It is an oft-heard meme trumpeted by conservatives that black Americans are natural Republican voters. It's not that Republicans are racist or racially insensitive that prevents blacks from crossing the partisan divide, Republicans contend. It is that Democrats have some sort of irrational hold on blacks achieved by racial fear-mongering. Republicans are not ambivalent to the historical experience of blacks in America. Democrats have just blinded blacks from recognizing their true and ancestral political home.
The response of a few Republicans in the Tennessee blogosphere to a post by a black woman blogger illustrates, I think, why black Americans who hold conservative values are reticent to join up with today's conservative movement.
On August 11th, Genma Holmes wrote a post about teaching her teenage son to respect police officers. Her approach was unorthodox. Being familiar with the history of interactions between black males and cops, Holmes warned her son that when detained by police he should not appear standoffish or act as if the officer had stopped him unjustly. Such behavior, she warned, can lead to "unfair treatment, embarrassment, humiliation, or, in many cases, 'accidental' death."
However, Holmes' son wasn't listening to her warnings, so she enlisted the help of a police academy graduate to conduct a phony traffic stop designed to test the patience of her young son.
"As my son started to lose his composure and show his annoyance, the officer became more aggressive, my son said later," Holmes recounted. "Consequently, he ended up on the hood of his SUV, face down, and was told to address the officer as 'Mr. Officer, sir.'"
"I could hear the disbelief in his voice as he tried to repeat the sequence of events," Holmes wrote. "I was not interested in the cop's behavior but in [my son's] responses to the cop. I saw the white hot anger on his face. I reminded him that his exasperation was what others experienced daily."
Of course, this is a sad commentary on our society. No mother, black or white, should be afraid her flesh and blood will meet his death for mouthing off during a traffic stop. However, the lesson attempted here is fundamentally conservative: Life is unfair. Authority deserves the benefit of the doubt. Manners and decorum should be maintained in the face of disrespect. These were the lessons Holmes was attempting to impart.
However, after reading Holmes' tale, a few online conservatives were up in arms. Jim Boyd, a perennial conservative candidate for office, wrote, "For your efforts, your son has now earned the victimhood you paid to have installed."
Kay Brooks, a home-schooling advocate, offered a similar rebuke: "Certainly let him know this happened in the past ... but why abuse your own child in this way? Just so he can walk around ... expecting abuse from cops?"
The former communications director for TNGOP, Bill Hobbs, also commented: "[Holmes] deliberately set up a fake situation designed to teach her son to not trust police and to encourage her son to view police through the lens of race and to view himself as a target and a victim."
Now, I'm not naive or obtuse. One of the reasons Holmes taught her son this lesson was because as a black male, police may be on "higher alert" around him. This is taken as given, a fact of life. Holmes is not minimizing the injustice of the fact, but she is not crippled by it either. She moves forward.
This is the essence of conservatism. Certain things are intractable. Life is nasty, brutish, and short. And, yes, sometimes law-enforcement officers cut more slack to white men than to black men. The lesson here is that being right is not a bulletproof vest. Every injustice need not be fought at the very time and place it is perpetrated.
Republicans argue the reason blacks are not Republican is because they cannot see past petty racial politics to the conservative principles they share with the GOP. On this occasion, it seems, it was the Republicans who failed to recognize a woman with clearly conservative instincts, because she operated on the assumption, for good reason, that law enforcement may render harsher judgments on black suspects.
No party or ideology has the market cornered on petty racial grievances.