You Don’t Own Me
I’ve been a user of social media since before the term was even coined. I was using GEnie and CompuServe in the late 1980s, and was a charter member of AOL when it was first released on the PC under a long-gone desktop operating system and application suite called GeoWorks. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to witness and experience first-hand the impact of Internet-driven community building on the culture as a whole. The effect has been largely positive in terms of connecting like-minded people together on a scale and scope never before imagined.
In my early forays on Facebook, I remember connecting with conservative black men and women online, and the initial reaction from each of them was always the same; “I didn’t know there was anyone else out there like me.” The reaction on Twitter, where I was active at a time when people looked at you quizzically when you told them you were tweeting, was similar. We started to forge bonds and establish relationships, and we actively sought out others to join us. Barack Obama’s election to the presidency in 2008 seemed to energize black conservatives, something which still mystifies me a bit. Perhaps the thinking was that his election signaled an end to racial politics in America, and black people could finally be the diverse and unique individuals they’ve always been, but couldn’t show publicly in the past because there was only one approved socio-political narrative allowed in the black community. That sounds tenuous to me, but I don’t have another explanation.
Whatever the case, black conservatives became more visible and vocal than at any time in generations. They started blogging, posting, tweeting and, in every way possible, expressing their social and political views, and their disagreements with President Obama, doing so with great conviction and without fear of reprisal.
This boldness manifested itself in the electoral sphere as well. More blacks ran for the U.S. Congress as Republicans in 2010, for example, than at any time since Reconstruction, and two of them, Allen West of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina, won, with West becoming the first black Republican in Congress from Florida since 1876, and Scott the first from South Carolina since 1901. They were the first black Republicans in Congress since J.C. Watts stepped down in 2003 after four terms as a congressman from Oklahoma, and it was the first time since 1997 that two black Republicans served together in Congress, Watts and Gary Franks from Connecticut preceding them.
Businessman and media personality Herman Cain ran for the office of president early in the 2012 campaign season, and he was a viable contender and a rallying point for black conservatives before allegations, to date unsubstantiated, of prior sexual harassment ended his campaign. New GOP stars like Mia Love and Artur Davis joined West, Scott, Cain, and Condoleeza Rice as the face of black conservatism in American politics, and long-time black conservative thinkers, writers, politicos and advocates like Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Shelby Steele, Ken Blackwell, Michael Steele and Star Parker, to name a few, saw their profiles rise anew in today’s conservative blogosphere and social media space.
Social media has had another, more negative impact, however, and that is how it has emboldened bullies, demagogues and agitators, tucked safely behind their keyboards and monitor screens, or their smartphones, to lash out at anyone with whom they disagree.
Black conservatives pose a particular threat to the orthodoxy of black reliance on white liberals and their coercive utopian schemes, enabled by government fiat. Therefore, some of the vilest and most bigoted attacks are reserved for any black person who dares to think differently than the assimilated black community and their white liberal “friends.” It is one of the few times when white people can spew racially-charged statements at black people and not get in trouble for it, and they seem almost giddy at the prospect of freely expressing their contempt for black people that don’t follow their lead.
Black conservative women, in my opinion, get the worst of it, because this latent racism is blended with misogyny to create an angry brew of vitriol unlike any our parents would have tolerated in a day when the culture was more respectful and less coarse. I won’t repeat the slurs hurled at these women, but whether it’s a candidate for the U.S. Congress like Mia Love of Utah, a former Secretary of State like Condoleeza Rice, or a beautiful actress like Stacey Dash, their achievements in life, which in my parents’ day would have made them role models, are dashed against the rocks of hatred because their values, observations and experiences led them to a different conclusion than the masses.
For the most part, we knew the job was dangerous when we took it. Part of having the courage of one’s convictions includes being willing to suffer in defense of them, and so most of us take the slings and arrows with grace and humor, and some of us bite back! But a recent article by Angela West, the wife of the aforementioned Rep. Allen West of Florida, mentioned something that I hadn’t thought of before, and I wanted to extract that thought from her remarks and bring some attention to it. In repudiating the attacks against her husband, she stated:
This vitriol, the total abandonment of objectivity by the press, the anger and so forth have as their origins a feeling of ownership. The idea that a person of color — in particular a Black American should not tow the Democratic line is totally abhorrent to many liberals. For this aberration, they will suspend all rules of decency, all morality, throw away any journalistic professionalism in order to destroy the offender.
The word in Ms. West’s statement that caught my attention is “ownership.” Implicit in the attacks against black conservatives is the notion that the self-anointed black leadership, their followers, and the white liberals who enable them, have exclusive possession of the truth and are entitled to shun anyone, by any means necessary, who questions them.
The most common insult hurled at black conservatives by the black orthodoxy and their white enablers is that they aren’t really “black,” suggesting that, like gods walking the earth, they created black people and are therefore the sole authority on who is authentically black.
It amazes me that black people as a whole are not insulted by the notion that we all must conform to a prescribed way of behavior and thinking, or else be ostracized. Didn’t we fight for generations to be recognized as Americans and human beings, equal under the law and in the sight of God, because we were told to conform to society’s definition of blackness or suffer the consequences, even unto death? Have we forgotten what often happened to black people who were perceived as “uppity” because they dared to question the status forced upon them? Why, knowing that history, would we then demand the same fealty within our own community?
Black conservatives are not being lynched, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of liberals from wishing a violent death upon them. None of us fear the threats of violence or death from the keyboard commandos and the so-called “progressives,” but it’s instructive to know that they are so offended by our rejection of their ownership privileges that they wish we were dead.
Ms. West said one of the slurs used against her husband is “ingrate,” meaning he’s ungrateful for what black and white liberals, using the power of government, have done for him. Not only does this imply that he and other black conservatives are in debt to liberals and the federal government whose growth they espouse, it suggests that they’ve done something for us that is worthy of gratitude.
Let’s get one thing straight; while I am mindful of the many great men and women throughout history who sacrificed everything, in many cases their lives, so I could enjoy the liberties I have today, do their individual heroics require me to be indebted to the federal government simply because it belatedly, and under duress, chose to honor its commitment to provide me, as a citizen, equal protection under the law? Do I owe them my unquestioning allegiance for doing what they should have been doing all along? Let me answer that – emphatically, unequivocally NO:
Blacks who believe they owe their allegiance to the federal government because of its intervention on their behalf against slavery and discrimination are missing this point. Government’s intervention when justice is denied is a constitutional duty, not a gift that was given to us. My wife doesn’t reward me for household chores—they are my obligation for living in a shared household. Neither do I reward government for doing its job, nor should you. ~ SELLOUT: Musings from Uncle Tom’s Porch
This is the attitude of people who believe our rights come from government, not God. If the federal government was the final arbiter of our rights, then it would have had the moral authority to keep black people under subjugation. It is the law which is written on the hearts of men by their Creator, and codified in our founding documents, that stirred the conscience of a nation and took us through the fires of war, domestic terror and civil unrest to get us to the point where the government finally acknowledged its subordination to our God-given rights as men and women. My gratitude is to the God who created me, not to government or those who seek to have me bow down to it.
Moreover, when I see the black community still suffering after half a century of government intervention and tens of trillions of dollars spent, it only adds to my incredulity over what exactly they’ve done for which I’m supposed to be obsequious with gratitude. We were warned at the dawn of this massive social experiment on the black community that the dissolution of the black family would lead to our destruction, yet government supposed itself to be superior to the first and most effective unit of governance on the planet – a married mother and father providing shelter, safety and stability to the children they conceive. Every crisis we’ve identified in the black community can be traced to the breakdown of the family, irrespective of environmental factors, and this is an outcome to which government has been a contributor. What precisely warrants my gratitude?
As far back as 1865, wise and prescient black leaders have contended with the good intentions and flawed policies of well-meaning people. Frederick Douglass was annoyed with the hand-wringing of white people who wondered “What shall we do with the Negro?” They saw them then and, in my opinion, still do to this day, as “the white man’s burden,” to use the old British phrase, in need of constant assistance to even survive, much less thrive as the white man does:
I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot- box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone,–your interference is doing him a positive injury.
All we ever asked, once we were assured of equal protection under the law, was to be left alone to live our lives like every other free man and woman in America. It seems, however, that liberals can’t help themselves and continue to “play the mischief with us.” Black conservatives don’t want government’s help to become equal – we simply want their help to be free:
With all [our] blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens–a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities. ~ Thomas Jefferson, 1st Inaugural Address, 1801
In the final analysis, the heated criticisms of black conservatives amount to no more than clanging cymbals, because we owe our critics nothing, and they do not own us despite their repeated attempts to bully and intimidate us into surrendering our freedom of conscience, and adopting the hive mind of the black orthodoxy. The greatest fear of the slave-owners was that their slaves would learn to read, because if they were able to learn, they were no longer useful because they would become discontented with their lot as slaves. Frederick Douglass recalled how one of his masters, Hugh Auld, scolded his wife for teaching Douglass how to read so he could at least read the Bible:
Master Hugh was astounded beyond measure and, probably for the first time, proceeded to unfold to his wife the true philosophy of the slave system, and the peculiar rules necessary in the nature of the case to be observed in the management of human chattels. Of course he forbade her to give me any further instruction, telling her in the first place that to do so was unlawful, as it was also unsafe; “for,” said he, “if you give a nigger an inch he will take an ell. Learning will spoil the best nigger in the world. If he learns to read the Bible it will forever unfit him to be a slave. He should know nothing but the will of his master, and learn to obey it. As to himself, learning will do him no good, but a great deal of harm, making him disconsolate and unhappy. If you teach him how to read, he’ll want to know how to write, and this accomplished, he’ll be running away with himself.”
Douglass, in an 1861 speech, declared, “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power.”
Black people were once the victims of bullying and intimidation to suppress our freedom of conscience and, based on our experiences alone, we should never be the instigators of such vitriolic attacks on another’s freedom to think, believe and act on those beliefs. Freedom of conscience is the wellspring from which all other freedoms flow, and while we may be physically chained by iron shackles, or legally bound by unjust laws, if our minds are free, we are never fully enslaved.