, behind-kissing, old-times-ain’t-forgotten, still-wish-we-in-the-land-of-pick-cotton, sell-out, window-dressing Negroes to QUIET ME DOWN, quiet down the spirit of young brothers and sisters, because Reverend Ham Hock, Pastor Porkchop, Deacon Chickenfoot and Bishop Coward would not stand up and fight for the liberation of their people—I’M SORRY!” (Emphasis in original)
- In November 1996 the front cover of Emerge, which billed itself as “Black America’s News Magazine,” featured a cartoon depiction of Clarence Thomas alongside the caption: “UNCLE THOMAS: Lawn Jockey for the Far Right.”
- The late columnist Carl Rowan sarcastically suggested on July 7, 1991, “If you give [Clarence] Thomas a little flour on his face, you’d think you had [former Klansman] David Duke.”
- Ron Christie, an African American who served as special assistant to President George W. Bush and deputy assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney from 2001-04, recalls that when he began working in 1991 as a young legislative aide for Republican Congressman Craig James, “it didn’t take long” for Rep. Maxine Waters to chastise him. Waters called Christie on the phone and said, “Young man, this is Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and I would like to speak to you immediately.” When Christie went to Waters’s office as instructed, the congresswoman asked him angrily: “What are you doing working for Mr. James?… I want to know why you’re working for a Republican. Are you confused?” When Christie identified himself as a Republican and stated that “I work with Congressman James because I share his values,” Waters thundered: “You’re a sellout to your race! White people work for Republicans! Not African Americans! You’re nothing but an Uncle Tom!”
- San Francisco mayor Willie Brown called Justice Thomas not only “a shill and cover for the most insidious form of racism,” but also a man whose views are “legitimizing of the Ku Klux Klan.” Brown added that Thomas “should be reduced to talking only to white conservatives,” and “must be shut out” by the black community.
- Time magazine correspondent Jack E. White, denouncing Thomas for his “twisted reasoning and bilious rage,” writes that “the maddening irony” of the Justice’s opposition to affirmative action—an opposition conceived within the confines of what White regards as a deluded “neverland of color-blind philosophizing”—is that “Thomas owes his seat [on the Supreme Court] to precisely the kind of racial preference he goes to such lengths to excoriate.”
- The late political scientist Manning Marable asserted that Thomas had “ethnically ceased being an African American.”
- Movie director Spike Lee claims that Malcolm X, if he were still alive, would call Thomas “a handkerchief-head, chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom.”
- The late author June Jordan characterized Thomas as a “virulent Oreo phenomenon,” a “punk-ass,” and an “Uncle Tom calamity.”
- The late Haywood Burns, who was chairman emeritus of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, called Thomas a “counterfeit hero” whose ideals had “crushed or forever deferred” the dreams of millions of blacks.
- Columnist Julianne Malveaux told a television audience, “I hope [Thomas’s] wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter, and he dies early, like many black men do, of heart disease…. He’s an absolutely reprehensible person.”
- From the podium of the 1995 NAACP convention, Thomas was denounced as a “pimp” and a “traitor” to the black community.
- The Reverend Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference once said he was “ashamed” of Justice Thomas because he “has become to many in the African-American community what Benedict Arnold was to the United States, a deserter; what Judas was to Jesus, a traitor, and what Brutus was to Caesar, an assassin.”
- Missouri Democrat William Clay smeared black conservatives as “Negro wanderers” whose goal is to “maim and kill other blacks for the gratification and entertainment of ultraconservative white racists.” Clay described black conservative Gary Franks—when the latter was a Connecticut congressman—as a “Negro Dr. Kevorkian who gleefully assists in suicidal conduct to destroy his own race,” and who exhibits a “‘foot-shuffling, head-scratching ‘Amos and Andy’ brand of ‘Uncle Tom-ism.’”
- Former NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks denounced black conservatives as “a new breed of Uncle Tom” and “some of the biggest liars the world ever saw.”
- The late Afrocentric historian John Henrik Clarke called black conservatives “frustrated slaves crawling back to the plantation.”
- In 2011, Ivy League professor Cornel West said that conservative black Republican Herman Cain, who had stated that racism was no longer an impediment to black progress in the United States, “needs to get off the symbolic crack pipe and acknowledge that the evidence [of racism in America] is overwhelming.”
- Time.com contributor and author Toure Neblet said of Cain: “There is this constant minstrelsy aspect that [he] keeps bringing up…. And yet Cain allows the GOP to have this sort of force where it’s like: ‘Well, we’re not racist. We are supporting this black man.’” He also characterized Cain as a “Clown” and as the “black Sarah Palin.”
- Los Angeles Times journalist and contributing editor Erin Aubry Kaplan wrote: “I don’t support conservatism in its current iteration, and I support black conservatives even less…. Here is a man [Herman Cain] who, like most black conservatives, has had to do an awful lot of personal and political rationalizing to pay dues…. It’s hard to imagine that such compromises and cognitive dissonance don’t exact a psychological toll at some point.”
- On June 25, 2013, Minnesota state legislator Ryan Patrick Winkler used his Twitter account as a forum for deriding the Supreme Court’s decision (earlier that day) to strike down a section of the Voting Rights Act requiring states to obtain federal preclearance approval of any changes to their election laws and procedures—e.g., the enactment of Voter ID requirements. Tweeted Winkler: “VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas”—a reference to Clarence Thomas.
- USA Today columnist Barbara Reynolds once derided Clarence Thomas for having married a white woman: “It may sound bigoted; well, this is a bigoted world and why can’t black people be allowed a little Archie Bunker mentality? … Here’s a man who’s going to decide crucial issues for the country and he has already said no to blacks; he has already said if he can’t paint himself white he’ll think white and marry a white woman.”
- Howard University’s Afro-American Studies department chair Russell Adams directed a similar charge against Clarence Thomas: “His marrying a white woman is a sign of his rejection of the black community. Great Justices have had community roots that served as a basis for understanding the Constitution. Clarence’s lack of a sense of community makes his nomination troubling.”
- In February 2014, State Rep. Alvin Holmes (D-AL) said of Justice Thomas: “I don’t like him at all because he’s an Uncle Tom.” He also said he disliked Thomas because “he’s married to a white woman.” When another reporter later asked Holmes to explain his remark, Holmes said that he had been misinterpreted: “I said some people might say I didn’t like him because he was married to a white woman.” At that point, he added the “Uncle Tom” comment.
- California state Senate Democrat Diane Watson similarly mocked former University of California regent Ward Connerly: “He’s married a white woman. He wants to be white. He wants a colorless society. He has no ethnic pride. He doesn’t want to be black.”
- In January 2014, Rev. William Barber II, the head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, derided Senator Tim Scott (a black Republican representing South Carolina) as a pawn of “the extreme right wing.” “A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy,” said Barber.
- In April 2014, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson called conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas an “Uncle Tom.” When the congressman was subsequently asked by reporter Dana Bash to clarify his comments, the Democrat said that Thomas’s rulings had been “adverse” to the black community. Miss Bash then noted that the term “Uncle Tom” could be viewed as racist and inappropriate if used by a white person. Thompson responded, “But I’m black.” “That makes it OK?” asked Bash. To this, Thompson replied: “I mean, you’re asking me the question, and I’m giving you a response. The people that I represent, for the most part, have a real issue with those decisions — voter ID, affirmative action, Affordable Care Act — all those issues are very important and for someone in the court who’s African American and not sensitive to that is a real problem.”
- In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016, Congresswoman Karen Bass, implying that Justice Clarence Thomas was not an authentic black, suggested that Scalia’s replacement should be black, so as to give the Court an “African-American voice” which she said was lacking. “I think many people would like to see an African American on the Supreme Court,” Bass said. “We don’t really need to go into Clarence Thomas’ background or his behavior on the Court, but I think to have an African-American voice that has definitely not been there since Thurgood Marshall would really be an incredible contribution to our country.”
- In June 2013, Professor Michael Eric Dyson likened Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to “a symbolic Jew [who] has invited a metaphoric Hitler to commit Holocaust and genocide upon his own people,” after Thomas had voted to strike down a Voting Rights Act provision that had required mainly Southern states to undergo—based on the presumption of their continuing racist tendencies—special federal scrutiny before being permitted to change their election laws in any way.
- In October 2018, Dyson criticized hip-hop artist Kanye West for his decision to meet in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump, for whom West expressed admiration. “This is white supremacy by ventriloquism,” said Dyson. “A black mouth is moving, but white racist ideals are flowing from Kanye’s mouth.”
- During the November 4, 2021 broadcast of Joy Reid‘s MSNBC program The Reidout, Dyson and Reid agreed that Republican Winsome Sears — a conservative, openly patriotic black woman who had been elected lieutenant governor of Virginia two days earlier, was being exploited by the Republican Party as a mascot and a token black. Reid said to Dyson: “What Republicans are now doing is they basically demand credit any time any of them ever voted for anybody black or if there’s a black guy on the Supreme Court that’s conservative. Any black conservative is supposedly or the black president having ever been elected, right? The fact that he was elected, period, means there’s no racism.” Dyson replied:
“They want credit for having hair in the morning or getting up and brushing their teeth. ‘Look, I’ve made an achievement that should be noteworthy.’ No. You are doing what all political figures what must do, make choices. The problem is here they want — they want white supremacy by ventriloquist effect. There is a black mouth moving but a white idea through the — running on the runway of the tongue of a figure who justifies and legitimates the white supremacist practices. We know that we can internalize in our own minds, in our own subconscious, in our own bodies the very principles that are undoing us. So to have a black face speaking on behalf of a white supremacist legacy is nothing new. And it is to the chagrin of those of us who study race that the white folk on the other side and the right-wingers on the other side don’t understand. If you tell black people, ‘Look, I support a negro. Look! There is a person of color that I am in favor of,’ and that person of color happens to undermine and undercut and subvert the very principles about which we are concerned. You do yourself no service by pointing to them as an example of your racial progressivism.
Because of ubiquitous character assassinations like these, many blacks who otherwise would venture to challenge the prevailing leftist dogmas of our time are prevented from doing so by the fear that they will be branded as sell-outs, “Uncle Toms,” “Oreos,” and race-traitors. Shelby Steele puts it this way:
“Today a public ‘black conservative’ will surely meet a stunning amount of animus, demonization, misunderstanding, and flat-out, undifferentiated contempt. And there is a kind of licensing process involved here in which the black leadership—normally protective even of people like Marion Barry and O.J. Simpson—licenses blacks and whites to have contempt for the black conservative. It is a part of the group’s manipulation of shame to let certain of its members languish outside the perimeter of group protection where even politically correct whites (who normally repress criticism of blacks) can show contempt for them.”
One man who has not been cowed into silence by such measures, however, is none other than Clarence Thomas, who says:
“Long gone is the time when we [blacks] opposed the notion that we all looked alike and talked alike. Somehow we have come to exalt the new black stereotype above all and demand conformity to that norm…. [However], I assert my right to think for myself, to refuse to have my ideas assigned to me as though I was an intellectual slave because I’m black.”
In February 2014, Justice Thomas told an audience at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida that the “worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, [were] by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”
The Loneliness of the “Black Conservative”
By Shelby Steele
January 30, 1999
A Whole Different Crop of Black Leaders
By Tamar Jacoby
Why Media Ignore Black Conservatives
By Erik Rush
March 10, 2011
A Man Alone (Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson)
By Andrew Klavan
February 23, 2010
MAJOR BLACK CONSERVATIVE WRITERS & SPEAKERS:
Black History Month
By Bob Parks
September 27, 2006
Black, Millennial, Female and … Conservative
By Antonia Okafor