Black Intellectuals and Conservative Criticism

For the past few decades, conservatives have had a contentious relationship with black intellectuals. From Cornel West to Michael Eric Dyson, the figures who represent black people and black culture in academia are often criticized by mostly white conservatives. In the minds of many conservatives, the black intellectual represents the typical “victim defender” in liberal ideology. They typically perceive well established black liberals negatively, believing that they excuse values such as responsibility and hard work, and blame society for individual short-comings.

While there is something to be said about “playing the victim”, ignoring centuries of oppression, along with current prejudice is a slippery slope when explaining the existence of racial inequality. Conservative talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, (who compared NFL teams playing each other to the bloods and crips) generally have no problem pointing out the negative aspects of black people and black culture. Conservatives in academia such as Dinesh D’Souza tiptoe the line of extreme racist ideology, by focusing heavily on “cultural pathologies”, while completely ignoring the racist history of the United States. It is heavily implied in works such as D’Souza’s that certain minorities are inherently lazy, and are unproductive members of society.

Civil rights activists in the post-Civil Rights era are another frequent target of conservatives indifferent to racial inequality, although such activists have made controversial comments throughout their careers. While it is fair to say that today’s civil rights activists such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson cannot be compared to civil rights leaders of the past, the automatic dismissal of compelling points made by these activists mirrors the silencing tactic white supremacists have used throughout our nation’s history. Part of this silencing in the “colorblind” “post-racial era” means not discussing racial inequality, the fact that black people are 3 times more likely than their white counterparts to be in poverty, twice as likely to be unemployed, and extremely high chance of receiving a low quality education resulting in the Achievement Gap. Of course racist practices that were less than half a century ago such as redlining, and blockbusting which contributed to housing disparities among races, along with racial profiling by law enforcement, and employment discrimination, are all plausible causes of racial inequality that exists after the Civil Rights Movement. To the surprise of many conservatives, institutional racism does exist in the post-Civil Rights era. Take the National Bureau of Economic Research’s findings for example, where job applicants with “black sounding names” are 50% less likely to get a call back from employers even with the same credentials as their white peers. (http://www.nber.org/digest/sep03/w9873.html) Or the fact that black criminals receive harsher penalties in the criminal justice system than white criminals guilty of similar crimes. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, a black individual on average has a 15.2 % longer sentence than a white person who committed the same crime. (http://www.yalelawjournal.org/article/mandatory-sentencing-and-racial-disparity-assessing-the-role-of-prosecutors-and-the-effects-of-booker) Conservatives often claim that black people “play the race card”, but are unaware that the deck is stacked against us.

(Update: the original post incorrectly cited the 50% statistic as 33%)

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