Are conservative politics and African-Americans mutually exclusive? Groups such as the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus believe so and aren't above vitriolic blasts at blacks with conservative values.
They were examples of the coarsest kind of intolerance. But they also were much more, displaying a mean-spiritedness that would make most people blush and certainly went far beyond civility or even basic human decency. But what they actually may have revealed wasn't intended by their perpetrators: how tenuous and vulnerable the hold is that liberals and the left now have on the black community.
In December the liberal black magazine Emerge featured on its cover U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, caricatured as a lawn jockey. Inside appeared another drawing of the distinguished jurist - this time Thomas servilely was shining the shoes of fellow Associate Justice Antonin Scalia who, like Thomas, is a conservative.
Blacks cannot be conservative, was the far-from-subtle message, without being Uncle Toms. The same crude message was conveyed in mid-November by Missouri Democrat Bill Clay, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, in an open letter to his colleagues calling black Republican Rep. Gary A. Franks of Connecticut, who lost his reelection bid in November, a "foot-shuffling, head-scratching Amos 'n' Andy" and a "Negro Dr. Kevorkian who is assisting in the suicide of his own race by supporting conservative legislation that is not in the interest of black people." (For extra measure Clay, in the same letter, referred to Thomas as a snake.)
"Outrageous! Yes, that's the word," exclaims Robert Woodson, a conservative black who founded and heads the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise in Washington. But nothing new," he adds. "It means they're scared. It means they see themselves as vulnerable, and the more vulnerable they feel, the more scared they get."
Brian Jones, director of the Center for New Black Leadership, agrees. "I just shook my head [after seeing the Emerge cover]. More of the same old thing." Jones was asked if he planned a press conference to express outrage but said he decided not to "when I saw, how weak the story was."
About Clay's letter attacking his fellow black congressman, Jones says he was struck by its "irrationality. A totally gratuitous letter, unless you assume that what he wanted to do was to hurt Franks personally and put the final boot in his behind."
For Jones the attacks reveal the "intellectual exhaustion" of those doing the attacking. "All they have to offer is the same old [liberal] prescriptions. They reject what doesn't fit into their framework, and they never, never, ever examine any argument on its merits. Their message is only `pummel the messenger!'" he says.
Moreover, Woodson does not believe the attacks now are "typical" of liberal behavior, though they once were. Such meanness, he claims, "is an aberration no longer well-received by many liberals." Woodson was at the receiving end of a similar attack two years ago at the Atlanta convention of the National Association of Black Journalists when the NAACP's then-director Ben Chavis denounced him as an intellectual prostitute" for his conservatism - a charge, says Woodson, that brought on a loud chorus of jeers from the mostly liberal crowd of 5,000 and criticism by a black writer the next morning in the Atlanta Constitution.
Jones and Woodson are right on target. Denunciation of black conservatives has become more shrill - and increasingly bitter - as their numbers have grown and they have acquired a voice. Twenty years ago, Thomas Sowell was about the only name people could conjure when asked to name a prominent black conservative. Now their numbers include columnist and George Mason University economics professor Walter Williams and California's San Jose State University English professor Shelby Steele, …