Notwithstanding the centuries-old baggage of racial problems, it simply isn’t a good idea for white Americans to compare the authenticity or the measurement of one black man’s blackness to that of another. But that doesn’t seem to ever stop them from doing so.
Johah Goldberg of the National Review published a column celebrating his realization that there was no conflict between being a minority and being a conservative. He writes:
Carson has the highest favorables of any candidate in the GOP field. But what’s remarkable is that at no point in this conversation did anyone call attention to the fact that Carson is an African-American. Indeed, most analysis of Carson’s popularity from pundits focuses on his likable personality and his sincere Christian faith. But it’s intriguingly rare to hear people talk about the fact that he’s black
So it’s remarkable that conservatives don’t mention that Ben Carson is black? Why is that, Jonah? Is this to say that liberals highlighted Barack Obama’s blackness as something to be celebrated? Is that a bad thing? Or, are you saying that Ben Carson blends in so well with the majority white conservative movement that no one even notices he is black?
But before I could get any further into the logical problems with the statement, Jonah perfectly demonstrates why there is so much tension between being a minority and a conservative:
One could argue that he’s even more authentically African-American than Barack Obama, given that Obama’s mother was white and he was raised in part by his white grandparents. In his autobiography, Obama writes at length about how he grew up outside the traditional African-American experience — in Hawaii and Indonesia — and how he consciously chose to adopt a black identity when he was in college.
Meanwhile, Carson grew up in Detroit, the son of a very poor, very hard-working single mother.
I am confident that Goldberg is completely oblivious to his transgression. While lifting up how Ben Carson is the perfect example of how blacks can easily be conservatives, he demonstrates the level of ignorance to what it means to be black in America which is exactly why it is difficult for blacks to be conservatives.
From a historical perspective, one drop of black blood made you black. It didn’t matter if your father was a white slave master or your mother was a white woman. Blackness was so hated that one drop of black blood sullied your blood stream and you were relegated into the abyss of blackness in Colonial, Antebellum and Jim Crow America. So Goldberg’s assertion completely dismisses the shared historical experiences that Carson and Obama would have regardless of which one had white parents.
Goldberg’s comment also misses the present day implications. Saving their notoriety, both Carson and Obama would be seen first as black by any policing agency with which they had an encounter. This reality could prove to be deadly as so many encounters have before. So again, Goldberg demonstrates an obtuseness regarding the shared experiences of black Americans that perfectly exemplifies why the entire premise of his article is fatuous.
Finally, Goldberg compares the President’s upbringing in Hawaii to Carson’s poor, single mother upbringing in Detroit almost as to say that growing up in a Detroit “hood” with a missing father makes you an “authentic black” versus growing up in Hawaii. This clearly demonstrates the fact that Goldberg has an archetype image in his mind of what blackness is — as though the hood experience is what defines true blackness– as if there was one definition of what it means to be black in America. Goldberg demonstrates that he clearly has a preconceived notion of blackness.
But the insult added to injury is the entire premise that Goldberg forwards: not noticing one’s blackness is the key to success in the Republican Party. This is insulting for two reasons.
First, pretending not to see race does not represent the end of racism.
Conservatives believe that magically not seeing or not discussing race is the method through which we end racism. Think about that. In their minds, if we don’t discuss our problem with race then the problem will somehow go away. For Goldberg, Carson presents a comfortable iteration of blackness that frees conservatives to discuss the things that are more comfortable to them.
This tactic necessarily erases the unique problems that minorities face in America. This makes it possible for us to sweep the lingering effects of years of racial problems under the carpet and pretend that everything is better now that we aren’t talking about it.
Not discussing racism does nothing more to fix racism than not discussing cancer cures it. To be successful in the Republican Party, a minority must ignore the shared experiences of their group in exchange for the white-washed narrative that completely absolves America of any responsibility for the tensions and baggage the remain.
Second, erasing the shared experiences of black people in America directly benefits the conservative agenda and protects the status quo.
Being black in America comes not only with basic racial problems, but it also includes economic struggles that are clearly exacerbated by neoliberal economic policies and trickle-down economics of conservatives. So to be successful in the GOP, a black person must ignore the plight of so many other African Americans and adopt economic ideologies that are clearly detrimental to the average black American even if it benefits greatly a small segment of African Americans.
To be successful in the GOP, a black person must believe that the economic woes of blacks in America aren’t a function of historical factors, being born into poverty, economic exploitation, or systemic racism that makes it more difficult for African Americans to obtain decent housing and work. No. To be successful in the GOP–to not have anyone notice that you are black–you have to believe that the economic problems in the black community are simply because blacks are lazy.
This conveniently prevents us from discussing the impact that our neoliberal capitalistic system has on the poor and the middle class. If blacks would just work as hard as Ben Carson, then they too would be good conservatives.
Please. No More Comparisons of Blackness By White People
Can we simply agree that it isn’t a good idea? It is insulting and dismissive. But most importantly, when white conservatives make these asinine comparisons, it requires people like me to have to, once again, address matters of race when I’d rather be talking religion, economics and social policy.
So it would be in the best interest of everyone involved if this is the last time a white man so clearly disconnected from the reality of what it is to be black ever make a comparison between the blackness of Carson and Obama.