Ben Carson criticized Obamacare, sharply, with Obama listening, at the National Prayer Breakfast in February. And Carson is black.
Yes, Carson is the black – gasp – conservative of the moment, this weekend also speaking out against gay marriage, for which he has been forced to apologize.
Unsurprisingly, Carson, an accomplished neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins, has been celebrated by the right, and is considering politics. Enter the usual dogpile from black commenters: Carson as a traitor, a sellout, airing his views not from sincerity but because he wants to please the white establishment and make a buck.
Many wonder why so many black people seem to treat true diversity of opinion as heresy. There is, in fact, a reason which, in itself, makes sense. The idea is that black conservatives, in distracting whites from thinking about racism, impede black progress and even give entrée to a possible racist backlash.
That’s not crazy at all – but the problem is that history has shown it to be invalid.
(MORE: John McWhorter on Stop-and-Frisk Isn’t the Problem)
We can go back to the fifties, when black columnist and author George Schuyler went sharply rightward in his opinions. Schuyler disapproved not only of Malcolm X but Martin Luther King, Jr.
So, black columnist Carl Rowan dissed Schuyler as being “shrewd for telling white America what it wanted to hear.” Others tarred Schuyler later as “on a quest for mainstream acceptance,” “self-hating” and so on.
Yet during exactly the time Schuyler was giving such offense, America witnessed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, with a president of Southern origins playing a key role in ushering them into reality.
It would appear that Schuyler’s views had rather little effect upon black progress. We move on.
Say, to the nineties. Ever since Shelby Steele published his National Book Award-winning The Content of Our Character in 1990, the same types who hated on Schuyler have used him for target practice. Steele argued that for black liberals, decrying racism has become a power ploy used in place of concrete achievement. In most black circles, one is to roll one’s eyes at the mention of his name. Once again, we are to suppose thoughts like his threaten to set blacks back.
But they haven’t.
By the early 2000s, the CEOs of AOL Time Warner, American Express and Merrill Lynch were all black, as were the presidents of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Bar Association. The black middle class had continued to grow. The Mayor of Atlanta was a black woman – imagine how likely that would ever have seemed to the grand old Civil Rights leaders just a generation before.
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Then I might note that I myself got a reputation as a dreaded black “conservative” in the wake of my own Losing the Race in 2000. Never mind that I am a contrarian Democrat rather than a right-winger; the impression sticks among many that I am a man of the right. All I know is that since I started writing on race, America has elected a black man President not once but twice, while residential segregation for blacks is the lowest it has been since the Warren Harding administration.
Black people keep on keeping on. We always have. If there is really such a thing as black pride, we need to celebrate our resilience and progress and let go of the idea that our well-being depends on whites being exquisitely tuned to the nuances of racism and its legacies.
After all, no matter how plausible that may sound, there is no evidence of its validity. The data is in now: black people airing non-left opinions does not hold the race back. As such, the soul patrol may safely leave Ben Carson alone.