Saviors or Sellouts: The Promise and Peril of Black Conservatism, from Booker T. Washington to Condoleezza Rice

Saviors or Sellouts: The Promise and Peril of Black Conservatism, from Booker T. Washington to Condoleezza Rice

Saviors or Sellouts: The Promise and Peril of Black Conservatism, from Booker T. Washington to Condoleezza Rice

Saviors or Sellouts: The Promise and Peril of Black Conservatism, from Booker T. Washington to Condoleezza Rice


What exactly is a black conservative, and why would anyone choose to be one? This question, deemed largely irrelevant in years past, is one that liberals can no longer afford to leave unanswered. While the 2006 midterm elections buoyed liberals, Democrats have in fact been losing ground with their African American base. In 1972, fewer than 10 percent of African Americans identified themselves as conservative; today nearly 30 percent-11.2 million-do. By contrast, the number of blacks who self-identify as liberal continues to decline, reaching a low of 13 percent in 2004. In this groundbreaking book, Bracey explains black conservatism's growing appeal and traces its hidden and underappreciated history. Though black conservatives are becoming the most visible voices within African American politics and culture, few realize that the black conservative tradition predates the Civil War and is an intellectual movement with deep historical roots. Bracey takes his readers on a remarkable journey, tracing the evolution of black conservative thought from its origins in antebellum Christian evangelism and petty entrepreneurialism to its contemporary expression in policy debates over affirmative action, law enforcement practices, and the corrosive effects of urban African American artistic and cultural expression. Bracey examines black neoconservatives like Shelby Steele and John McWhorter and reveals the philosophies of prominent political conservatives such as Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice. With a revealing chapter on the infotainment effect of Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, pundits, and bloggers, Bracey analyzes the tradeoffs made by conservatives-many of which raise serious questions about whether conservatives today are effectively protecting the interests of blacks. Original and penetrating, Saviors or Sellouts is the first account of why conservatism remains a coherent and compelling alternative for African Americans today. "This marvelous book is required reading for all who want to understand the phenomenon of conservatism in the most progressive group of Americans-Black people." -Cornel West, author of Race Matters "This important and fascinating engagement with the growing black conservative movement illuminates one of the most vexing political trends of our time. Written by a leading African American liberal, it powerfully traces the intellectual character and practical appeal of this growing movement, and offers a realistic and empathetic, yet sharply critical, appraisal." -Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America and Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University "Bold and provocative, Saviors or Sellouts challenges us to rethink longstanding political labels as part of larger quest for social justice and black community empowerment in the 21st century. -Peniel E. Joseph, author of Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America "In seeking to chart the topography of black conservatism, Bracey undertakes a task not only necessary to the new millenium's politics of blackness but also brave. Neither black liberals nor conservatives have a monopoly on the truth, nor does either group have an innate right to the hearts and minds of the community; it is only by respecting each other enough to engage in a respectful debate that blacks can heal themselves and fight for their preferences in the body politic. This work will aid immeasurably in achieving that goal. It is long overdue." -Debra J. Dickerson, author of The End of Blackness: Returning the Souls of Black Folk to their Rightful Owners "Saviors or Sellouts is a must read-not only to identify black conservatives but, indeed, to understand them." -Mary Fra


What exactly does it mean to be a black conservative, and why would anyone choose to become one?

This is the kind of question that rarely elicits a serious response. Depending upon the source, it can come off as cynical, accusatory, and politically loaded. Over the years, I have asked this question of selfproclaimed black conservatives in a variety of formal and informal settings—sometimes in jest, but mostly with earnest intention. Responses have been predictably wide ranging. The interminable pregnant pause. The wry smile. The incredulous glance. Mild deflection, followed by an inquiry into my own personal politics. The cautious and thoroughly caveated explanation. The full-blown ideological rant. Rarely, if ever, have I come away from such exchanges substantively and intellectually satisfied.

There was a time when the answer to this question was largely inconsequential. In the mid-twentieth century, black conservatives resided at the periphery of American culture and politics. The influence of black conservatives and the ideas they espoused had little demonstrable effect on the trajectory of American politics and race relations. Liberals commanded the black political and cultural stage, and the answer to this question, to the extent that it was ever asked, was largely ignored.

As twenty-first-century Americans, however, we find ourselves in a radically different posture. Black conservatives are quickly becoming the . . .

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