Tim Scott; Paris Dennard; Mark Burns (AP/Andrew Harnik/Allison Shelley/J. Scott Applewhite)

Black conservatives who backed Trump are suddenly offended — but they sold their souls long ago

After Charlottesville, the Republican Party's black boosters are full of regrets. So why don't they quit?


Chauncey DeVega
August 21, 2017 11:00PM (UTC)

Cable news media's coverage of Donald Trump's reaction to the white supremacist terror and mayhem in Charlottesville has been an emotional spectacle. Hosts and panelists have cried, yelled at each other, become unhinged, hurled insults, acted stunned and displayed almost every range of human emotion. This is the tragic melodrama that helps to define a medium. America in 2017 may not have a Hindenburg disaster but it does have Charlottesville.

I must confess to a guilty pleasure. For me, the most "entertaining" part of the post-Charlottesville TV spectacle has been watching black conservatives with all their tears and feigned outrage and surprise at Donald Trump and the white supremacists, neo-Confederates and Nazis he coddles. The cognitive dissonance of today's black conservatives in Trump's America is almost awe-inspiring.

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For roughly the last 50 years the Republican Party has been the United States' largest white supremacist organization. To that end the Republicans have tried to keep African-Americans and other people of color from voting, relied on an electoral strategy of both subtle and overt racism to win white voters, supported the racist conspiracy theory of "birtherism" against our first black president, and advocates a range of public policies that disproportionately harm nonwhites.

Republicans are also much more likely than Democrats to hold racist attitudes toward African-Americans. And of course, the Republican Party is led (at least nominally) by Donald Trump, a man who by virtue of his words and actions has repeatedly shown that he is a racist.

In today's Republican Party, black conservatives -- especially the professional cheerleaders who are trotted out on cable news shows -- occupy a very specific role. In the post-Civil Rights era, displays of overt racism have largely fallen out of favor. However, the Republican Party is addicted to using white racism to win elections and advance its policies. To help make this strategy viable, black conservatives serve as a type of human shield for the cause of white supremacy. In essence, they are professional "best black friends."

As they blubber and bemoan their "pain" about Donald Trump and Charlottesville, black conservatives face a basic question which they will likely never answer.

Where was this pain and surprise when Donald Trump encouraged violence against black and brown protesters at his rallies? Where was the pain and surprise when Donald Trump was sued for not allowing African-Americans and other people of color to rent apartments in the buildings he owned?

Where was the pain and surprise when Trump disparaged the human rights movement Black Lives Matter as a group of "thugs"?

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Where was the pain and surprise when Trump chose apparent white nationalists and "alt-right" sympathizers like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka and Michael Anton as some of his closest advisers?

Where was the pain and surprise when Trump selected Jeff Sessions, a man who has worked for decades to keep blacks from voting and was deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge -- by the Republican Party, in 1986 -- as his attorney general, the leading law enforcement official in the nation?

Where was the pain and surprise when Trump and his administration launched a full-spectrum assault on the civil rights of African-Americans and other people of color?

Where was the pain and surprise when Trump said that police should brutalize the suspects (read: mostly black and brown people) they arrest?

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Where was the pain and surprise when Trump was forced to disavow the infamous white supremacist leader David Duke during the 2016 presidential campaign?

Where was the pain and surprise when Trump had to be forced to tell his supporters to stop committing hate crimes?

Black conservatives have supported Donald Trump specifically and the Republican Party more generally because being a professional black friend and racial mercenary is highly lucrative. It also pays a type of psychological wage where serving as the "special one" who is "not like the other blacks." That makes many black conservatives feel better about themselves. Internalized white supremacy can be a powerful and dangerous thing.

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If black conservatives had any personal integrity, honor or self-respect they would resign from the Republican Party -- and of course this is true of supposedly principled white conservatives as well -- in protest against Donald Trump.

Of course black conservatives will do no such a thing. Their souls have already been sold many times over to the highest bidder, on many occasions, before the election of Donald Trump. Today's black conservatives no longer know who holds their papers.

As a group, today's black conservatives (and other nonwhites who have chosen to be Republicans) are neither respected nor liked by Donald Trump and the party he leads.

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Today's black conservatives have traded their self-respect and dignity for a few pieces of gold and silver. They are Judases to the black freedom struggle who should be left in exile. But for better or for worse -- and likely to our own detriment -- Black America is too forgiving a place. As Trump's tide assaults the shore we will give black conservatives shelter even though they are profoundly undeserving of it. This is one of many moments when I wish black folks were less forgiving as a people, if only for the preservation of our own health and sanity.


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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