Through the first few months of campaign season, one thing has become indisputably clear: The Republican Party is the United States’ largest white identity organization, and openly uses white racial resentment — along with old fashioned racism — to win the support of white voters.
To wit: The Republican Party’s leading 2016 presidential candidates include open racists and nativists such as Donald Trump, as well as “dog whistle” racists such as Jeb Bush, who channel Ronald Reagan by way of “Southern Strategy”-inspired narratives about “welfare queens” and lazy blacks who want “free stuff” from white people.
And then, of course, there is the curious case of Ben Carson, who recently said that black people who support the Democrats are essentially stupid, unsophisticated, hyper-emotional, irrational, and incapable of thinking for themselves. In Carson’s delusional alternate reality, Republicans do not “see race,” and, unlike the Democrats, are the real advocates for racial justice and positive change along the color line in the United States.
Ben Carson is not alone in his twisted fantasy land. He is joined by other black conservatives — a select group of racial mercenaries who are routinely trotted out on Fox News and elsewhere — who, to great approval from white conservatives, also repeat the same anti-black propaganda.
The white racist fantasies given credence by black conservatives consist of several repeated themes.
1) Black people are on a Democratic or Liberal “Plantation”
This twisted interpretation of the political agency and intelligence of black Americans is immensely popular on the White Right. The “Democratic Plantation” lie is rooted in a white supremacist fantasy and “Gone with the Wind”-style fairy tale of happy black slaves singing, dancing, having sex, and being protected by benevolent white masters. This racist fiction ignores how black Americans self-manumitted, fought in the Civil War to free themselves, remade democracy with Reconstruction, and then made the reasoned choice to switch over to the Democratic Party en masse because of the policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and then later those of the Johnson and Kennedy administrations.
In reality, the slave “plantation” was a charnel and rape house. It quite literally used the bodies of millions of black people as fuel for (white) American and European empire.
There is a special hostility in the United States towards black Americans and their history of struggle, survival, and freedom. No one on mainstream cable news, among the commentariat, or in the class of political elites would dare to suggest that Jews who support the Democratic Party are in a type of “gas chamber” or “death camp.” Such an egregious insult can only be leveled with impunity at African-Americans.
2) Black people are extremely emotional and are unable to make intelligent political decisions
This white supremacist fantasy reflects centuries-old racist beliefs that white people are supremely rational and that people of color—blacks in particular—are impulsive, unintelligent, libidinous, and impulsive.
On a range of public policy issues, black Americans have shown a remarkable amount of foresight and wisdom, being years or decades ahead of white public opinion on issues such as ending the Iraq War, the failures of George W. Bush’s leadership and administration and access to healthcare, among other issues. Social scientists have also detailed how African-Americans use complex decision making and other heuristics to factor in the realities of life in a racist society, the importance of the Black Freedom Struggle, and individual self-advancement. Some scholars of American politics even go so far as to suggest that black people may be more sophisticated in their political behavior than whites because of the former’s need to more carefully discern power dynamics and be sensitive to political partisanship and ideology.
3) Black Americans vote Democrat because they want “free things”
As I wrote in an earlier essay at Salon, this claim is both a historical, and also overlooks the most basic nature of politics. Politics is fundamentally about receiving benefits from the State. This is the core of interest group behavior, voting, and advocacy. To the degree that black people want “free things” they are no different from any other group. Moreover, in reality, it is White America that has been built on stealing “free stuff” from people of color (most obviously land from First Nations peoples and labor from black folks) and whose members receive a disproportionate amount of subsidies from what is known as “the submerged state”.
4) Black Americans are low-information voters who are ill-informed
As documented by the American Press Institute (API), Black Americans and whites may have slightly different news consumption patterns and habits, but the claim that African-Americans are somehow massively “less informed” than white people is specious.
The API reports that,
“Even with concerns about coverage of their communities in the news, large majorities of African Americans and Hispanics are avid news consumers and their general news habits are similar to national averages. Substantial numbers of Americans say they watch, read, or hear the news at least once a day (76 percent) and also say they enjoy keeping up with the news a lot or some (88 percent).
“But there are some differences by race and ethnicity in the frequency of news consumption. Non-Hispanic whites (80 percent) are more likely to say they get news daily than are African Americans (70 percent) or Hispanics (70 percent).”
The suggestion that black Americans are somehow ignorant and “tricked” into supporting the Democratic Party because they do not have access to correct information is especially absurd given that Fox News viewers, the vast majority of whom are white, constitute one of the least informed publics in the United States.
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These defamations and slurs on the civic virtue, character, and intelligence of Black Americans are easily refuted. However, these lies are still especially dangerous because black conservatives like Ben Carson give them a veneer of truth and authenticity—thus validating the racist anti-black beliefs held by many white Americans.
A question still remains. Why do today’s black conservatives allow themselves to be used this way by the Republican Party?
Black conservatives are highly prized by Republicans. As such,they are well compensated on the lecture circuit, by the right-wing media machine, and are coddled and protected by a network of well-funded conservative think tanks and public relations firms. Their designated role as the “best black friend” for Republicans, the “special” and “good one,” is ego gratifying. And because the Black Freedom Struggle is in many ways a burden that some black folks are either too weak or unwilling to carry, black conservatives from the Reagan era onward have chosen to betray that honorable past for reasons of convenience, cowardice, lucre, and self-aggrandizement.
Black conservatives who channel racist talking points about African-Americans in the service of institutional white power are not a new phenomenon. During chattel slavery, for example, the role of “the driver” on the plantation—the middle manager who was responsible for much of the day-to-day discipline and operation of the slave labor camp—was often a black man. Likewise, for reasons humane (protecting one’s family and kin from white enslavers) and craven (owning black human property to extract wealth and income from their bodies, minds, and labor), a very small number of African-Americans in the antebellum South chose to own slaves.
Some people choose to challenge power by lying down and surrendering to it; others decide to benefit from its injustices and inequalities. The black conservatives in today’s Republican Party have made a strategic choice to do both.