Black conservatism

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Black conservatism is a political and social philosophy rooted in communities of African descent that aligns largely with the conservative ideology around the world. Black conservatives emphasize traditionalism, patriotism, self-sufficiency, free market capitalism, and strong cultural and social conservatism within the context of the black church.[1] In the United States it is often, but not exclusively, associated with the Republican Party. Melissa Harris-Lacewell (now Melissa Harris-Perry), an outspoken liberal commentator, defines black conservatism as "advocating the idea that African Americans must be entirely self-sufficient, and demanding no official recognition of or redress for any historical or contemporary inequalities stemming from racial discrimination."[2]

The Reconstruction era began the greatest shift of conservative African Americans in American politics in modern history. During the Reconstruction era, black voters began to align themselves more with the Republican party and its conservative ideologies.[3] Under Roosevelt's administration, during his first two terms, there was not a single piece of civil rights legislation that was made into law and in the following election the black vote became more split.[4] In 1964, the Kennedy-Johnson campaign promoted civil rights as a central issue and during their administration, they passed anti-discrimination legislation, gaining the black vote. Since then, the Democratic Party has held a majority of the black votes in America.[5]


Black conservatism is criticized for seemingly being an oxymoron. Russian anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin brought many questions of the possibility of being black and being conservative when he mocked their ability to be genuine.[6] He explained his belief that conservatism has underlying themes of racism so black conservatives are "a freak of nature" and those who take advantage of conservatism for their own personal gain are opportunists and complicit in the oppression of their own people.[6]

Black conservatism is particularly difficult to define because it will either not be representative of all black conservatives or it will be something that can be said of other conservatives outside of the black community.[7] One of the main characteristics of black conservatism is its emphasis on personal responsibility and traditionalism.[1] Black conservatives may find common ground with black nationalists through their common belief in black empowerment and the theory that black people have been duped by the welfare state. For many black conservatives, the singular objective is to bring social redemption and economic success to the black community.[6]


Black conservatism in the United Kingdom[edit]

While there was an early link in the 18th century between Black Britons, mainly former slaves, and the abolitionist conservatives who successfully sought the end of the slave trade in 1807 many Black Britons have not traditionally supported conservative policies. This in some part emerged from the hostility of the Conservative Party to immigration from the Commonwealth during the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in the infamous Rivers of Blood speech delivered by leading Conservative MP, Enoch Powell. Despite this, there has long been a small number of conservative blacks. In recent years the Conservatives have attempted to undo the long-standing conservative prejudices, by attacking racism and trying to cultivate more of a following amongst the black community. Compared to the United States, the racial divide in the United Kingdom is not a party divide due to the difference in racial relations.[8]

Increasingly more black and ethnic minority figures are being appointed and elected to positions within the Conservative Party. Notable black Conservatives in the United Kingdom include Lord Taylor of Warwick,[9] Adam Afriyie MP,[10] Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones,[11] James Cleverly,[12] Kemi Badenoch,[13] and solicitor and businesswoman Helen Grant.[14] Boxer Frank Bruno has also been a vocal supporter of the Conservative Party.

In recent years, the eurosceptic UK Independence Party has also selected a number of ethnic minority and black candidates to stand for office, including London Assembly member David Kurten,[15] and MEP Steven Woolfe.[16]

Black conservatism in Canada[edit]

Notable black conservatives in Canada include Senator Anne Cools and Senator Donald Oliver,[17] both of whom serve in the Senate of Canada. Senator Oliver is a member of the Conservative Party of Canada, while Cools is a non-aligned Senator recognized as voting mainly with the Conservative caucus. Lincoln Alexander was Canada's first black MP, and served as a Federal Member of Parliament between 1968 and 1980 in the riding of Hamilton West. Former Alberta MLA Lindsay Blackett is a member of the Conservative Party.

Black conservatism in the United States[edit]

Black conservatism in the United States is a political and social movement that aligns largely with the American conservative movement. During slavery, there was a divide between free blacks and slaves. As black people became released from slavery, they assimilated to white American culture in order to maintain a place in the social order. This is where characteristics of contemporary black conservatism began to develop.[7] The argument behind this was the idea that if black people follow the rules of White America, then there will be no choice but to accept them into the social system.[18] Since the Civil Rights Movement in the latter 20th Century, the African-American community has generally swung to the left of the right-wing conservative movement, and has predominantly favored itself on the side of liberalism. Black conservatism emphasizes traditionalism, strong patriotism, capitalism, free markets, and opposition to abortion and gay marriage in the context of the black church.

In the post civil rights-era there was a push for continuous assimilation and, as a result, some black individuals aligned themselves with the conservative movement and accepted the idea of a color-blind society. In his book, The Content of Our Character," Shelby Steele offers an interpretation of the color-blind society ideology and why people should accept it. He claims that during slavery, black individuals were forced to cling to their black identities in order to build community and have since mistakenly clung to that same rhetoric under the impression that it is still the most valuable tool to excel.[19] He argues that this is dangerous because it frames black individuals as victims and “pulls [blacks] into war-like defensiveness at a time where there is more opportunity for development than ever before."[19] The idea was that if black individuals ceased to see themselves as victims of oppressive forces, then they could be seen as equals to their white counterparts. The color-blind argument has not yet been proven by empirical data and fails to reconcile institutionalized racism.[20] For example, it has not taken into account how practices such as having two equally qualified individuals apply for a job and having one be chosen for the position or paid more for the job as a result of their racial identity fit into the conceptual argument.

Some elected black conservatives include Florida representative Allen West, U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Oklahoma representative J.C. Watts, and former Connecticut representative Gary Franks. Other notable black conservatives include economist Thomas Sowell, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, perennial political candidate Alan Keyes, and Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. In 2009, Michael Steele became the first black man to chair the Republican National Committee. In 2011, Herman Cain was considered the leading Republican presidential nominee for a period of time. In addition there are a number of up and coming voices in the arena of political talks shows, and guest analysts such as Dr. Carol Swain, professor of political science from Vanderbilt University with multiple appearances on CNN, Fox News, PBS, C-SPAN, and ABC Headline News.

More recently, Ben Carson, a renowned African-American author and neurosurgeon, announced his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination in his hometown Detroit in May 2015, but ultimately lost the nomination to Donald Trump and officially ended his campaign in March 2016.[21] After Trump won the 2016 Presidential election, Carson was offered the role of United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, which he at first rejected but ultimately accepted,[22] and was officially confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Secretary in a 58-41 vote the same month.[23]

Kanye West, a critically acclaimed African-American rapper and songwriter and husband of fellow celebrity Kim Kardashian, has on several occasions publicly expressed support for U.S. President Donald Trump,[24] stating once that had he would have voted for Trump in the election,[25] as well as for millennial conservative commentary Candace Owens.[26] West has also stated a possible interest in running for President in future elections.[27]

Black conservatism in Africa[edit]

In the Post–Cold War era, a number of avowedly-conservative parties have developed in most African countries. In countries where the population is divided by religion (i.e., Nigeria), conservative parties are often formed and constituted to target specific religions in their areas of greatest political dominance, although some have argued that many African political parties lack the same kind of ideological conflict that is common in Western countries.[28][29]

Black conservative ideologies[edit]

Color-blind America[edit]

The colorblind America argument is one that often comes up in conservative discourse. It is the idea the decisions and legislation are made without regard to racial identity (cite). Black conservatives assert that, because there has been a post-civil rights era push in the conservative movement to rally behind this colorblind conservative ideology, that it actually hinders the black community's progress to oppose it.[20] They claim that by refusing to recognize this discourse, black individuals are not focusing on racial development.[19] This partially explains the opposition to affirmative action amongst black conservatives. They claim that this type of government intervention in black mobility actually does more to question the ability of black individuals to succeed than it does to provide well-earned opportunity that would otherwise be inaccessible.[20]


Individualism is where individuals are personally responsible for pursuing success in their own self-interest.[30] Black conservatives are in favor of individualism and oppose government interventions such as affirmative action because they do not want it to raise the question of whether or not they deserve the successes they have achieved or if they took part in what some refer to as "reverse racism."[31] Black conservatives oppose policies such as Affirmative Action that were created with the intention of creating opportunity for minorities who have been historically oppressed in the United States. Black conservatives justify this because they are opposed to any policy that may be perceived by Whites as an unearned benefit or a handout.[32] Clarence Thomas described affirmative action as problematic because it reinforces stereotypes of black individuals being inferior. He claimed it leads to personal doubt and stifles individuality.

Christian evangelism[edit]

Conservatives seek to preserve institutions like the Church, monarchy and the social hierarchy, as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others, called reactionaries, oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were." Historian Gregory Schneider identifies several constants in American conservatism: respect for tradition, support of republicanism, "the rule of law and the Christian religion," and a defense of "Western civilization from the challenges of modernist culture and totalitarian governments."[33] Black conservatives are motivated by two of the values of general conservative thought, for the love of God and country.[34] The black church specifically is linked to Christian evangelism and a dependence on God and his plans. These plans are part of what allow Black conservatives to get behind the ideas of individualism that conservatism is built on. Though it may seem antithetical to reconcile the history of slavery and segregation with the ideas of complete American freedom and equality, it is actually the hope of reaching that goal without having to depend on their oppressors that makes individualism appealing to some people in the black community.[34]

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll, African-Americans today are generally found to be more likely to identify as Christian and Protestant than whites, Latinos and Asians in the United States, with 79% of black Americans identifying as Christian compared to 77% of Latinos and 70% of white Americans.[35]

Social issues[edit]

Similarly to white and Hispanic Americans, African-American stances on social issues can sometimes be influenced by religious beliefs as well. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, 44% of Black Protestants supported gay marriage, compared with 67% of Catholics and 68% of "white mainline Protestants".[36] In another Pew poll conducted around the same time, Black Protestants are also sharply divided on the issue of abortion, with a slight majority of 55% saying it should be legal in most or all cases, and 44% believing it should be illegal.[37]

Black conservatives in the media[edit]

There tends to generally be a negative perception of Black conservatives in the media. Within the Black community they are sometimes even regarded as racial traitors.[38] Justice Clarence Thomas once said that, "to be Black, one had to espouse leftist ideas and Democratic politics. Any Black who deviated from the ideological litany of requisites was an oddity and was to be cut from the herd and attacked."[39] There are few African-Americans who are outwardly conservative because many in the media struggle to reconcile Black conservatives within some conservative ideology that may seem inherently racist. For example, film director Spike Lee once called the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas a "handkerchief head, a chicken, and a biscuit-eating Uncle Tom" for his conservative views.[40]

Though Black conservatives are a minority of a minority, backlash against them often goes unreported. A billboard of Florida's Fifth District Gloreatha Scurry-Smith was vandalized and her face had been spray-painted white. Smith was hesitant to even go public with the event for fear of steering the conversation away from the district's issues. Even then, the media did not seem to want to feature it and the incident really only reached local news outlets.[citation needed]

Former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele was pelted with Oreo cookies at a 2002 debate held at Morgan State University. Members of the clean up crew at the event claimed to having never seen the Oreos or cleaned any off of the stage. The incident did not get much coverage at the time, but was revisited when he decided to run for a U.S. Senate position years later.[41]

Notable black conservatives in politics[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dawson, Michael (2002). Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary African-American Political Ideologies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226138619.
  2. ^ Harris-Lacewell, Melissa Victoria (2004-01-01). Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691126098. JSTOR j.ctt7s44h.
  3. ^ Myers, Tyler (2011). "African-American Trailblazers: The Sociopolitical Factors of Success". Scholar Commons. 31.
  4. ^ Huckfeldt, Robert (1989). Race and the Decline of Class in American Politics. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252016009.
  5. ^ Tate, Katherine. From Protests to Politics: The New Black Voters in American Elections. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. pp. 1–238. ISBN 9780674325401.
  6. ^ a b c Ondaatje, Michael (2010). Black Conservative Intellectuals in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 220. ISBN 9780812242065.
  7. ^ a b Lewis, Angela K. (2005-01-01). "Black Conservatism in America". Journal of African American Studies. 8 (4): 37. JSTOR 41819065.
  8. ^ Rich, Paul (1986). Conservative Ideology and Race in Modern British Politics. Springer. pp. 45–72. ISBN 9780333393505 – via Springer.
  9. ^ "Home - Lord Taylor of Warwick". Lord Taylor of Warwick. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  10. ^ "Adam Afriyie, MP For Windsor - Working hard for you". Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  11. ^ Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones - Profile - Conservative Party Archived April 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "I've moved". 12 January 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  13. ^ "TheWorkForYou". Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  14. ^ "Helen Grant - Home". Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  15. ^ "Official website". Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  16. ^ "Labour and UKIP secure three MEPs, wiping out BNP and Liberal Democrats". Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-09. Retrieved 2008-12-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ Eisenstadt, Peter (1999). Black Conservatism: Essays in Intellectual and Political History. Taylor and Francis, Inc. ISBN 9780815324645.
  19. ^ a b c Steele, Shelby (1991). The Content of Our Character. Harper Collins. pp. 1–192. ISBN 9780060974152.
  20. ^ a b c Kilson, Martin (1993). "Anatomy of Black Conservatism". Transition. 59: 1–16. JSTOR 2934868.
  21. ^ Jerde, Sara (March 10, 2016). "Report: Ben Carson Plans To Endorse Trump On Friday". Talking Points Memo.
  22. ^ "Trump offers Ben Carson HUD secretary job". New York Post. November 22, 2016.
  23. ^ "Senate roll call vote PN34". Retrieved 2018-07-28.
  24. ^ "Kanye West says Trump hat 'made me feel like Superman'". BBC. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  25. ^ "Kanye West: I didn't vote but if I did, 'I would have voted for Trump'". USA TODAY. November 18, 2016. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  26. ^ "Kanye West says 'I love Donald Trump', likes how Candace Owens 'challenges conventional black thought'". The Independent. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  27. ^ Iasimone, Ashley (September 1, 2018). "Kanye West Reaffirms He Wants to Run for President: 'It 100 Percent Could Happen'". Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  28. ^ Nigerian Parties and Political Ideology
  29. ^ Nigerian Political Parties Lack Political Differences Channels TV
  30. ^ Healy, Geraldine. "Individualism and collectivism revisited: astudy of black and minority ethnic women". Industrial Relations Journal. 35.
  31. ^ Roosevelt Thomas, R (1990). "From Affirmative Action to Affirming Diversity" (PDF). Harvard Business Review. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-08-09. Retrieved 2016-12-22.
  32. ^ Lewis, Angela K. (2005-01-01). "Black Conservatism in America". Journal of African American Studies. 8 (4): 31. JSTOR 41819065.
  33. ^ Schneider, Gregory (2009). The Conservative Century: From Reaction to Revolution. Roman & Littlefield. pp. xii.
  34. ^ a b Bracey, Christopher Alan (2008). Saviors or Sellouts: The Promise and Peril of Black Conservatism, from Booker T. Washington to Condoleezza Rice. Beacon Press. pp. 1–223. ISBN 9780807083758.
  35. ^ Black Americans are more likely than overall public to be Christian, Protestant Pew Research Center
  36. ^ Changing Attitudes on Gay Marriage
  37. ^ Public Opinion on Abortion
  38. ^ "What Do Liberals Say to a Black Conservative?". CNS News. 2014-02-09. Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  39. ^ ""Lionel McPherson, "The Loudest Silence Ever Heard": Black Conservatives in the Media". Retrieved 2016-12-07.
  40. ^ Thornton, J (July 15, 1991). "Black Conservatism" – via U.S. News and World Report.
  41. ^ Reporter, Jason Cherkis; Editor, The Huffington Post Sam Stein Senior Politics; Post, The Huffington (2016-02-17). "How A Rising Black Republican Was Confronted By Racism On The Trail". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2016-12-07.

External links[edit]


Black libertarian blogs[edit]