The political affinity is obvious. From Richard Nixon’s southern strategy to Ronald Reagan’s coded allusions to welfare queens and young bucks to Willie Horton to George Romney’s failed presidential campaign, conservatives have exploited racist sentiment to benefit their Republican Party, and they have done so with considerable success. Having encouraged and exploited racism for decades, Republicans have made their very conservative party the natural political home for racists. Any Republican politician has good reason to not to want to be seen celebrating Martin Luther King: he or she could face a future primary challenger citing his association with “those people” so disliked by the Republican base.
The philosophical affinity is more subtle. Conservatives (including libertarians) are fervent believers in individual responsibility. They believe that success in our society of opportunity is open to anyone with the smarts and the willingness to work hard to achieve it. (It’s a belief that comes easily to the affluent, who naturally prefer to see their own success as the product of innate intelligence and effort, rather than luck.) When conservatives look at black Americans, they see poverty, family dissolution and criminality and naturally conclude that these pathologies mark African Americans as inferior. What they can’t and don’t want to see is that these scourges are sociologically determined--they reflect the disabilities inflicted on African Americans by a history of institutionalized racism. And if you can’t or won’t see that, then you draw the obvious racist conclusions.
The exaltation of individual responsibility lends to a denial of societal responsibility: “The blacks’ problems are their own fault; let them fix them by themselves if they can; they’re not my problems.” Thus, we learn from Salon’s Brian Beutler about former Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, who took to his radio show to read a white conservative “I Have a Dream” speech:
I have a dream that all black parents will have the right to choose where their kids attend school.
I have a dream that all black boys and girls will grow up with a father.
I have a dream that young black men will stop shooting other young black men.
I have a dream that all young black men will say ‘no’ to gangs and to drugs.
I have a dream that all black young people will graduate from high school.
I have a dream that young black men won’t become fathers until after they’re married and they have a job.
He went on, but you get the picture.
Of course, most African Americans don't exhibit the pathologies that the conservatives/racists so eagerly decry. And conservatives love to point to the few black figures that they embrace, like Herman Cain and Clarence Thomas, to prove that they aren’t really racist. And it is true, the very primitive form of racism that detests all blacks no matter how praiseworthy the individual is largely extinct in these United States. Most racists can make exceptions for individuals while still despising the rest of "them."
And I can make exceptions too: as I said, conservatives aren’t necessarily racist....
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