Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
After rapper Kanye West’s appearance with Donald Trump at the White House, the progressives unleashed their cable news and twitter bloodhounds to pursue West and drag him back to the Democrat plantation. Commentators who relentlessly police language for racial slurs no matter how barely detectable, suddenly were reveling in old demeaning insults like “minstrel show” and “token,” new ones like “Negro” (which I’m betting few of us know is now a slur), and idiotic ones like being a spokesman for “white supremacy.”
The warning is clear for black dissidents, and has been since the “high-tech lynching” of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whose scolding of the Senate Judiciary Committee put it best:
This [hearing] is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.
The Thomas hearings in 1991 exposed just how far the once-noble Civil Rights Movement had degenerated into the illiberal identity politics that now defines the Democrat Party, and informs its electoral strategy of bundling various victim-groups into a coalition. While the Civil Rights Movement wanted the nation to honor its classical liberal ideals of inalienable rights like equal opportunity and equal justice, and its Judeo-Christian heritage that a dehumanizing segregation besmirched and betrayed, identity politics scorns those ideals as instruments of an oppressive Western Civilization. Virtues like self-reliance and personal autonomy that racists once claimed to be impossible for black people, are now similarly discarded for being racist excuses for black poverty and social disorder created by systemic “white privilege” and endemic “racism.”
Instead, the federal government became the plantation of the mind, its powers to regulate and redistribute eroding the virtues of self-sufficiency and responsibility, which are the necessary foundations of true freedom. The equality of opportunity became the equality of result, one engineered by federal agencies and policies like affirmative action or minority set-asides or federal dollars promiscuously pumped into black neighborhoods without thought for the moral hazard that accompanied this largess. The consequence, of course, was the dependence that erodes freedom and encodes inferiority. For as the African proverb says, “The hand that gives is always above the hand that receives.”
The tragic irony of this progressive distortion of black character is that it reinforces all the old racist tropes justifying segregation. The message sent with every cry of racism, whether it’s “disparate impact” or “cops killing unarmed black males,” is one of black weakness and inferiority. The old-school racists attributed this inferiority to nature. Today’s repackaged racism blames “implicit bias” or “institutional racism” or the all-purpose “legacy of slavery” to reinforce blacks’ helplessness and dehumanizing lack of agency.
Meanwhile, the old virtue of self-improvement through education and discipline is dismissed as “acting white.” The segregationists used to call this acting “uppity,” which referred not just to self-assertion or behavior outside the racial code, but also to speaking the King’s English or using manners or acting with decorum or being too fond of reading. In the end, however you camouflage it, all these sophistical excuses still add up to inferiority, the assumption that black people lack the virtue and character to better themselves and fight against joblessness, drugs, promiscuity, vulgarity, crime, and the slaughter of blacks by their black “brothers.” That’s why they need their progressive wards and patrons.
More astonishing is how this narrative insults those generations of blacks who, despite confronting violence ranging from beatings, race riots, and lynchings, to the daily indignities and demeaning slights of legal segregation, still steadily improved their lot. Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal not long ago summarized this improvement documented by Thomas Sowell––another independent, free-thinking black intellectual despised by the progressive race industry.
Between 1890 and 1940, for example, black marriage rates in the U.S. where higher than white marriage rates. In the 1940s and ’50s, black labor-participation rates exceeded those of whites; black incomes grew much faster than white incomes; and the black poverty rate fell by 40 percentage points. Between 1940 and 1970—that is, during Jim Crow and prior to the era of affirmative action—the number of blacks in middle-class professions quadrupled. In other words, racial gaps were narrowing. Steady progress was being made. Blacks today hear plenty about what they can’t achieve due to the legacy of slavery and not enough about what they did in fact achieve notwithstanding hundreds of years in bondage followed by decades of legal segregation.
In the post-’60s era, these positive trends would slow, stall, or in some cases even reverse course. The homicide rate for black men fell by 18% in the 1940s and by another 22% in the 1950s. But in the 1960s all of those gains would vanish as the homicide rate for black males rose by nearly 90%. Are today’s black violent-crime rates a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow or of something else? Unfortunately, that’s a question few people on the left will even entertain.
Banishing from the public square that “something else” required a cadre of black “leaders” and “intellectuals” who perpetuate the identity politics that redefined blacks as permanent victims of ineradicable white racism. Leftist and progressive black intellectuals and professors, hirelings of progressive Democrat institutions like media and universities, have waxed fat on the privilege and perks of repeating this demeaning narrative of permanent black victimhood and dependence. They patrol the speech of anyone challenging it, helping to construct the regime of political correctness, a secular Inquisition that censors and censures those who stray from or challenge its doctrines. Just ask any conservative or libertarian or even moderate liberal black intellectual what the price is for showing independence and autonomy in their thinking––they will be demonized, and their blackness impugned.
And now it’s Kanye West’s turn to feel the wrath of the elite of black journalists, pundits, entertainers, athletes, and professors who have selected themselves as the only legitimate public voices of authentic blackness. His performance in the White House was condemned not because it was “rambling” or a “rant” or “illiterate.” If those were the standards of judgment, just about every celebrity who opines about politics would deserve mockery. West triggered the Fugitive Slave Law because he met with a hated political enemy and gave a public statement that supported Trump’s many policies that have benefitted black people much more than anything our first “black” president did. He was marked a “race traitor,” that is, any black person who challenges progressive orthodoxy and the identity-politics narrative that is an integral component in the Democrat Party’s electoral strategy.
More challenging, he used his celebrity to call out the long decades of failure on the part of the Dems and the Race Industry when it comes to bettering the lot of the black lower classes. West “spoke truth to power” of the progressive establishment who are the true “race traitors,” leveraging the social dysfunctions of their black “brothers” and “sisters” for their own gain. And like the president, he eschewed the prescribed identity-politics tropes and clichés and phrases sanctioned by that elite to mask their failure to improve black lives. Finally, he dared to sound the themes of self-reliance, independence, and free-thinking that are integral to true freedom and equality.
Whatever the ventriloquist’s dummies on MSNBC and CNN say, West embodies freedom as it should be: bold, quirky, independent, and scornful of the “mind-forged manacles” that tyrants of every stripe have used to attack freedom and cow people into subservience. The hysterical reaction to West, like that to Judge Kavanaugh and, of course, to Donald Trump, reflects the fear that the old Democrat politics of creating dependent clients of a bloated federal power is starting to totter. What will kick it over will be more free men and women who bolt from the “herd of independent minds” and think for themselves rather than for their masters and overseers.