Black Conservatism in America Today

Jun 16, 2017 by

IR: How do you begin a conversation with an African American progressive about the merits of conservatism? What’s your elevator pitch?

Chidike: One of the fallacies that black progressives promulgate about black conservatives is that we have nothing to conserve except historically oppressive structures. Black conservatism is often presented as an ideology that is about protecting and preserving white supremacy. This argument is absurd. Black conservatives believe in the preservation of institutions that have been important to black life and survival, such as the nuclear family, the church, and the community. Although conservation is an important part of the black conservative worldview, it is not about the protection of pillars of oppression. Where demonstrably immoral structures exist, the black conservative cannot ethically justify attempting to look for the positive aspects of such structures. The black conservative is justified in subverting and seeking to dismantle oppressive systems. The conservation mind-set of the black conservative applies only to constructs that are both moral and salubrious. The notion that conservatives of African descent must look for the positive aspects in the apparatus of white supremacy is a caricature of black conservative thought.

Aside from the idea of conservation, black conservatism can also be understood as a stringent rejection of the Afro-pessimistic perspective that typifies black progressivism. As one of the key features of modern black progressivism, Afro-pessimism is essentially the belief in the permanence and omnipotence of white supremacy. It is this Afro-pessimism that makes black progressives constantly downplay the racial progress that has occurred in the United States. Afro-pessimism also leads to the promotion of black helplessness in the face of white supremacy. Genuine black conservatives, by contrast, have a viewpoint that focuses on optimism and the belief in the indomitability of the human spirit. Black conservatives believe in the human capacity for greatness and the ability to thrive—with or without the actualization of perfect racial harmony.

IR: You were born in Nigeria and raised in London. How has your experience of these two places formed your understanding and experience of conservatism?

Chidike: Many Nigerians are philosophically conservative, even though that conservatism does not necessarily translate to votes for right-wing parties in the West. Although I am a Nigerian, I identify much more with my Igbo ethnicity. Igbos are ferociously conservative. Aside from the famous entrepreneurialism of Igbo people, which led to the sobriquet “the Jews of Africa,” Igbos are notoriously individualistic. There is a popular adage in Igboland: “Igbo enwe eze.” This translates to “Igbos do not have a king.” The point of this adage is that Igbos are fiercely democratic. While other tribes can be easily led by a potentate who dictates what commoners should and should not do, there is no one man capable of dominating the Igbos with kingly pontifications. This brand of individualism is fundamentally conservative. Immediate parallels between the Igbo philosophy on governance and the Lockean perspective opposing “the divine right of kings” can be drawn.

As a result of the aforementioned individualism baked into Igbo culture and my Christianity, I always grew up philosophically conservative—even if I did not always have the vocabulary needed to express the niceties of my worldview. It is also important to note that my local library while growing up in London was the Marcus Garvey Library. That library was the place where I spent most of childhood and early teenage years. It was my second home. While frequenting a black library named after one of the most consequential black conservatives in history certainly does not guarantee that a young black boy would grow into a black conservative adult, it certainly adds an interesting piece to the puzzle of the social conditioning that led to my philosophical development.

IR: How would you describe the relationship between a black conservative philosophy and conservatism in America today?

Chidike: The relationship between black conservatism and mainstream conservatism in America is deeply problematic. Not only is black conservatism viewed as subordinate to mainstream conservatism, but it is wholly ignored when black conservatives do not engage in the performative anti-black rhetoric many mainstream conservatives enjoy. As long as mainstream conservatives continue to be titillated by anti-black rhetoric coming from the lips of black people, there can never be a harmonious relationship between black conservatism and mainstream conservatism in America. As I have posited in previous essays, there are solution-oriented and fame-oriented black conservatives. Fame-oriented black conservatives are the cartoonish characters promoted in mainstream conservatism.

Source: Black Conservatism in America Today | Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Educating for Liberty

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