Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Conservative or racist: Is there a difference?

Joan Walsh, the editor of Salon, is embroiled in a discussion with Cathy Young from Real Clear Politics about whether opinion research by Christopher Parker of the University of Washington shows that Tea Party supporters are more racist than the general run of white folks.

In short form, Young contends they aren't racist, just very conservative because a (smaller) plurality of all whites share their negative views of Black people. Walsh and Parker contend that the strength of resentment Tea Party supporters show toward African Americans (the data doesn't seem to involve other people of color) means they are racist, as well as being the conservative Republican base.

I am mystified by this debate. Isn't white supremacy one of the core ingredients in the toxic stew that is conservatism in the U.S. context? Certainly even conservatives who are now seen as being more principled, intellectually coherent and respectable than the current lot -- think Senator Barry Goldwater or William F. Buckley -- showed their true allegiances by opposing the civil rights movement of their time.

It is possible that there is some pure intellectual conservatism somewhere as people like Andrew Sullivan insist hopefully. But in U.S. experience since 1865, conservatism simply is racist. At times, white liberalism has been almost equally so, but that changed noticeably sometime in the last 50 years as people of color began to hold their own political space. There's a reason why there are currently 39 Black Democrats in Congress and NO Black Republicans. There's a reason that Republicans are committing political suicide by pandering to nativist attacks on Latinos -- it's their folks who are yelling loudest against immigrants. Republican politicians don't really have a choice about being racist; the people who vote for them demand it.

Unhappily, there just isn't any meaningful distinction between conservatism and racism in our politics.

(Photo: Congressional Black Caucus)

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