National Conservatism and Race in America
Renewal is only possible if all conservatives insist that America has one civic culture, not many.
With the third National Conservatism Conference (NatCon3) recently concluded, now is a chance for conservatives of all stripes to consider the perspective national conservatives take towards race and racial issues. All conservatives rightly lament the ongoing leftward political drift American culture is undergoing. What seems to be missing from most conservative discussions today, however, is a sense of urgency in pursuit of American cultural renewal. National conservatives are filling this void.
I was a part of a panel discussion on race at NatCon3. The panel consisted of a variety of distinguished intellectuals and journalists who are making a difference in their communities and areas of expertise as it relates to race in America today. Despite differences in our personal narratives, we were all in agreement that the ideas of agency and color-blindness need to be embraced in America now more than ever. Over the past three decades, the conceptual frameworks in which race has been discussed—multiculturalism, critical race theory, or wokeism—have steadily challenged just those ideas of individual agency and color-blindness.
To be color-blind is to hold the belief that the mere possession of hereditary qualities, such as race, does not confer or withhold moral merit. The political virtue of color-blindness is that it complements individual agency and responsibility. Civil Rights leaders understood the transformative power of personal agency and responsibility and that color-blind principles complement both. The left, however, equates color-blindness with a type of racism. This is a pernicious development, and portends a dim future for the United States if left unchecked.
This is an issue that American national conservatives are set to face head-on. The most pernicious ideas in the public square today are usually expressed on behalf of minority communities, and African Americans in particular. There is no tiptoeing around this fact. Racial and ethnic minorities, but African Americans especially, have been portrayed by a broad swath of elites, black and white, as the vanguard of righteous forces that seek to dismantle a systemic racist America and what it stands for. When left-leaning elites speak about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), defunding the police, the benefits of non-traditional family formations, the elimination of single-family zoning, each of these issues are spoken of positively with the same tagline: “These developments are good because people of color, and African Americans in particular, face systemic racism on a daily basis.”
Today’s left is viscerally opposed to those who think differently from them on the issue of race, as it seeks to dominate and control. I believe these sentiments mainly have to do with the fact that those on the left often “feel” their politics; it serves a deep emotional need. There’s something to be said for feeling one’s politics, not just parroting political platitudes; purveyors of opinion on the right also need to appeal to their audience on an emotional as well as an intellectual level. Given this fact, what are conservatives up against in American culture, and do they have the wherewithal to stop America’s cultural drift further and further to the left? In critical race theory, identity politics, the Black Lives Matter movement, and various efforts to defund the police, we see a concerted effort by those on the left to obscure a healthy love of country that most Americans intuitively feel.
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There is nothing more predatory than ideologies designed to deny a child her American birthright. But there is hope considering recent political developments. We seem to be witnessing a bottom-up movement to take back the country across this great land. What happened nine months ago with the election of Glenn Youngkin as the 74th governor of Virginia was a harbinger of political winds that are starting to blow all across America, and may prove decisive in the midterms and the next presidential election. These political winds are an organic response to a set of elite, cultural beliefs and practices that seek to alienate children from their family, community, and country.
Most African Americans are hardworking, committed to fair play, and deeply rooted in the spirit of 1776 and 1863. As an African American, to see my community portrayed as perpetual foes of traditional American beliefs and practices by elites, black and white, is painful. What makes this racial dynamic so insidious is that it creates bewildered feelings in all Americans. To notice that a significant number of black and white elites seem opposed to traditional American values is frowned upon in polite circles. Such feelings inevitably lead to resentment, guilt, and paralysis. Conservative African Americans who notice are quickly marginalized and treated harshly. All the while, American history continues to get revised, statues get taken down, and children continue to get segregated based on their perceived “privilege.”
For the good of America and its future, this racial dynamic must stop. American national conservatism is positioned to stop the madness, and to begin the work of promoting an American cultural renewal based on individual agency and color-blindness. But renewal is only possible if all conservatives insist that America has one civic culture, not many, and that there will be no privileging of one racial group over another.