Conservatism’s Race Problem

The problems conservatism, and its imperfect manifestation, the Republican Party, have with racial minorities, and black Americans in particular, is well documented. Black Americans generally vote around 90% Democrat. Even as the country becomes more diverse, Republican districts are getting whiter, and their leaders in Congress aren’t getting more diverse either. Unashamedly progressive women of color have become some of the most exciting Democrats on the national level, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being the best example.

Is this inevitable? Is there something about conservatism that makes it viable in white America only?

Some on the left think so. The idea here is something I call “flat victimization”, which basically argues that if one group of people, in this case black people, have been victimized, they must automatically empathize with other oppressed people. Black Americans, as victims of an oppressive power structure, are supposedly the natural allies of other oppressed groups, and their shared marginalization allow them to empathize with them in a way white people can’t. Conservatism, part of which is about conserving what exists, is a non-starter for a people group who is painfully aware of the flaws in the existing structures. As a result, black America is naturally more progressive.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with this line of thinking. If you look at the data, black Americans, and nonwhite Americans in general, are a pretty moderate group, more so than they vote, and certainly more so than their white counterparts in the progressive movement.

On a general level, an AP poll found that 27% of black Americans identify as conservative, compared to 26% who identify as liberal. A Pew poll from 2017 found that only 28% of black Democrats identify as liberal, which is half as much as white Democrats. The same poll found that only 40% of Latino Democrats, who as a general group vote 70% Democrat, call themselves liberals. Yet a black American is 60 times more likely to identify as a Democrat than a Republican.

The gap between white and nonwhite progressives appears perhaps largest on religion. Only 32% of white Democrats believe in the God of the Bible, which is almost half the percentage of nonwhite Democrats, 61% of whom believe in the God of the Bible. White Democrats are four times as likely as nonwhite Democrats to identify as atheist. That’s not to say religious is or ought to be synonymous with conservative, but nonwhite Democrats religious views mirror those of Republicans more than their white Democrat peers.

On abortion, black Americans are slightly more pro-life than whites, with 60% saying abortion should be legal in most cases and 38% saying it should be illegal in most cases, compared to 61% and 35% among whites. Hispanics are even more pro-life, split even around 45%. On gay marriage, black support for gay marriage consistently lags 10-15% between white Americans, and about twenty percent behind the average Democrat.

The weirdest poll, coming courtesy of the New York Times, found that white liberals are further left on racial issues than blacks. 79% of white liberals say that racial discrimination is the main reason why black Americans can’t get ahead, compared to 60% of blacks. 18% of white liberals say blacks are mostly responsible for their inability to get ahead, as opposed to a third of blacks.

We talked about this slightly in the third post on this site, when we analyzed data suggesting that the most energetic progressives are whiter than any group of people save the most devoted conservatives.

In one sense, much of the conservative message shouldn’t fall on deaf ears in nonwhite communities. If the purpose of a right to bear arms is to protect individuals from those who seek to do them harm, why wouldn’t that resonate with black Americans, who were oppressed by American governments for centuries and are disproportionately the victims of crime? If the free market is about removing legal barriers so that individuals can succeed, why wouldn’t a people group who was held in check by legal barriers to their success respond well to that message?

So why does the Republican Democrat racial divide exist? It is the product of an abysmal messaging failure to the highest degree. Republicans unwillingness to give even an inch to the left has put them in a place where a potentially open door into nonwhite communities has been slammed in their faces.

Republicans messaging on racial issues is absolutely atrocious. Sending Candace Owens out to talk about how Democrats are keeping blacks “on the plantation” in exchange for their votes, or having Dinesh D’Souza point out that Democrats owned slaves 150 years ago, does more to generate applause from white conservatives than pull black Americans to the right. Talking about the need for fathers in black communities might be true, but that’s not going to be the solution to all racial inequality, and it does nothing to reduce the growing black white wealth gap.

Conservatives need to swallow their pride and accept some uncomfortable things. Maybe white privilege and institutional racism aren’t complete fictions, even if liberals overplay their hand. Maybe our history on racial issues is darker than we want to admit. Maybe being sensitive is not the end of the world, even if that means some of the libs don’t get owned. Maybe the time of being tough on crime has passed, and the efforts moving the other direction ought to be commended and built upon. Maybe going into a midterm election with the message that our country is being invaded by caravans filled with diseased Central Americans and Islamic extremists isn’t the best electoral strategy.

Just because the Republican party is white doesn’t automatically make its ideas bad. But in a country that is becoming more diverse, it will become problematic in the long run. This isn’t about pandering either. It is simply about recognizing that there is unrealized opportunity for conservatism in nonwhite communities.

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