What I Learned Growing Up in a Conservative Black Christian Family

Despite the fact that slavery and centuries of anti-Black and -brown policies have directly harmed many citizens in this country, the ignorance I’ve witnessed from the middle- and upper-class Black folks in my family is astounding. Whether glib statements like “I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t have health care” or more bigoted comments like “Illegals are taking over our country,” for my family, race doesn’t determine political ideology.

Each of us lives but one life, and our view of the world is inevitably derived from who we’ve been, what we’ve seen, and how our choices seem to have worked out. After all, what is more natural, what is more clearly the default, than to see the world through one’s own eyes? My relatives have come by their views honestly, however detached they may be from the verifiable facts of systemic American racism.

This is what makes Black conservatism such a conundrum. To profess it is to flatter yourself with the idea that your success is your own, a replicable example for others to follow, but also to give yourself the right to scorn those you believe have fallen short. It offers a path to feel yourself moving beyond Blackness, to separate yourself from other Black folks. Indeed, many white conservatives are eager to elevate Black voices to share precisely this racist framing.

Like some of my relatives, Black folks such as Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, Senate candidate Herschel Walker, Rep. Tim Scott, former housing secretary Ben Carson, conservative media personality Candace Owens, and others set a dangerous precedent for the rest of our community and other marginalized groups. Princeton postdoctoral fellow Gregory John Leslie Jr., an author of a study on the popularity of Black conservatives among white Americans and, specifically, white Republicans, told the psychology news website PsyPost in 2019, “There is a special danger in Black politicians who espouse racist rhetoric because it essentially ‘green lights’ the negative opinions of others.” 

By getting a small population of minority voters and voices to prop up these ideas, white conservatives can reinforce the dominance of white voices in our society. My relatives’ politics are animated by gaining — and maintaining — control, but it’s ironic that their support for these positions actually strengthens the control that white conservatives have over American political narratives about people of color.

Black people are no monolith. We exist in a world where our being, thinking, and how we navigate relationships with others has been shaped by direct trauma, racism, discrimination, and under a system that’s left many of us struggling to stay afloat. In response, Black political thought has grown correspondingly diverse as well. But using a few minority voices to project hateful, racist narratives is deeply disturbing. Black Americans are diverse in many ways, including politics, but some choices, such as supporting the current and past racism in Trump’s Republican Party, clearly cross a line. What’s more, for many Black folks like me, it can be impossible to simultaneously meet the conflicting demands of racial solidarity, family loyalty, and political convictions.

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