I don’t agree with Black Republicans. I think they are wrong on their policy prescriptions for America. I think many of them are entirely too tolerant of the systemic racism that plagues our society, even to the point of complicity. I think, when pressed, they too often resort to the victim blaming that runs through that core Republican ethos of “I got mine, why can’t you get yours?”
But I can respect Black Republicans. I can recognize Black Republican scholars and politicians as legitimate thinkers who have something to add to the American political discourse. Rank-and-file Black Republicans are not “race traitors.” As I see it, part of the “dream” is that Black people get to be just as wrong and myopic as white folks. So I can accept that a person like Tim Scott is a mediocre senator who cares more about the profit margins of Chick-fil-A than uplifting the Black community. He’s disappointing, but no more so than the queen of disappointment, Susan Collins.
Unfortunately, the actual Republican Party doesn’t seem to respect reasonable and thoughtful Black Republicans as much as I do. Instead, the party has chosen to promote irrational, hateful conservatives and flagrant grifters. The GOP has decided to make people like Herschel Walker, Candace Owens, Larry Elder, and Kanye West the “faces” of Black conservatism in America, and that tells you more about how the Republican Party thinks about Black people than it does about the few Black people who have decided to play into the party’s unending desire for minstrels.
It’s worth separating out the two different kinds of people the Republican Party establishment and white-wing media elevate to the status of “my African American.” The first group is Black people who are in on the grift. Before the white-wing money-making machine found Candace Owens on YouTube calling the Democratic Party a “plantation,” she was a college dropout known only for her unsuccessful lifestyle-journalism career at Vogue and a failed app, Social Autopsy (which claimed to track online harassment while playing fast and loose with users’ privacy). Larry Elder, meanwhile, is a conservative talk show host who was basically a less entertaining Rush Limbaugh until he ran against California Governor Gavin Newsom in a recall election.
The careers of these people are not defined by thoughtful contributions to the hard project of democracy in a pluralistic society. They don’t have any electoral experience, and they don’t do any scholarship. They’re just loud. Their entire brand is telling white conservatives what white conservatives want to hear—which is mainly that racism is a myth and “the real racists” are the Black people who keep fighting against it.
The second category of Black people that Republicans are in love with are Black celebrities who are willing to go out in public and debase themselves by showing their ignorance of world affairs, love of misinformation and conspiracy theories, and downright bigotry. To be clear, the archetype of a Black celebrity who makes a bit of money and suddenly adopts the gospel of Ronald Reagan once their fortune is introduced to the IRS is not new. But that doesn’t explain people like Walker or West. Here, we have people who are clearly mentally unbalanced, who have been dragged down YouTube rabbit holes and come out the other side willing to parrot the very worst white logic available on the Internet.
These guys are then repurposed and repackaged by white-wing media and sold as “truth tellers.” The “truths” they are telling are full-blown white supremacist talking points, but for reasons that pass understanding, Republicans (and Republicans only) think that these celebrities can get away with pushing these tropes without getting called out for their racism, simply because they’re Black and famous while saying it. They’re taking clearly troubled people and letting them do the political equivalent of drooling on themselves, simply to titillate white voters excited to have their biases confirmed. Fox News treats conservative Black celebrities the way the Ringling Brothers treated conjoined twins.
Of course, there are plenty of people who are in need of mental health services who nonetheless manage to avoid praising Hitler. The anti-Semitism exhibited by West (and Owens in the past) is inexcusable. It’s also a feature, not a bug, of the white wing’s fetish for Black people who are wrong. Pitting minorities against other minorities is a white supremacist game that goes at least as far back as when Europeans busted out of their corner of the world and started claiming “ownership” of continents full of other people.
What binds all of the current Black faces of ultraconservatism together is their allegiance to Donald Trump. It is Trump, and the white people who love him, who have raised these people up to the level of national political personalities. MAGA white folks don’t want to hear from normal Black conservatives. They’re not interested in an actual debate about how best to achieve racial equity, comity, and justice. They just want to hear stories about how white people are awesome, deserving of their dominant position, and unaccountable for the sins that created that dominant position, from pliant Black people eager to please or profit off of the white ruling class.
If I were a normal Black conservative right now, I’d be pissed. The GOP has turned its back on them and instead given the mic to carnival barkers who couldn’t marshal a coherent argument for tort reform if you gave them a cup of hot coffee and cue cards.
Instead, the most prominent Black conservative in the country right now, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was seen yukking it up and posing for pictures with Herschel Walker.
Maybe that just goes to show that Black Republicans are like any other group of Republicans. They don’t care about winning the argument; they just care about winning power. They have it right now, and they’re willing to wallow in all the debasement that comes with it.