Who’s the Audience For Black Conservatives?

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a New York Times column and a post at The Atlantic that say pretty much everything that needs to be said about the current cult of Dr. Ben Carson, who has rapidly morphed from being the brave “lecturer” of the president on the alleged shortcoming of Obamacare into just another African-American “victim” of “liberal racism,” and hence disposable. Unlike a lot of people on both sides of this “controversy,” Coates is personally familiar with Carson and his accomplishments, and finds him generally admirable–up until the moment that he donned “the mask” of “the Conservative Black Hope.”

The problem, notes Coates, is not Carson’s conservatism or his Republicanism:

Some of the most committed black people I know — in some other America — would be Republicans. But in this America, this conservative movement, has a fairly nasty romance with white racism. There are black conservatives (some Republican, some not) who manage to steer clear of this — Bill Cosby, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and possibly Tim Scott. And there are others who, to put it bluntly, profit from it.

Carson lost Coates’ sympathy not when he expressed conservative views, but when, like Herman Cain and Allen West before him, he played the victim of “the plantation” to an audience of white conservatives forever looking for the “anti-Obama” and seeking to invert their own suspect racial attitudes and then project them onto the opposition.

Not all black conservatives see it as their job to tell white racists that they embody the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr….

It’s perfectly respectable to think Obamacare is bad for the country. It’s less respectable to claim that Obama isn’t an African-American. It’s perfectly respectable to believe in a flat tax. It’s less respectable to tell a room full of white people that Obama, isn’t “a strong black man” or that he has “never been a part of the black experience in America.” It’s respectable to believe that the Ryan Budget is the key to the future. It’s less respectable to believe that equating same-sex marriage with child-rape puts you on Harriet Tubman status.

The corollary of that last metaphor — the idea of liberalism as a plantation — is especially noxious and deeply racist. It holds that black people are not really like other adult humans in America — people capable of discerning their interest and voting accordingly — but mental slaves too stupid to know what’s good for them.

When Ben Carson uses this language he is promoting himself at the expense of the community from which he hails. More, he is promoting himself at the expense of the community in which I once saw him labor. That is tragic.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.