African American allegiance to the Democratic Party

In 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first black president of the United States of America. I voted for him. Why, you ask? Because of his passion, his conviction, and his quality speeches. I will be the first to say that in 2008 I knew nothing about politics.  Also, I didn’t know anything about the policies of George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor. I knew he was a Republican, and I knew he was at the realm of our country as we nose-dived into What is being called the Great Recession. So why not vote for Obama? He talked a good talk, right?

Eric Coleman, Junior Editor, Alabama Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review

Today, a new election is upon us, and my desire to be informed this time around has kept me glued to the Internet and every news station, including Fox News.   Recently I heard a statement that stated “the President has taken for granted the black vote because the black community has always been loyal to the democratic agenda.  This statement is what served as inspiration for me to write this blog.  So my question is why is the black community loyal to the Democratic Party?  Furthermore, I wondered why I considered myself a democrat. History shows that the liberal ideologies of the Democratic Party may be the cause.

You don’t have to trace back to many generations to find that at some point the black community did support a more conservative agenda. Black conservatism has a foundation that traces back as far as the late 1800’s with men like Booker T. Washington, and before him, Frederick Douglas.  Douglas once wrote:

“In regard to the colored people, there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us.  What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy but simply justice.  The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us… I have but one answer from the beginning.  Do nothing with us!  Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us.   Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall!”[1]

Some may recall this quote from Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in the affirmative action case of Grutter v. Bollinger. Justice Thomas, also considered a black conservative, has taken a lot of criticism for his jurisprudence over the course of his tenure on the Court.  Justice Thomas used this quote to help establish his stance that “blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators.”[2]  Justice Thomas, like other notable black conservatives believed that reliance on the government does not solve the problem.[3]   Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig of the University of Iowa, College of Law, described two key concepts that define the core principles of black conservative thought: (1) an emphasis on the departure from black “victimology”; and (2) the promotion of self-reliance and the elimination of dependency on Whites or the government.[1] These concepts “go to the heart of what black conservatives view as the problems underlying unemployment, crime, and poverty in the black community.”[2]

Despite the presence of black leaders who strive to advance the cause of the black community from a conservative standpoint, it seems that black leaders who present a more liberal standpoint are able to garner more support from the black community. For decades the black community has remained loyal to liberal ideologies.  Why is this? These ideologies place the burden on the government to correct the imbalances between the black and white communities.[3]  This approach seems to resound more than the approach of self-help and self-reliance presented by conservatives like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Justice Clarence Thomas, Professor Thomas Sowell, and the like? Often, however, the issues important within the black community are conservative, such as school prayer, corporal punishment, capital punishment, and abortion.[4] Yet, history shows that “issue” conservatism does not necessarily equate to “political” conservatism.[5]  So while many of the social issues the black community finds important are conservative, the belief amongst the black community is to employ the fastest means possible to address the issues.[6]  Methods such as lawsuits, protest demonstrations, and political mobilization are not present in conservatism.[7] Yet, in the eyes of many blacks they are the most adept to bringing about social change. Furthermore, blacks have often viewed the conservative agenda of self-help and self-reliance as selling out to whites, and doing that which would “least irritate” them.[8]  However, this is not so.  Conservative George Schuyler explained in his autobiography that ”once we accept the fact that there is, and will always be a color caste system in the United States, and stop crying about it, we can concentrate on how best to survive and prosper within that system.  This is not defeatism but realism.”[9]

Today the struggle of black conservatives to spread their ideologies through the black community remains true.  The strongest barriers confronting black conservatives are the success of liberal ideologies[10] and the stigma on black conservatives as pawns of the white-conservative Republican Party.[11]  Black conservatives have responded to the success of liberal ideals by stating that many liberal ideas have facilitated black advancement in society by placing a bandage over the issues while the scars still bleed underneath.  As an example, affirmative action programs were designed to move more blacks into educational institutions and jobs that were dominated by the white majority.  In effect, affirmative action programs tend to open up opportunities to: (1) qualified blacks who deserved the opportunities that they were not getting, as well as (2) less qualified blacks who did not have the qualifications required for admission or job positions, due to socio-economic issues. I have no issue with these programs opening the doors to members of the black community who deserved these positions based on their merit. Honestly, I don’t have an issue with opening opportunities to people who wouldn’t be considered based on their merit.  Yet, is there not a better solution? My take on affirmative action is that the goal of such programs is for more blacks to have access to success in American society. They don’t have access, because they don’t have the requirements such as college degree.  They don’t have college degrees because they often cannot compete statistics wise with their white counterparts.  So for illustrative purposes:


Childhood Education à College Degree/Credentials à Access to success in Society (Jobs)

While this possibly oversimplifies the problem, it is enough to help prove the point.  Affirmative Action programs are installed typically at the Collegiate Education level and at the access level.  However that does not attack the core of the problem, which lies at the bottom in the childhood education.  The best way to fix a problem is by eliminating the cause of that problem, not placing a bandage over it to cover the wounds.

In response to the idea of black conservatives as pawns, black conservatives argue that there are fundamental differences between black conservative ideology and white conservative ideology, which defeats the idea that black conservatives are “tools” of their white counterparts.

In conclusion, I hope this article is enough to make you ask yourself, why am I voting?  Do these candidates present ideas which are in my best interests?  This time around I will vote again, for the right reasons.


[1] What the Black Man Wants: An Address Delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, on 26 January 1865, reprinted in 4 The Frederick Douglass Papers 59, 68 (J. Blassingame & J. McKivigan eds 1991)(emphasis in original).

[2] Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 349 (2003).

[3] Id. at 350.

[4] Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Just Another Brother on the SCT?: What Justice Clarence Thomas Teaches Us About the Influence of Racial Identit., 90 Iowa L. Rev. 931, 948 (2005).

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 947.

[7] Ronald W. Walters, White Nationalism, Black Interests 230 (2003).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Onwuachi-Willig, supra note4, at 944.

[12] George S. Schuyler, Black and Conservative 121-22 (1966).

[13]Onwuachi-Willig, supra note 4,  at 947.

[14] Id. at 948.


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