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White Conservatives’ Minstrel Tradition

Lee A. Daniels

Ben Carson, now at the top of the polls of Republican Party voters, is in serious political trouble, as his wacky and right-wing views on numerous issues draw more scrutiny and critical pieces of his “inspirational” back-story are being challenged as partial or complete fabrications.

A looming question now is: What more of this political game of truth and consequences regarding Ben Carson is yet to be played? Carson has pushed back hard against the stories in the media — using the standard conservative “victimology” gambit that the “liberal media” is out to get him because he’s a black conservative.

But in fact, it’s readily apparent it’s the GOP establishment that wants Carson gone — since he has no chance of gaining the nomination — so it can fully focus next on pushing Donald Trump out to clear the path for their favorite, Florida Senator Marco Rubio (Bye, Jeb Bush!).

Nonetheless, it’s still worth exploring why Ben Carson’s near lily-white base of supporters have found him so appealing, and why he was, up to this point, so useful to the GOP as a whole.

Conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg recently supplied a partial — and revealing — answer. Writing in the National Review Online, one of the conservative movement’s Bibles, Goldberg asserted that because both of Carson’s parents were black Americans and he grew up “in Detroit, the son of a very poor, very hard-working single mother,” he could be considered “even more authentically African-American than Barack Obama, given that Obama’s mother was white and that he was raised in part by his white grandparents.”

Got it? Ben Carson is a graduate of two elite educational institutions, Yale College and the University of Michigan medical school, who forged a career as a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Barack Obama graduated from two elite educational institutions, Columbia College and Harvard Law School, before rising through the dense thicket of local, state and national politics to the Presidency of the United States.

But to Jonah Goldberg, what makes Ben Carson, with his extraordinarily elite credentials and experience “even more authentically black” than Barack Obama, with his extraordinarily elite credentials and experience, is the race and economic status of their respective parents.

I, for one, can’t wait for Goldberg to explore whether Carly Fiorina is a “more authentic” white woman than Hilary Clinton, or Ted Cruz a more authentic Latino-American than Marco Rubio. And, of course, Goldberg must tell us which of the white male candidates in both parties embodies the “more authentic” qualities of white American male-hood.

Goldberg’s pathetic gambit unmasks two particularly important dynamics in today’s conservative politics. One is that white conservatives have never forgiven Barack and Michelle Obama — and the large cohort of high-achieving black Americans of the post-1960s they directly represent — for not joining the paltry number of black conservatives in drinking the Republican Kool-Aid. In fact, Goldberg was echoing the ludicrous claim made earlier in October by media baron Rupert Murdoch.

Indeed, all black conservatives — Herman Cain, for example, the white conservatives’ black idol of the 2012 presidential primary cycle — get that gushing “blessing” from white conservatives at one time or another. It’s part of their payment for thinking in lockstep with white conservative rhetoric.

This longstanding tradition of conservatism is the political equivalent of blackface minstrelsy. For what is a “minstrel” in American terms but a caricature created to confirm the biases of its creator and its audience — whether the face behind the minstrel mask is white or black.

Of course, there have always been black Americans with conservative views that ranged from moderate to extreme. But the purpose of the political cohort know as “black conservatives” is to express views hostile to black advancement that white conservatives either don’t want to say directly or provide a “black face” in order to avoid the charge of racism.

(More recently, the GOP also has applied the dynamics of political minstrelsy to obscure its reactionary stance on women’s issues as well. For example, what else could Sarah Palin’s addition to the McCain ticket in 2008 be classified as but a minstrel act?)

Jonah Goldberg’s laughable assertion, and the GOP’s atrocious record of electing black candidates to office, underscore that white conservatives still look upon “their blacks” as pawns in their war against the overwhelming majority of black Americans who don’t feel the need to seek their favor and don’t worry about being “authentically black” because, in all their infinite variety, they are.

Lee A. Daniels’ new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at