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This Wasn't King's Dream - African-American's Shackled to Liberal Hegemony

By Robert E. Meyer

January 16, 2006


In 1983 Congress passed a bill signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, commemorating the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a special holiday. Most young people who were born after, or who donít remember Dr. Kingís assassination in 1968, still recognize him as a great civil rights leader and activist for racial equality. He is most famous for his statements that people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

 

But something has gone wrong and tainted the spirit of Kingís vision of diversity. While African-Americans have made steady progress and great cultural strides since 1968, there exists a great hurdle yet to be surmounted. The final frontier is that of political and ideological stratification throughout society among the African-American community, particularly as it is reflected at the polls.

 

In the last two elections, the Democratic candidate for president has received an overwhelming majority of the Black votes, yet it is doubtful that this accurately indicates the values and ideology of the group as a whole. For example, are 90% of African-Americans in favor of abortion on demand, against the war in Iraq, or balking about Social Security reform? I doubt it, but it seems reasonable to ask why this voting tendency persists then.

 

My theory is simple. It has to do with expectations and stereotypes that are themselves prejudicial and demeaning. People simply expect that African-Americans are going to vote for liberal candidates, and this prejudice is unfortunately perpetuated by both Blacks and Whites within their own ethnic communities.

 

I asked a colleague about this voting pattern. His innocent reply was that African-Americans knew that the Democrats would take care better of them than Republicans or a minor party. What could be more condescending? Why did he suppose that they would view social justice as someone taking care of them? How is that assumption justified?

 

But this mind set prevails within the black community itself. A few years ago I was conversing with a Black shopkeeper in St. Petersburg, Florida. During the course of the discussion, he articulated several philosophical positions that were obviously conservative in nature. But then he sadly commented that many of his friends despised him for holding those views.

 

My experience is hardly an isolated anecdote, either. Look at notable African-American conservatives, and how they are impugned within their own communities or by the media. Think of people like Clarence Thomas, US. Secretary of State Rice, Marylandís Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, and even recently, Bill Cosby. These people among others, are often vilified for their positions by groups and individuals of their own race claiming to represent "mainstream" African-Americans. The dirty little secret is that political stratification among Blacks is discouraged. Those who run against the grain often pay the price for not towing the line. The institutional complex loathes those who have achieved success apart from the apparatus normally provided.

 

Are there any such expectations or limitations among Whites? Does anyone say, "Here is a white guy, he ought to be conservative?" Does anyone suggest that Caucasian folks are betraying "their people" because of their voting preference or their political philosophy? Until we as a society give up this mode of expectation, we display a latent racial prejudice. What is more important, we reinforce a barrier to true ideological diversity.

 

There is political inertia that keeps this trend in place. If one political party gets the patronage of most African-Americans, it becomes easy to take their votes for granted. They do little but to repeat the slogans that they have echoed for more than four decades. In the opposite political party, you might tend to give up trying to present yourself in a way that is more appealing, thus giving the impression of indifference. There is much to be gained or lost depending on the perspective.

 

Liberals understand that a loss of a moderate portion of their African-American political constituency could be fatal to their future political influence. They are therefore desperate to maintain the status quo.

 

People of color must unshackle themselves from the yoke of patronage that artificially suppresses their autonomy of prerogative-- the last obstacle to the cultural mobility that Dr.King envisioned.

 

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