The limited usefulness of Black conservatives

Donald Trump's behavior at Diamond's funeral should be a warning for Black conservatives

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published January 30, 2023 6:00AM (EST)

US President Donald Trump speaks as social media personalities Lynnette Hardaway (L) and Rochelle Richardson (2-L), otherwise known as Diamond and Silk listen (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks as social media personalities Lynnette Hardaway (L) and Rochelle Richardson (2-L), otherwise known as Diamond and Silk listen (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

What follows is a sad story. It is also a parable and warning about race, politics, and life. While many people have chosen to laugh and mock, there is little if anything truly funny about these events.

On Jan. 8 "Diamond," whose real name is Lynette Hardaway, passed away. It was initially speculated that she died of COVID. It has now been publicly revealed that the cause of death was a heart condition caused by high blood pressure. Diamond rose to public prominence as one half of the duo known as "Diamond & Silk." These Donald Trump obsessives performed as "black conservatives" and were routinely featured at Trump's rallies, on Fox News, Newsmax, and across the right-wing propaganda disinformation media echo chamber.

"Black conservative" is a specific type of character and performance in post-civil rights America (although the archetype long predates it). In the white right-wing imagination, these are black people who fulfill a fantasy role in a type of new-age race minstrel performance where they denigrate and insult the intelligence, dignity, and political agency of other black people for the pleasures of white "conservatives" and white America. These black conservatives claim that other black people are lazy, have "bad culture", "can't think for themselves", are trapped on a "Democratic Party plantation." If they "knew better," black conservatives argue, more black people would actually be "conservatives." Black conservatives also elevate themselves as exemplars of "hard work" and as "proof" that America is a meritocracy where anything is possible — "if you just stop worrying" about racism.

In what is perhaps their most important role, black conservatives are professional "best black friends." They serve as mercenaries, human racism deflection shields who are deployed to tell white people some of the most grossly racist and vile things about other black people. For example, on the Friday edition of his Fox "News" program, Tucker Carlson's black conservative guest played the above role perfectly as he suggested that the savage killing of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police was somehow caused by "black culture," specifically single black mothers:

They don't want us focused on reality. Hey, if they want us to devote an hour of coverage to this and weekend coverage to this and they want to take us to a good place, I would examine the racial element of this. Because there is a racial element. And this is a story about young Black men and their inability to treat each other in a humane way.

Everybody involved in this, on the street level, was either 24 to 32 years old. Everybody, it was a group of young Black men, five on one. It looked like gang violence to me. It looked like what young Black men do when they're supervised by a single Black woman, and that's what they got going on in the Memphis Police Department.

They've elected -- or put some Black woman in charge of the police force, and we're getting the same kind of chaos and disunity and violence that we see in a lot of these cities that are run by single mothers.

If we want to discuss the breakdown of family that leads to disrespect for authority, that causes you to resist the police and run from the police and not comply with the police, because you resist authority at all times, because there was no male authority in your home, let's have that discussion.

But that's not where they want to take us. They want to take us down the path of saying, "You know what? This is Tucker Carlson's fault. This is some random white -- this is Donald Trump's fault." It's not. It's the breakdown of family and the buying into all these left-wing things that have nothing to do with promoting family. 

Carlson looked on with approval as his black conservative guest channeled white supremacist and other anti-black talking points that made Nichols somehow responsible for his own killing by the Memphis police.

In total, today's black conservatives function as a type of human projection and embodiment of white racist fantasies about the difference between "the good blacks" (compliant, submissive, and enabling of white racism and white supremacy) and "the bad blacks" (assertive, not submissive, resisting white racism and white supremacy, possessing human agency, not committed to making white people comfortable).

To be fair, there is a long and rich history of authentic black conservatism from within the black community that is based on a sense of linked fate and a deep love and concern for black people's humanity, survival, and success. Moreover, this authentic black conservatism is not subservient to the white gaze or otherwise doing the work of white racism and white supremacy. Today's professional black conservatives, however, are not part of that tradition or community of black political life and struggle. Today's professional black conservative seeks and usually receives lucrative rewards from the right-wing machine.

Throughout the Age of Trump, "Diamond" and "Silk" played their role in that universe very well. Diamond's funeral was held last Saturday in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Donald Trump was the featured guest at Diamond's homegoing ceremony, which was attended by several hundred MAGA faithful and others. Of course, Diamond's funeral and celebration of life also featured nonsense conspiracy theories, right-wing paranoia and fearmongering, general MAGA madness and other foolishness. The Daily Mail described this spectacle as:

Following the impassioned call to action on the vaccine, Silk paid homage to the former U.S. president remembering the close relationship the three shared going as far as to say that he 'treated us just like the other children - Eric, Don Jr, Tiffany.'

But as Trump paid tribute to Diamond, describing her as one of the world's 'brightest stars' he admits he 'didn't know Silk at all' despite meeting her countless times.

'The world has lost one of its brightest stars but I see that we have another star who was equal to but she stepped up and she is different,' Trump said.

'I'm serious I thought I knew them both, I didn't, I knew Diamond, but I didn't know Silk at all I just learned about Silk, you're fantastic, you're going to carry on beyond, beyond anybody's wildest imaginations.'

Pictures of the three together have resurfaced, showing Trump with the duo at the White House on several occasions and on the campaign trail with Trump.

As the funeral service proceeded, it slowly began to descend into madness, turning from a funeral service to what appeared to be a MAGA rally.

Throughout the funeral, Trump appeared to be visibly bored, disinterested, uncomfortable, and clearly did not want to be there. Most of the reporting and commentary about Diamond's funeral focused on Trump's disgusting narcissism, where even during such a solemn event he could not suppress his own ego to show appropriate empathy and sympathy for another person whom he claimed to care about.

Conservative commentator Charlie Sykes called this out on MSNBC. "Just beyond bizarre, beyond rude, beyond anything that anyone would see in normal, polite, let me say decent society," Sykes said of Trump. "This is a guy that a lot of people want to be the next president of the United States again, and so on brand for him, too….Look, this is what happens when you have a narcissistic sociopath give a homily at a funeral. It won't go well."

Trump's behavior at Diamond's funeral is, at this point, to be expected. The bigger and more important story is what "Diamond & Silk" represent. Today's Republican Party and the larger neofascist movement uses black and brown bodies, women, gays and lesbians and members of other marginalized groups as human weapons in their war on multiracial pluralist democracy and a more humane and inclusive society.

In the case of "black conservatives", these forces are using them as a way of appropriating the moral authority and symbolic power and legacy of the civil rights movement and the larger Black Freedom Struggle to do the work of white supremacy, racial authoritarianism, and other anti-democratic projects. 

At the Washington Post, Hannah Allam and Razzan Nakhlawi provide additional context in their article, "Black, Brown and extremist: Across the far-right spectrum, people of color play a more visible role":

People of color are playing increasingly visible roles across the spectrum of far-right activism. Today, non-White activists speak for groups of radicalized MAGA supporters, parts of the "Patriot" movement, and, in rare cases, neo-Nazi factions. Although a few have concealed their identities, many others proudly acknowledge their backgrounds and offer themselves as counterpoints to charges of pervasive racism in right-wing movements.

The "multiracial far right," as it's sometimes called, adds another layer to an already fraught debate over how to address violent extremism, the top domestic terrorism threat. Understanding the makeup and motivations of far-right groups is crucial to the Biden administration's pledge to overhaul the federal response to domestic threats in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

People of color are a tiny fraction of that world, but analysts say they play an outsized role in challenging perceptions. The common refrain that white supremacy is a main driver of the far right is complicated when Black or Brown figures speak publicly for Stop the Steal, the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer and other factions that are under scrutiny. The trend is forcing new ways to think about, and talk about, the far right's appeal.

"It's like a multiracial kind of fascism in that it absolutely imagines a nation that has to defend itself from marauding outsiders and invest in militarism. But it's not in the language of 'purity' that we often associate it with," said Daniel Martinez HoSang, a Yale University associate professor and co-author of the 2019 book "Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity."…

"Part of their standing on the White right is that they're constantly willing to attack other people of color and say anti-Black things in ways that kind of ingratiate them to White conservatives," said Martinez HoSang, the professor. "Whereas there's another group of conservatives of color that refuses to do that, sees it as racist and wants to build a conservatism that isn't predicated on those racist assumptions."

Also at the Washington Post, Cristina Beltran highlights the role of "multiracial whiteness" in how some nonwhite people are attempting to access the privileges that come from being allied with a white supremacist political and social project:

The Trump administration's anti-immigration, anti-civil rights stance has made it easy to classify the president's loyalists as a homogenous mob of white nationalists. But take a look at the FBI's posters showing people wanted in the insurrectionist assault on the U.S. Capitol: Among the many White faces are a few that are clearly Latino or African American….

Rooted in America's ugly history of white supremacy, indigenous dispossession and anti-Blackness, multiracial whiteness is an ideology invested in the unequal distribution of land, wealth, power and privilege — a form of hierarchy in which the standing of one section of the population is premised on the debasement of others. Multiracial whiteness reflects an understanding of whiteness as a political color and not simply a racial identity — a discriminatory worldview in which feelings of freedom and belonging are produced through the persecution and dehumanization of others.

Multiracial whiteness promises Latino Trump supporters freedom from the politics of diversity and recognition. For voters who see the very act of acknowledging one's racial identity as itself racist, the politics of multiracial whiteness reinforces their desired approach to colorblind individualism. In the politics of multiracial whiteness, anyone can join the MAGA movement and engage in the wild freedom of unbridled rage and conspiracy theories.

Multiracial whiteness offers citizens of every background the freedom to call Muslims terrorists, demand that undocumented immigrants be rounded up and deported, deride BLM as a movement of thugs and criminals, and accuse Democrats of being blood-drinking pedophiles.

Here, the politics of exclusion, violence and demonization are available to all. If you want to speak Spanish and celebrate a quinceañera in your family, go ahead. If you want to be a Proud Boy, be a Proud Boy. Trump doesn't care. As long as you love him, he'll love you.

America's racial divide is not simply between Whites and non-Whites. Thinking in terms of multiracial whiteness helps us recognize that much of today's political rift is a division between those who are drawn to and remain invested in a politics of whiteness and those who seek something better.

Donald Trump's behavior at Diamond's funeral should be a warning and a lesson for black conservatives about how their white fans and sponsors really see and value them.

Social scientists and other researchers have repeatedly shown that white Republicans, conservatives, and right-leaning independents possess higher levels of antipathy, general animus, and outright hostility and racism towards black and brown people as compared to white Democrats, liberals, and progressives. This dynamic is especially extreme for Trump supporters and other members of that white identity politics tribe.

Black conservatives have chosen to play a very lucrative role in the modern right-wing media machine. In the end, however, they are utterly disposable and easily replaceable because they are viewed as a type: cogs and pawns in a white racist fantasy projection, not real human beings.

Still, the larger concern — and real danger — is how today's Republican fascists are using such figures and members of other marginalized communities to legitimize their campaign to end real pluralistic democracy.

"Diamond & Silk" were professional clowns. Hershel Walker is a buffoon. The various other black and brown conservatives who are summoned up by the right to play their onerous roles are contemptible and, yes, perhaps even "entertaining" in their own horrible way. Likewise, it is easy to laugh at and mock Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene , R-Ga., for her "stupidity" and belief in patently wrong and dunderheaded conspiracy theories. She is now one of the most powerful people in the United States Congress.

It is the larger movement, and not the personalities, who should be the focus of the news media. and its analysts and pundits as they explain to the public the realities of the American and global democracy crisis. That type of work is time-consuming, exhausting, difficult and does not generate the clicks, likes, shares, ad revenue, and profits that drive the business that is the American news media – which is why as an institution it has largely avoided doing that necessary type of pro-democracy reporting and journalism throughout the Age of Trump and beyond.

By Chauncey DeVega

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

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