As we approach the end of 2012, with a contentious electoral season behind us and a year of potential ahead of us, I want to try and address some strongly held notions in America's black community that, if we are courageous enough to challenge them, could make 2013 a year of significant change not just for black Americans, but for all of us. The prevailing attitude in the black community in the wake of President Obama's reelection could be stated as follows: "We delivered for you, so now it's time for you to deliver for us." This attitude, in my opinion, is predicated on an unrealistic assumption of how politics works in the real world.
Frankly put, if politicians don't have to work for your affections before the vote, they certainly aren't obligated to reward you afterwards.
One of the more destructive mindsets in the black community when it comes to political institutions is that they are either our "friends" or our "enemies." A famous saying about the proper conduct of foreign policy is paraphrased as follows: "Nations don't have friends; they have interests." The same thing can be said for political parties.
The Democrats who enslaved and oppressed black people for more than a century didn't suddenly fall in love with black people, nor did the Republicans whose very reason for existence was the abolition of slavery and the granting of full citizenship to black Americans, suddenly start hating black people 50 years ago. The fact is that while we behave as if a political party loves or hates us, the parties make decisions on where to devote their time, attention and resources based on what helps them win elections.
We are so beholden, however, to the notion that one party "likes" us and the other one "hates" us that we sell our souls to one and pillory the other, rendering ourselves politically irrelevant.
That is why the Democrats, including the first black president, will bend over backwards to make significant policy concessions to every interest group under the sun except black people, because we tell him "We've got your back," and he knows he just has to throw out a few radio ads reminding us of who loves us to get 96 percent of our vote.
While we swoon over words and expressed feelings, the horrific statistics, reflecting the toll on the black community of broken families, poverty, lack of educational opportunity, crime and untimely death, do not change or get worse.
Meanwhile, the Republicans are called heartless, even racist, for the mere suggestion that the same principles which allowed immigrants from all over the world to come here and succeed can work for us, too, and that current policies are an anchor on our political and economic independence. We reject them decisively at the polls, and so they conclude that courting us is a waste of time.
That's the way to master the art of politics; cause one party to take you for granted, and the other to ignore you. Black historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who argued forcefully for blacks to be politically independent, would declare us fools for such an emotionally driven and short-sighted approach to politics.
Even those who claim their allegiance to one party is based on policy are selling their people short. They make statements like "Big government is us by another name," or blame high black unemployment on the shrinking public sector, or the nation's oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, responds tepidly to the rise of Congressman Tim Scott to the U.S. Senate, making him the only black U.S. senator in the nation, because he stands for a "small government" agenda that's "not within the African-American community's best interest."
If our viability in America as a people depends on the expansion of government, then we are in worse shape than we realize.
The government is broke, and broken.
If you disbelieve that, look at the U.S. debt clock and focus on just two figures, the U.S. national debt near the top, and the U.S. unfunded liabilities near the bottom. The first figure is America's "credit card" debt, and the second is the upcoming bill for services to be rendered. Those numbers alone are staggering, and we've not even factored in state and local public sector debt, which many of us may feel more immediately as essential public services are cut back or eliminated. Even police protection is no longer assured, and once great cities have become war zones as governments have essentially thrown up their hands in defeat.
As even President Obama will admit, "Well, we are out of money now."
As for the government being broken, remember how the government's poor response to Hurricane Katrina was supposedly due to racism? How does one explain their poor response to Hurricane Sandy? Has it occurred to anyone that the ponderous dinosaur from Rome on the Potomac can't handle it?
Has anyone considered the possibility that the unacceptably high poverty rate in the black community might have something to do with government's inability to fix the problem, or that the problem may not be one that can be solved by government, or that government may have perpetuated the problem with their policies?
Is it wise to pursue primarily one remedy for what ails us, effectively putting all our eggs in one increasingly fragile basket?
We black conservatives take a lot of heat from liberals who claim we are too quick to discount the impact of America's tortured racial past on the black community. I can only speak for myself, but I don't dismiss what has happened to black Americans since we first reached the shores of this great nation in the 16th century. From the era of slavery (1526-1865) to the institutionalized discrimination of Jim Crow laws and the domestic terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and thousands of lynchings (1876-1965), American society declared emphatically, and often in violent fashion, that black people were inferior to other human beings and undeserving of the inalienable rights afforded to others. Even the schools where blacks went to "better" themselves perpetuated the lie that blacks were not as capable as other people, as Dr. Woodson highlighted in his signature work, The Miseducation of the Negro.
I've written often about how this constant, centuries-long drumbeat of inferiority and second-class citizenship affected native-born blacks, while their brethren from the Caribbean and Africa, who willingly immigrated to America and lacked such baggage, have been measurably more successful in academics and the professions, even as far back as the early 20th century.
I would add to the history, however, the era of generational dependency (1965-present), in which that same sense of black inferiority has made us susceptible to the notion that our only route to success is through the benevolence of government. This is the same government which, throughout history, either enslaved us, or suppressed or ignored our rights under the law for generations, and which only in the late 20th century took steps to live up to its legal and moral responsibility to protect our rights under the law.
Conservatives are known for their mistrust of government. I submit, however, that after a history of abuse or neglect, and the velveteen racism of dependency politics, which offer a meager existence at best and consign us to lesser homes, lesser schools and lessened expectations, black Americans shouldn't trust government to have our best interests at heart, either.
History can be a compass or an anchor, depending on whether we let it lead us forward or hold us in place. I would contend that we have done the latter to our ongoing detriment.
Our fatal attraction to government, and politicians that advocate its continued expansion and intrusion into our lives, is the path of least resistance, and the temptation to follow it is strong. Yet, the same people who for generations told us we were inferior and could do nothing without them now tell us only they can help us - which is another way of saying we are inferior and can do nothing without them.
Why do we willingly accept this? Are we so desirous of safety and security that we will surrender our dignity and freedom? As Benjamin Franklin famously said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
I continue to be heartened by the voices of my fellow black conservatives, who have become more outspoken and bold in recent years. Our willingness to challenge the conventional wisdom of what we can or cannot do, and our steadfastness in the face of withering and strident insults from white liberals and the black orthodoxy, tells me that we are breaking the cycle of accepting our fate as dictated by others, and seizing for ourselves the reins of our own lives.
That is my hope and prayer for 2013, because I predict the limits of government will become painfully apparent in the months and years to come, and we will need a spirit of victory if we are to survive, and eventually thrive:
Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
~ "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley
I hope you have a blessed and transforming 2013!