It’s no secret that black conservatives often have a tough time in American politics, usually dismissed by white liberals and distrusted and viewed as “Uncle Toms” and “sellouts” by their fellow African-Americans. A paradigmatic example is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who long ago became a favorite target of vilification in the black community thanks to his conservative politics and jurisprudence. Understandably, many white conservatives feel the urge to come to the aid of these black dissidents defending their reputations against this torrent of vitriol.
They ought to resist that temptation, at least if their priority is actually to help their African-American co-ideologues. There’s a phenomenon in politics in which communities that see themselves as embattled look with even greater suspicion at members who enjoy the approval of those communities’ perceived opponents. For those opponents to close ranks around those outcasts, then, is likely to be futile at best and counterproductive at worst.Consider, for example, the British miners’ strike of 1984-85, which pitted the most powerful trade union in the U.K. against the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. One major factor that enabled Thatcher to prevail in the end was the fact that many miners chose to stay at work rather than to join the strike, in defiance of intense social pressure from their fellow union members. Yet the Prime Minister inadvertently undermined those dissident miners by publicly extolling them as “lions.”
According to Thatcher biographer John Campbell, the Iron Lady’s praise “did them no favors in their own communities, where being lauded by the Prime Minister made them look like the stooges of a hated Tory Government—as to an extent they were.”
A similar dynamic is at play in black America. Ever since the Democratic Party first began to be viewed by most Americans as the more pro-black party (around 1958, according to one analysis) most African-Americans have viewed the GOP as, quite simply, the enemy. To be embraced by that supposed enemy could only prove to be a political liability for black conservative public figures—at least, for those who consider the support of their fellow African-Americans to be worth fighting for.