By Raynard Jackson
Within the Republican Party, there is what I call this mystery of the black conservative. Let me explain.
Over the years, I have had a running conversation with leading conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Ollie North, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour and others. They would argue that there was this growing trend of “conservatism” within the black community. I told them all categorically that this was bunk.
Blacks have always been conservative or, more accurately, traditionalists. This DNA was embedded in us from the depths of our African ancestry. The basis of this African culture was strict adherence to tradition. These traditions recognized the man as the head of the household, that was his birthright; but in exchange for that birthright, he was responsible for the upkeep of that family — the wife, children and, when needed, the extended family.
Children were not given choices, they were given direction. The daughters would sit at their mother’s feet and learn of their ways; the sons would stand with the tribal elders to hear their wisdom in all things.
Children were not told they could decide their own sexuality, their sexuality was determined at birth. Children were not allowed to disrespect their parents with no consequence. Those that violated the established values and mores were swiftly punished and, when necessary, removed from the community. There was no 20 years of litigation and appeals.
In other words, the traditions demanded and expected strict adherence to certain norms of behavior because the elders knew that without rules of conduct the family would disintegrate and their nation would soon follow.
So, when Africans were exported to the U.S. as slaves, whites were amazed at the devotion Africans had to family, God and discipline despite their newfound circumstance as slaves. What whites failed to understand then, as well as now, is that these traditions are still part of our DNA; some in the black community have allowed this DNA to become dormant, but it is still there.
Part of the reason for this dormancy is psychological. I have attempted to educate white and black conservatives on this issue, but to no avail.
When you go into the black community and use the word “conservative,” what blacks hear is Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. Thurmond and Helms (both deceased) were U.S. Senators — Thurmond from South Carolina and Helms from North Carolina. At the height of their power they both represented the worst of America and the Republican Party. They both were the embodiment of America’s racist past. (In fairness, in his later years Thurmond was travelling a path toward redemption illustrated by some of the legislation he sponsored, like increased funding for black universities.)