Too many whites on the right and left only want to listen to Blacks who agree with them on everything.
The horrifying murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have sparked unprecedented conversations about race in America on every imaginable platform. I have been touched by many white friends reaching out and asking about my experiences of being Black in America, but I have also been frustrated by how much of the conservation still seems to be dominated by whites, both conservative and liberal. Far too many of my Black friends and family members have experienced whites of all ideological stripes lecturing them on what they should feel and think.
Perhaps the most outrageous of these cases occurred when my good friend and mentor to countless conservatives — Black, white, young and old — Mrs. Kay Coles James, penned a thoughtful and balanced reflection on the current state of affairs in our nation, I was deeply touched by her courage and eloquence. Her words reflected what nearly every Black American conservative I know feels: we love our country, we refuse to use race as an excuse not to be and do our best, but we know America still has a race problem.
Tucker Carlson — a well-known figure with a popular show on Fox News — responded to Mrs. James’ incredibly moving piece by accusing her on his television program of penning “a long scream denouncing America as an irredeemably racist nation.” This is beyond absurd. Mrs. James wrote, “There is no other country like ours in the world – nothing compares to its greatness.” Like countless Black leaders before her, she is merely calling us to live up to America’s best ideals. And you can’t do that if you won’t acknowledge there’s a problem in the first place.
The work of healing America’s racial wounds is not done. Mrs. James has a responsibility, as not only the leader of America’s preeminent conservative think tank, but also as a Black female conservative, to speak out on difficult issues regarding race relations. But Carlson’s comments remind me that some- on the right and the left- want to engage Blacks in the “national conversation” only when those Blacks are saying exactly what they want to hear. If you are a Black liberal, you’d better not challenge the liberal orthodoxy surrounding abortion or family structure.
You will be canceled. And if you are a Black conservative, you’d better not acknowledge that racism exists or plays any role in the challenges our nation faces today. You will be denounced as an America-hater, no matter how many decades you have worked to make your country the best it can be.
The Black conservatives I know are not conservative because we think race is not a problem in this country. We are conservative because we think that economic prosperity, limited government and strong families are best for all Americans, including Black Americans. We are conservative because we think Black Americans deserve more autonomy over our own lives, not less, and we a government that protects our right to create the good life for ourselves rather than asks us to wait naively for a magical set of social services to rescue us.
I am a generation younger than Mrs. James and enjoyed a very happy childhood in rural Fauquier County, Virginia. But I heard the N-word as a matter of course. There was a restaurant in our town that refused service to Blacks well into the 1980s. As children, my cousin and I were chased into the woods by a white man with a gun. My high school guidance counselor told me not to take Latin because she said I would fail and encouraged me to enlist in the military instead of applying to college. Some friends who cheered my admission to Howard raised their eyebrows when I transferred to the University of Virginia.
As an adult, I have-like nearly every Black man in America-been pulled over by cops for no reason, as has my almost 19-year-old son. A white woman allowed her dog to bite me while I was jogging on a public sidewalk in my own neighborhood because she said I got too close to her. My daughter was falsely accused of shoplifting at 13. Like most, I could go on.
I want to clarify that my experiences have been very, very mild compared to those of many of my friends and relatives and that I have never been traumatized or defined by them. I have raised my kids to love this country and to never use their race as an excuse for not working as hard as they can. But I will not raise them to deny the realities they and their friends and relatives experience, nor do I want to leave them a world where Blacks are only allowed in the conversation to the degree that we make people like Tucker Carlson comfortable.
Rev. Dean Nelson is chairman of the Douglass Leadership Institute (www.DLINSTITUTE.org).