Yesterday’s Charles Blow column has inspired some particularly obtuse punditry. I expected it of Tom Maguire, who as a run-of-them-mill right-winger is prone to completely missing the point. But I’m honestly surprised to see Conor Friedersdorf stumble blindly down the road of understanding. In a recent post at the American Scene, Friedersdorf takes Blow’s column as further evidence that race is used as a cudgel against the right:
It’s this kind of piece that causes people on the right to think that on matters of race, they’re damned if they do, and they’re damned if they don’t — if they don’t make efforts to include non-whites they’re unenlightened propagators of privilege, and if they do make those efforts they’re the cynical managers of a minstrel show, but either way, race is used as a cudgel to discredit them in a way that would never be applied to a political movement on the left. [Emphasis mine]
I wouldn’t say that Friedersdorf is missing the point here, I’m not sure if he’s aware enough to grasp the problem with this particular display of “diversity.” Conor calls Blow’s piece unfair, asserting that “In any context except a Tea Party, the vast majority of liberal writers would praise the act of highlighting the voices of ‘people of color’ even if they aren’t particularly representative of a crowd or corporation or university class.”
But the “minstrelsy” Blow decries doesn’t flow from the mere presence of minority voices at a conservative rally — which is what Fridersdorf seems to think — it flows from the fact that those voices are forced to engage in elaborate tribal rituals to show the white Tea Partiers that they’re on their side. And that’s precisely because there are so few people of color within the Tea Party Movement, and conservative circles more generally. From what I’ve seen, conservative activists have a habit of categorically defining people of color as ideologically hostile, so that their mere presence isn’t enough to convince organizers or attendants that their sympathies are shared. In turn, this suspicion requires those singular voices of color to “perform” and show their loyalty, in order to gain acceptance. The exact opposite dynamic occurs on the left, for the simple reason that white liberals feel they can readily assume ideological sympathy from any given person of color, regardless of circumstance. Which, admittedly, is also very problematic.
One last (baffling) thing: it’s clear that Friedersdorf doesn’t understand why conservatives are far more open to racial criticisms than liberals. But it’s really not that complicated. As I wrote last week:
William F. Buckley Jr., the preeminent voice of conservatism for half a century, opened his editorial salvo with a defense of segregation in the National Review. Barry Goldwater wasn’t a racist, but he didn’t hesitate to harness white racism in his presidential bid. Richard Nixon turned racial resentment into an art form, and Ronald Reagan took it a step further, inaugurating his 1980 campaign for president at the final resting place of three civil rights workers, gunned down by Klansmen. Even George H.W. Bush, a careful moderate, stoked resentment and fear for political benefit. These days, conservatives hold to a stance of anti-anti-racism, where accusations of racism are far, far worse than actual prejudice against minorities.
And this is to say nothing of the current conservative affinity for overt displays of white nationalism, or the fact that the two most prominent spokespeople of the Right regularly peddle racial paranoia to their basehead devoted followers. Given the obvious reasons people of color have to be skeptical of the conservative movement, it really shouldn’t be this hard for Conor to see why conservatives might have to be especially sensitive about these things.
Photo credit: Amanda Lucidon/New York Times