Black Conservative Intellectuals in Modern America

Black Conservative Intellectuals in Modern America

Michael L. Ondaatje
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Black Conservative Intellectuals in Modern America
    Book Description:

    In the last three decades, a brand of black conservatism espoused by a controversial group of African American intellectuals has become a fixture in the nation's political landscape, its proponents having shaped policy debates over some of the most pressing matters that confront contemporary American society. Their ideas, though, have been neglected by scholars of the African American experience-and much of the responsibility for explaining black conservatism's historical and contemporary significance has fallen to highly partisan journalists. Typically, those pundits have addressed black conservatives as an undifferentiated mass, proclaiming them good or bad, right or wrong, color-blind visionaries or Uncle Toms. In Black Conservative Intellectuals in Modern America, Michael L. Ondaatje delves deeply into the historical archive to chronicle the origins of black conservatism in the United States from the early 1980s to the present. Focusing on three significant policy issues-affirmative action, welfare, and education-Ondaatje critically engages with the ideas of nine of the most influential black conservatives. He further documents how their ideas were received, both by white conservatives eager to capitalize on black support for their ideas and by activists on the left who too often sought to impugn the motives of black conservatives instead of challenging the merits of their claims. While Ondaatje's investigation uncovers the themes and issues that link these voices together, he debunks the myth of a monolithic black conservatism. Figures such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the Hoover Institution's Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele, and cultural theorist John McWhorter emerge as individuals with their own distinct understandings of and relationships to the conservative political tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0687-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    So, in 1980, wrote Thomas Sowell, free-market economist and unofficial godfather of the “black right,” delivering a stinging rebuke to the liberal critics of modern black conservatism. Although amusing, Sowell’s penchant for sarcasm in this instance masks an interesting point. When one considers the extent to which American conservatism has historically been conditioned by racist notions of black inferiority, the existence of powerful conservative black spokespeople is indeed quite astonishing. Putting to one side Sowell’s playful allusions to transvestites, vegetarians, and bird watchers, the obvious question becomes: “What does it mean to be both black and conservative in America?” The...

  4. Chapter 1 Profiles of an Intellectual Vanguard
    (pp. 25-54)

    During the 1980s and 1990s, a relatively small group of right-wing African American intellectuals—supported by the networks and institutions of the New Right—defined the parameters of contemporary black conservative thought. Derided by progressive critics for lacking racial and cultural authenticity, these intellectuals frequently hit back by writing in personal and political terms about their dual heritage as African Americans. On the one hand, the black conservatives emphasized humble origins—the fact that many of them had grown up poor in black communities before “making it”—to establish their authority to speak to the myriad problems confronting African Americans....

  5. Chapter 2 Affirmative Action Dilemmas
    (pp. 55-91)

    Affirmative action, the policy of giving preferences for jobs, university admissions, or government contracts to members of historically oppressed racial groups, has long been a source of division in American political life. Forged out of the cauldron of black insurgency at the height of the civil rights movement, affirmative action was intended to be a corrective to generations of entrenched racial discrimination in educational institutions and the workplace; a challenge to social structures that, for centuries, had denied blacks’ equality and preserved the racist status quo. That a practice seemingly so at odds with one of the most celebrated American...

  6. Chapter 3 Partisans of the Poor?
    (pp. 92-124)

    At the dawn of the twenty-first century, nearly one-third of all African Americans were living below the poverty line, compared with 10 percent of whites. Single women headed half of all black families and more than two-thirds of all black children were born out of wedlock. Over one-quarter of African American men aged between eighteen and thirty were either in prison, on probation, or awaiting trial. And black life expectancy was lower than that of any other group in America, comparable even to that of some Third World countries.¹ Confronted with these alarming realities, scholars and activists have asked why?...

  7. Chapter 4 Visions of School Reform
    (pp. 125-154)

    On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court handed down the landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that laws man-dating racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional. The unanimous verdict, which overturned the pernicious separate but equal doctrine established fifty-eight years earlier in Plessy v. Ferguson, rocked the nation to its foundations, leaving a diverse array of ideological forces fighting over the social and political significance of the Court’s finding. While conservatives and white supremacists of the day sought to cast Brown as a reckless piece of judicial activism that indulged those perfidious liberal proponents...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 155-156)

    From the time of their emergence at the dawn of the Reagan era, black conservative intellectuals were an integral part of the wider conservative movement’s drive to overturn racial liberalism and recapture the nation’s traditional soul. To suggest that these intellectuals stirred emotions along the way—in speaking to the conservative thrust in domestic politics on behalf of black people—would be a gross understatement, obscuring just how contested their presence in modern America proved to be. Yet, for too long, the virulent nature of the commentary focused on this phenomenon centered on the black conservatives’ presence alone and served...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 157-208)
  10. Index
    (pp. 209-218)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 219-220)