Staying the Course

By | January 11, 2016

Conservatives love to trot out Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell because they are Black Thinkers.

To be fair, Williams and Sowell are both well-educated, worthy scholars, have great integrity in their viewpoints, and individualistic in their approaches to their fields of study–but just as you can’t say that Van Jones represents all black American thinking about economics and politics, neither can you say Thomas Sowell or Walter Williams represent all black American thinking about economics or politics..

They represent themselves, and they have a place at the table because they have earned their degrees, but they cannot be held up as “the right and only way for black Americans to think,” because, just as with every other set of people, there is no one way for black Americans to think about anything. They are individuals in every way as is anyone else. (I don’t represent all white males, or all American Christians, or anyone in general—I represent me, for example.)

There are, of course, familiar themes in what we might see black Americans talking about _because_ black Americans have been treated (and still are treated) by white Americans in ways that have isolated them and held them to be the “other,” and black Americans who are still so treated have observed their situation to find ways to express their astonishment and displeasure at not being treated equally and at finding themselves the target of ignorance and undeserved hate, and they have worked not just to understand but to get out from being the target of ignorance and hate so as to go on with their lives, to do what white Americans can do with ease.

So you might find more black Americans focusing on things like equal access to jobs and schools and housing, crime and prison and sentences, the death penalty, social justice, and so on, versus white Americans who, as we all know, can get the jobs and schools and housing they want given their finances and class and education, are prosecuted less for their actions at all stages (monitoring, arrests, charges, trials, convictions, and imprisonment) than anyone else, and so on. (Being white means it is not harder to get what you want or deserve for being white, whereas being black means it is harder to get what you want or deserve because you are identified as “black” by white Americans, who simply hold the power of definition and of power itself in America.)

Go ahead and read and study Sowell and Williams and other black conservative thinkers. You’ll learn a lot. They bring up interesting points and go down unexpected paths.

But you will also see how Sowell and Williams are among the tiny collection of safe “black” thinkers conservatives want to read because they affirm conservative viewpoints, not because they are sine qua non in the world of American thinkers. They are valued for being conservative-black. A conservative who reads Sowell will not also read Van Jones, because he is not interested in learning and discovering what is true; he is reading to ensure that he is right, and he wants to ensure is he always affirmed and not challenged.

My opinions and observations, of course, but they come from a long time of being conservative, listening to conservatives, and staying put largely within the conservative sphere of thought.