by Chris Haire
When Randall Kennedy talks about race, well, I listen. And in his latest book, The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency, he has quite a bit say.
And surprisingly, Kennedy devotes a substantial portion of the final chapter to The Persistence of the Color Line to U.S. Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
In his examination of Scott, the author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word and Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal, makes the claim that the U.S. Representative is the beneficiary of affirmative action, something any good conservative claims to be against.
It is also probably the case that some of the whites who support African-American Republicans like Tim Scott do so in part not despite but because of their blackness. Although many Republicans say that they eschew the racial selectivity of "affirmative action" and "diversity," in practice they, too, are especially solicitous of blacks who wish to join their ranks. A reason — not the entire reason, but an important reason — that Scott and West are stars in the eyes of many Tea Partiers is that they are black. Their race serves as a balm to soothe the consciences of those Tea Partiers and Republicans who, at some level, feel guilty about the long-standing mistreatment of African Americans. Their race also serves as evidence that can be used to rebut charges of Tea Party or Republican racism.
And although Kennedy never explicitly says it, Scott and those blacks who wish to move up in the ranks of the Republican Party must turn against the black community:
In order to be eligible for racial affirmative action conservative style, the African American in question must be black of the right sort. Typically, he or she must, like Scott and [Allen] West [R-Fla.], minimize historical and current racism, decry affirmative action, embrace anti-gay bias, and insist upon "small" government (except when it comes to the regulation of sex, reproduction, policing, and national security). So long as a black candidate fulfills these requirements, he is especially welcome in the Republican Party.
The author then argues that the black community is unlikely to swear allegiance to the GOP anytime soon — and the Republicans want to keep it that way:
Do [Michael Steele, Scott, and West presage a significant partisan shift among black voters? No. Blacks in appreciable numbers are unlikely to follow the new black conservative "stars" for a variety of reasons. One is that on key matters the positions taken by black conservatives are (correctly) seen by most African Americans as contrary to their interests. Black conservatives, like their white peers, inveigh against federal government intrusion upon "states' rights." In black America, however, it is widely understood that federal authority has often been the only effective counterweight to private bigotry or local racialized tyranny ... Most African Americans also understand that the small-government ambitions of conservatives directly threaten black America since, proportionately, blacks are much more dependent than whites on governmental services and employment.
The Persistence of the Color Line author adds:
Prized for their scarcity, black conservatives might cease to be so celebrated in a more racially integrated Republican Party. Some of the black conservative politicos perceive, moreover, that even a modest increase in the number of active African-American Republicans might quickly hit the racial tipping point, making their white peers uncomfortable. A small number of blacks is one thing, even if one or more of them are leading figures. Altogether different is a situation in which conservative whites would have to accommodate a substantial influx of blacks. Black conservatives intuit this problem. They know that their value to Republican Party resides more in what they signify to whites — that the Party is not racist — than in what they signify to blacks.
[African Americans] perceive the Republican Party to be, implicitly, a white man's party that is welcoming, to be sure, of a few (but, please, not too many) blacks, so long as they harbor right-wing views and accept the notion that blacks have no good reason to complain about the country's racial situation. Most African Americans will continue to reject this mythology and leave the Tim Scotts and Allen Wests in splendid isolation as black right-wing curiosities.
Agree or disagree, you should pick up The Persistence of the Color Line today.