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.
I suggest doing some research on America Works, which helps former welfare recipients get and keep jobs; the National Fatherhood Initiative, bringing fathers back into contact with their children, usually after prison stints; and the Harlem Children's Zone, which is fighting poverty block by block and being imitated nationwide.
Most black people will be happy to let you have your conservative opinion if you just show that yours, like theirs, is intended to help people. This is true even of the Wax argument, although you'll have to be prepared to push a little harder to elucidate how charging people with responsibility is a form of helping them. (Having to do so is something that would have shocked black community leaders in 1950, but I digress.)
Oh, yeah: Be prepared for the objection, "I don't think there has to be no racism, but there still has to be less before poor black people can get anywhere." The proper answer here is, "How much less racism does there need to be? And why, exactly?" Almost always, the discussion gets more useful at this point; few have had occasion to think about such a question.
But make no mistake -- you will never reach some. There's the type who are as irritated by a black writer straying from holding racism front and center as by a stray eyelash in their eye. But they are a minority. My impression is that their numbers decrease by the year. What matters is the majority capable of listening.
Black "controversialists" are fond of writing about how their black detractors are professional victims. Yet we fall into the same trap when whimpering about an oversimplification, like people "not letting us have our own opinions." If blacks on the left are responsible for serious listening to truly different opinions, so are blacks on the right.
If you're a young black person feeling rightish and itching to jump in, keep all of this in mind.
John McWhorter is a regular contributor to The Root. He is the author of Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.