Letter to a Young Conservative: Why They Call Us Uncle Toms

Black conservatives like to dismiss criticism from more left-leaning blacks as "they won't let us have our own opinions." But black folks are open to divergent thought -- as long as they know you care about the same things they do.

David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

Ron Christie’s new book on black poindexters getting called out for “acting white” is welcome in many ways. What a year, for one, when we get two books putting paid to the myth that people calling attention to the “acting white” charge are just fantasizing. Not to mention that it’s always good to see smart writing from black people of the right. It’s one more strike against the idea that conservative blacks are brittle, co-opted quislings rather than people with minds of their own.

But on that topic, Christie, a political commentator who was once a special assistant to George W. Bush, did disappoint me in one way, of a sort commonly encountered in books from people of his mind. Christie, like Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, Armstrong Williams and lesser-known conservative black writers, describes black objectors as refusing to allow him to have his own opinions.

As someone who is commonly grouped with those above, I am quite familiar with the kind of flak that Christie and the others have taken. And in that light, I respectfully suggest that the idea that black people are strangely opposed to ideological diversity is incorrect. It is not why people like Christie and me get called Uncle Toms and so on.

I find myself with advice I would give to the increasing numbers of young blacks disputing the old orthodoxies on race who will be writing ever more books and columns and blogs in the future.

Here goes: Thinking that black people just “won’t let you have your own opinion” leaves the debate at a stalemate, because it is a misunderstanding of what is behind all the name-calling. It is safe to say that not a single black person, asked whether he or she thinks that all black people should think alike, would say yes.

The problem black people have is with a certain realm of black thought, and their problem with it is, on its face, sensible. Their objection is not as easily dismissed as a mere dumbbell notion that all black people are supposed to think alike.

The people calling you names operate on a basic proposition: that racism remains black people’s main problem, even though today it is generally more institutional than overt. They feel that, short of the elimination of this racism, poor black people will be incapable of improving their lives. To them, the main job of black people of influence is to continually remind America of this, and those who do not do this risk distracting white America into leaving poor blacks in the mire.

Note: This position is neither silly nor the ravings of a “victicrat.”