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Black Conservative Thought

Given how widely lauded they are in mainstream media, it is disappointing to actually read Black conservatives' work. What comes to mind is Lewis A. Coser's comment in his 1974 edited book, The New Conservatives: "These new conservatives do not give the impression of having reflected in a sustained and systematic manner on political philosophy. They express a mood and a fashion rather than a deeply felt political stance. They seem to be sustained by a desire to seize the shifting Zeitgeist by its tail, and they batten on the mood of disillusionment that has seized the country after the hopes of the early 1960s."

Black conservatives' work does not exhibit a sustained and systematic examination of conservative political philosophy and its potential usefulness for Black Americans. Nor do the Black conservatives, most of whom are trained social scientists, engage in credible social science research. They ignore reams of data contradicting their underlying assumptions and fail to produce reliable statistical evidence or to generate ethnographic research to support their positions.

Contrary to the impression, presented in mainstream media accounts, that Black conservatives offer "new," "innovative," and "advanced" ideas, there is little new in what Black conservative intellectuals have to say. For the most part, they merely repeat long-standing white conservative and neoconservative arguments. They build on a philosophical foundation borrowed from Booker T. Washington, and incorporate self-help bromides of Black cultural nationalist rhetoric. What is new in Black conservatives' analyses is that it is Black people developing an implicitly racist rationale for placing limits on social policies.

In somewhat simplified form, Black conservatives' explicit analysis rests on five fundamental points:

· Although lingering racism still exists, thanks to the victories of the civil rights struggles, racial discrimination is no longer a critical obstacle to Black progress. We can speak of a racist American past, but not of a racist contemporary America.

· African American demands for equal opportunity made during the civil rights era now go too far in demanding equal outcomes. A non-discriminatory America does not ensure equal outcomes. Capitalism maximizes skill and talent and any differences among ethnic groups, or between genders, is a function of each group's particular strengths and weaknesses.

· Today's problems of race relations and Black poverty cannot be remedied by government policy alone. The roots of today's problems are located first and foremost within African Americans: in our inability to successfully compete in a free market system, in the poor values and irresponsible and offensive behavior of poor Blacks, in our psychological hang-ups about group identity and past victimization, and/or in our failure to take full advantage of existing opportunities. In this light, not only are government social welfare and legal remedies, such as affirmative action programs, unnecessary, they are detrimental to the development of Black people. Social welfare programs destroy Black families, foster debilitating dependency, and reward irresponsible behavior.

· Affirmative action programs lower Black self-esteem since whites will always diminish Black accomplishment as reflecting only affirmative action imperatives and Black beneficiaries of affirmative action programs can never be fully confident that their success stems from their talent. These programs are also detrimental to Blacks because of the white (male) resentment they engender. Affirmative action has, in any case, only benefited more advantaged Blacks.

· The appropriate strategy for African Americans is one focusing on self -help. First, we need to de-emphasize racial identity and loyalty in favor of an American identity. Second, African Americans should compete on the basis of merit only. Third, we need to de-emphasize government programs and civil rights legislation in favor of racial self-help. Blacks need to focus on Black entrepreneurship, building and supporting Black business, particularly in poor Black neighborhoods. And, most important, the Black middle class needs to teach poor African Americans appropriate values and behavior.

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