The Accomplishments of Black Conservative Thought

Originally published at: The Accomplishments of Black Conservative Thought – Quillette

The line between moral and empirical claims is a tricky one for debaters. In his thoughtful Quillette essay, “The Limitations of Black Conservative Thought,” Aaron Hanna—like me, a professor of Political Science—critiques some of the more sweeping theoretical claims of America’s intellectual tradition of black conservatism. However, he does not rebut (or necessarily attempt to…

2 Likes

An excellent contribution to this ongoing debate. And thanks for this:

However, broadening the analytical lens beyond whites and blacks, in a country that is now just 59 percent non-Hispanic white, reveals a different and more complex pattern. The same Gallup survey also revealed that nine percent of Americans would not vote for a Hispanic, nine percent for a Jew, 19 percent for a Mormon, and almost 40 percent for an Arab or other Muslim. Methodologically sophisticated audit-style studies often turn up similar results—a recent example found severe bias—an additional 28 percent rate of recorded rejection—against Asian job applicants with names like “Chiang” and “Suzuki” when compared to all applicants with Western names. Another study detected religious as well as racial bias, with applicants identifying as members of traditions including Catholicism and Wicca 29 percent and Muslims 38 percent less likely to receive a callback than control group members.

It’s helpful to remember that yes indeed humans have prejudices, of many sorts, and especially about other people who are in some way “not like ourselves.” This is a part of human nature and culture which cannot be squashed out of us. The fact that we can find example all around us of does not mean that everything is wicked and must be overturned in order to fix everything.

And so where we see differences of outcome, it is not necessarily (as Kendi argues) the result of racist policies. To insist that it is, means that we cannot look for aspects which are fixable. And the oikophobia which results from probing within ourselves to drive out the postulated evil spirits only serves to make us insane and angry.

7 Likes

I’m just gonna join the Wilfred Reilly fan club and get it over with. Been reading his Twitter comments with my morning coffee, and always find something informative and/or amusing there. In fact, I just bought one of his books to pay him back for the entertainment.

Arron Hanna’s article was pretty good too, but like some others here, I felt a tad defensive about some of his criticisms of people I admire.

Black conservatives, as a group, are swimming upstream in dangerous waters, and that takes some courage.

5 Likes

A good essay. On the subject of police shootings the first thing to point out is that American police officers face a unique set of circumstances, compared to officers in other countries. In most Western countries, officers simply don’t the same risk of encountering as assailant with a gun. But it’s a lot more than that is at play. Virtually every Western country has embarked upon upon various policing strategies similar to the War on Drugs, anti-gang and proactive policing, part of which is known more popularly as Broken Windows, but none have had anywhere near similar levels of incarceration, which I believe is intimately related with the vile tropes which have been engineered by the media in relation young African American men in the past, and police shootings in the present.

Obviously, every police shooting is tragic, made the more so by the desecration of just authority seen in those rare instances which shock the conscience so vividly, but more broadly- it’s not the police who are to blame for America’s troubles, they are mostly the janitors who clean up the mess. So what is to blame?

Well, first we need to consider that despite the fact that the number of citizens per police officer in America is roughly comparable to other advanced Western economies, they routinely have to deal with 5 to 7 times the level of violence. We really need to look to what social condition are unique to America- it’s one for the social scientists. I wouldn’t hold out much hope, given that they seem to studiously ignore the wealth of data showing the proportion of fathers in a community is crucial to both upward social mobility and preventing juvenile violence, which is often a precursor to adult criminality.

But more broadly speaking, we need to look to the media and political classes and the effect they have had in corrupting America’s Criminal Justice system. And if COVID has taught us anything, it is that the media dictates the actions of politicians- the tail wagging the dog, as it were. Pre-pandemic planning and epidemic rehearsals contained no such thing as a lockdown. It wasn’t in the playbook because the behaviouralists all agreed that it simply isn’t possible to keep an entire population compliant in any meaningful way for any length of time.

But after initially dismissing concerns by experts and then realising they had blundered, they first proceeded to foment a panic- because it sold the news- and then decided we needed strong action. What this clearly demonstrates is that politicians are little more than indentured servants to the media cycle. If we remember our recent history, it was the media which perpetuated a news cycle of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ that so scared the American public, subsequently finding an obscure conservative academic who first coined the phrase ‘superpredator’.

And the parallels between the narrative which once surrounded young Black men and now dictates the reaction of large swathes of the American public towards police officers are striking. Both rely upon the selective curation of news stories to produce a false reality for media consumers, fooling people into accepting a deeply flawed availability heuristic which bears no relation to the facts on the ground. Most Americans simply don’t realise that for every George Floyd there is Tony Timpa, that for every Black child shot for possessing a toy gun, we could find a white equivalent.

And what was the result of the previous false narrative perpetrated by the media? Substantial changes to the American Criminal Code. The deliberate undermining of judicial discretion- the only person in a courtroom who should exercise any real degree of discretion- based upon yet another flawed heuristic, the perception that a tiny number of ultra-liberal fruitcakes in robes were somehow more broadly representative of the judiciary.

Draconian sentences were also a huge factor, implemented by legislative fiat, which, in a truly constitutional society should have been rejected as a violation of the principle of the Separation of Powers. When Parliament passed the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act in 1994, which removed the ‘Right to Silence’ along with many other changes, British judges showed more backbone- almost all simply refused to have any mention of a ‘no comment’ or ‘no reply’ in their courtroom. Many still don’t to this day.

The average coke dealer gets a sentence of 39 months in the UK, which is misleading because there is clear distinction between those who the court deems odious, but relatively safe (other than through their trade), and those who pose a substantial risk to public safety. In the US, the average sentence imposed for federal drug trafficking in 2016 was 71 months, and this type of sentencing is typical of American sentencing mandates.

It is such a failed strategy. Research has shown that longer sentences have almost no value in terms of added deterrence or in preventing crime- the only ground for longer sentences should be when a criminal poses a substantial risk to the public. An empirically based approach would cut spending on prisons and spend more money on detecting and catching criminals, because the research also shows that if you substantially increase the risks of a criminal getting caught for a given offence, the crime levels drastically reduce.

Perhaps realising their institutional historical mistakes, having read Michelle Alexander or watched13th, the media are only compounding their error by encouraging a style of policing and Criminal Justice which exists at the polar opposite extreme- jeopardising the quality of life of huge numbers of mainly Black and Brown urban residents and exposing them to substantial increased risks of murder- with homicides rising by 36% in America in 2020, three times the previous record of 12%. Again, the victims are primarily Black and Brown, and although COVID may well be factor in some peripheral sense, every other Western country has seen a fall in violent crime since the onset of the pandemic.

Under the baleful omnipresent influence of legacy media, American Criminal Justice is not so much a set of scales, but a pendulous scythe which swings violently from one extreme to the other, unheedful of the damage it may do to those unfortunate enough to fall under its auspices. And Criminal Justice is only one of many American public policies which media undermines- many people belabour under the misapprehension that the failures of the public school system are down to money (which can be true at the margins, or in some States, but many States have also instituted policies which target additional funds to inner city schools, to little effect), rather than the result of disrupted classrooms, flaky and unproven educational theories and an educational bureaucracy which has singularly failed in the one job it was tasked to do- raise performance standards in education.

An empirical approach to improving American society would see the redistribution of taxpayer money away from funding student debt and from public universities and towards vocational training. It’s not the kids who do well at school and go to college who end up committing crime and going to prison. It’s the kids who don’t do well at school, who feel like failures at 16 and feel they have no chance of leading a healthy and productive life who are drawn into crime, with the inevitable results.

Many kids who go to college find themselves barristas or bartenders when they graduate. Meanwhile, there were 7 million relatively well-paid vocationally orientated jobs which employers simply couldn’t fill in 2019. Since the early 2000s, Black America has made huge strides- which goes widely unreported other than by Coleman Hughes. If America wants to capitalise on the gain, and see a real and substantial improvement then they need to create a roadmap for success for kids from poorer backgrounds who don’t do well at schools.

It would also do a great deal for the perception of racial equality in America- because although poor white kids probably outnumber poor white kids in terms the pure numbers, the percentage of Black kids who are poor is disproportionate. The jobs exist, as do the people- it’s simply a case of creating the right linkage to fill the vacancies. With well-paid work these young men won’t have time the time or the inclination to go out to commit crimes.

As usual, my comments and essays are available on Substack, which is free to view and comment:

4 Likes

However, heterodox thinkers have repeatedly pointed out that many leftist and black Americans do hold a range of wildly untrue beliefs about the nature of “racial oppression” that are likely to hamper success. A recent study from the Skeptic Research Center (SRC) found that 31 percent of those identified as “very liberal” on an ordinal survey believe that the average number of unarmed black Americans killed annually by police is “about 1,000.” Fourteen percent believe that this number is “about 10,000,” while almost eight percent believe it is more than that. To put this astonishing finding in context, less than 20,000 homicides of any kind take place in a typical year, about half of which involve blacks. The total number of unarmed black men shot by police in 2020 was 18.

I don’t see exactly how any such beliefs would actually hamper success. For one, most people aren’t thinking in actual statistical terms when they provide such answers and are mostly attempting to approximate how often they think such events occur. Secondly, the changing terminology in that paragraph itself reflects the lack of clarity inherent in such questions. Not everyone shot by police officers die (immediately anyway), and not everyone killed by a police officer was shot (e.g., George Floyd). And then there’s Freddie Gray who doesn’t fit neatly in any category. The 10,000 figure is admittedly out there a bit, but taking everything into consideration, an answer of 1,000 doesn’t represent some unreasonable asinine answer IMO. Even so, there’s nothing obvious about any of this “hampering success” of the people that responded with such answers. Same goes for the number of young Black men who die in automobile fatalities compared to the number shot (not killed, but shot according to the article) by police annually. It comes across more as useless trivia than anything IMO.

Paranoia about the threat to black safety posed by whites is hardly confined to discussions of policing. A remarkable 2005 article in the Washington Post reported that more than 25 percent of black Americans believed AIDS was created in a government lab, 15 percent saw the disease as a form of genocide against blacks, and 12 percent thought it was originally created and spread by the CIA. While such beliefs are obviously not the only thing preventing black advancement, it is difficult to imagine those who hold them participating whole-heartedly in society alongside those they see as genocidal oppressors. Steele is correct if sometimes excessive in making this point, and a robust black conservatism does discourse a substantial service by actively fighting such misinformation.

Firstly, it is so extremely disingenuous to act as though there is no actual historical basis for any of these beliefs and it’s nothing than just crazy talk by folks who ought to be committed. There wasn’t even a passing mention of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, mustard gas experiments on Black soldiers during the WWII era, NC’s long-running sterilization program for Black women, the Flint water crisis, etc.–incidents of direct government involvement, either with deliberate intent or through criminal neglect, that resulted in significantly negative health impacts on Black citizens. And it’s a bit interesting to read all of this in light of how the “Wuhan lab leak” hypothesis with respect to SARS-Cov-2 has rapidly gained traction over the past several weeks after initially being dismissed as far-fetched. Personally, I believe the standard scientific explanation concerning the origins of HIV but viral epidemics in general provide the ideal context for these sorts of beliefs to proliferate. Oh, and let’s not forget that the source is from 2005. That’s going to be the common birthyear for a flood of incoming college freshmen within the next two years, so we aren’t exactly looking at recent opinions.

But yes, this is what collective healing looks like after many many years of mistreatment. And we still managed to produce jazz, rock 'n roll, and MLK. I have no doubt we’ll be just fine; we’re simply living in future history and aren’t always cognizant of the fact that our concise summarizations of historical eras that often lasted many years often results in a similar mental conception of those events also, which we then impose on the present. But to say as much looks too much like coddling I suppose, so shame it is.

I think using terms like ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ may have had their uses in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but increasingly, they are now misleading and obscure more than they reveal.

I do not think that it is particularly ‘conservative’ to frame social discourse through personal responsibility and culture anymore than it is ‘progressive’ to frame it through ‘systemic’ inequality, whether racial, economic or anything else.

The awful truth is that there is very little left of traditional society to get ‘conservative’ about, let alone a sense of ‘progress’ towards some plausible historical end point.that is readily identifiable at all, let alone one that offers some prospect of betterment.

And when it comes to making changes from whatever perspective, all confront the intractable problem that it is much easier to fall over than stay standing. And the corollary of that is that falling over is strongly associated with absorbing damage. Getting up again means not only beating gravity, but compensating for the damage as well…and that is before taking a single step anywhere.

Everyone is up against that, regardless of what their particular nostrums for dealing with the perceived problems and their solutions happen to be.

My thesis is that underneath the monumental success of consumer economies that rolled out in the 1960s, there has been a colossal price for it that just hasn’t been paid for three generations now, which has been borne by the existential, social, cultural, economic and ecological infrastructure that we depend on for the production of stable individuals, communities and ecosystems…their governance and the stewardship necessary to capitalize and maintain them.

Failure to capitalize and maintain fundamental infrastructure looks good up front as the diverted effort and capital is redirected into an indulgence economy and culture.

Deregulation and privatization are pretty cool. No one really ‘likes’ discipline and the necessary training for it, when an economy and culture of rationed and wants is being lusciously transformed into one of fantasies of desire and immediate satiation no matter what.

It looks terrific and all upside, as long as no one looks too hard at what is going on underneath, on the downside…If you aren’t looking for signs of infrastructure deterioration, you only start to find out just what the damage profile looks like when critical infrastructure starts to collapse and toxic shit starts leaking everywhere…3 generations later…across all platforms.

While everyone has been affected, already wounded communities were first in line to see their community infrastructure dissolve in front of them

The rise of ideological fundamentalism, whether Wokeist or Religious, is a symptom of just how serious and intractable these issues have become, as everybody starts to default to bottom lines beyond which they will go to war.

If anyone is interested in how these matters can be managed competently or fumbled, the history of the industrialization of traditionalist Japan and China is instructive.

The Japanese samurai ruling class pragmatically understood that to obtain military parity with the west, they would have to dump much of their traditional business model, be very selective about what they could port of their past into their future, sacrifice everything to succeed and work like there was no tomorrow in a completely focused and disciplined fashion for 40-50 years, which they did and succeeded.

The Chinese mandarin ruling class thought it had nothing much to learn from outside, except at the margins, which would be grudging absorbed because they continued to see themselves as the centre of global civilization. The result was catastrophe as the country was buffeted from pillar to post in one hideous disaster after another, virtually until Mao died in 1976.

I think we are confronted with the same conundrums that those two societies confronted in the nineteenth century. They had to adapt to new circumstances that would not allow for the maintenance of the status quo and established business models. And the ones who tried to load up too much of their traditional ways fell by the wayside.

The challenge in front of us is one of infrastructure restoration across all platforms that will require deprivatization and reregulation across the board, as we divert resources from a toys and games economy and society, to a repair and rebuild of the now chronically damaged existential, social, economic and ecological means of subsistence, so that our efforts do not keep turning into dysfunctional mush.

The big takeaway from this is that carrying such a project forward will require simultaneous personal, cultural and economic change, and its means of governance, across the board, in all areas of life. It won’t be a matter of the personal and cultural, or the systemic, It will be both, because without both, success will not be achieved.

The Japanese understood this clearly within 10 years of the modern world crashing in on them. It took the Chinese well over a 100. My bet for us will be the Chinese road.

The unfolding identitarian ‘race’ crisis in the US is just a symptom of a much deeper malaise that goes to the heart of how consumer societies have run themselves over the last 50-70 years. And every day they prevaricate in facing up to their fundamental problems merely guarantees that the history over the coming decades is going to make extremely grim reading, as civil wars of toleration engulf the US and it cantonizes into insurgency, disorder and quite different and deeply antagonistic political experiments across the continent…

Good point. But the answer is not what you seem to imply. Of the 250 African Americans shot in 2019, a dozen merited a more intensive use of force investigation, and 6 or so probably would merit an examination by a court (or at least a grand jury). If we look at all questionable deaths amongst African Americans by police in the same period, then the first category rises to approximately 20 or so.

Anyway, the hampering of success relates to the killing of agency that a victim or oppressed narrative brings. African American men with a sense of agency instilled during childhood/through education are 8% more likely to join the middle class later in life. The source is AEI, but one has to consider that conservative studies are far more stringent, for the simple reason that the entire establishment tries to disconfirm the findings and force them to retract.

But more than this, the narrow focus on liberal explanations for disparities, neglects the single most important factor. Conservatives were wrong, in that it is not fathers in the home that are crucial, but fathers in the community (although fathers are important for many other reasons, not the least of which is future mental health and resilience). Dr Raj Chetty’s research on social mobility proves that high rates of fathers in the community in which a child grows up is the single biggest predictor to upward social mobility, more improtant than quality of education, which comes second.

Simply telling girls in high school that if you are a boy, being born without a father contributes to the destruction of the hopes of an entire community, might do enough to tilt the scales the other way. From the UK (because of the different outcomes of Afro Caribbean and African British demographic), we know that a rate of 37% fathers in the home spells disaster, but 63% is enough to outperform white British schoolchildren- in terms of education and future life outcomes.

This is not an all-or-nothing, one-or-the-other, father at home vs. male figures in community. Chetty’s conclusions are not wrong; community figures play a role. But I’ve wondered, and haven’t seen this re-studied, is there some circularity. The fact that there are more male figures in the community is a reflection of the social structure of the community, as much as it is a cause of it, perhaps. The fact that there are more fathers in the community may be a reflection of other aspects of the community, not measurable in raw economics, but which in fact tend to retain the males in the community. It needs more study before we know what kind of measures it calls for.

And certainly even apart from any racial dynamics, we know that the two parent family, with the two actual biological parents legally married, is a very strong predictor for upward mobility.

3 Likes

Good point. But the answer is not what you seem to imply. Of the 250 African Americans shot in 2019, a dozen merited a more intensive use of force investigation, and 6 or so probably would merit an examination by a court (or at least a grand jury). If we look at all questionable deaths amongst African Americans by police in the same period, then the first category rises to approximately 20 or so.

Anyway, the hampering of success relates to the killing of agency that a victim or oppressed narrative brings. African American men with a sense of agency instilled during childhood/through education are 8% more likely to join the middle class later in life. The source is AEI, but one has to consider that conservative studies are far more stringent, for the simple reason that the entire establishment tries to disconfirm the findings and force them to retract.

But more than this, the narrow focus on liberal explanations for disparities, neglects the single most important factor. Conservatives were wrong, in that it is not fathers in the home that are crucial, but fathers in the community (although fathers are important for many other reasons, not the least of which is future mental health and resilience). Dr Raj Chetty’s research on social mobility proves that high rates of fathers in the community in which a child grows up is the single biggest predictor to upward social mobility, more improtant than quality of education, which comes second.

Simply telling girls in high school that if you are a boy, being born without a father contributes to the destruction of the hopes of an entire community, might do enough to tilt the scales the other way. From the UK (because of the different outcomes of Afro Caribbean and African British demographic), we know that a rate of 37% fathers in the home spells disaster, but 63% is enough to outperform white British schoolchildren- in terms of education and future life outcomes.

I believe that the question about the number of Black persons killed annually by police was ultimately getting at is: do you feel as though law enforcement engages in the racial profiling of Black citizens? And the answers given serve as a proxy for how extensive such profiling is perceived to be as reflected in the answers given.

Also I would argue that loss of agency, to some extent, is a legitimate reaction in the context of law enforcement. It’s not so much that there’s a palpable fear on the part of many Black men of being targeted by law enforcement every time one leaves the house, but simply that we don’t have the luxury of moving freely throughout society without an awareness of how we present in public, both to law enforcement and civilians alike, as well as to our surroundings in general. That last point serves as the basis for many a comedic routine or comic relief scenes in film/TV wherein Black people are NOT the ones going into the woods to investigate strange noises and that whenever we see another Black person running in the opposite direction and he’s not being chased by someone else, other Black folks immediately follow suit and wait until later to get answers lol.

Agreed on the other points you made.

2 Likes

You’ve hit the proverbial nail on the head here. Overwhelmingly, large segments of the American population have witness the smoke for years, in many instances been subject to it repeatedly- so it difficult in these circumstances to imagine that disproportionate police shootings are anything but racist. Unfortunately, a data-driven approach shows us that this is not the case- the fear of reputation loss; a police officer’s job, pension and family’s financial security; and potentially even their liberty all combine to make police officers roughly twice as unlikely to shoot an African American as they are when the suspect is white.

The problem is proactive policing really works- police see it as the only way they themselves can reduce violence in the 2% of districts where 50% of all violent crime occurs. They are right of course- but this is not to say that this the only way society more broadly can reduce violence. The Scottish public health approach is also proven to work. But what the Left gets wrong is imagining it is an alternative to proactive policing, when in reality the public health approach only works in tandem with proactive policing. What it does allow for is a far more humane approach in policing, sentencing and adopting alternatives to prison, especially for more youthful offenders.

Yes well the first place to start in reforming police is with traffic stops. Because of the lack of in-person observational data, I’m convinced in most instances police officers can only fish, and play the numbers when dealing with traffic stops. Beyond that, far more time and effort needs to be devoted to training police officers better in terms of observation cues. With a reasonable-suspicion approach, the Met in London have proven that it is possible, with the right training, to achieve a 30% ‘hit rate’ with hit rates the same, regardless of whether the citizen is Black or White.

I was watching an African American woman on the Triggernometry Podcast recently, Dr Dina McMillan. She seems like an amazing woman, who has developed her own anti-bias training, without the oppression/oppressor narrative. In the podcast, she explains how she had lived in Australia (I think) for a couple of years and then had to return back to America for a funeral (?). The strange thing was, she suddenly found that she was striking up conversations with white strangers in shopping queues and the like. She believed that it was because when she had previously lived in America, she had adopted what could only be described as a siege mentality.

‘No comment’ on the click-grabbing title- it in no way reflects the subtlety and nuance of the conversation contained therein:

How to introduce a program or system to make both Blacks and Whites less uncomfortable with each other- well, that’s the stuff that Nobel Peace Prizes were designed to acknowledge. I haven’t the slightest inkling as to how one would begin to go about it- but would start by saying one would have to address both the prickly white conservative who is sure he is about to be forever branded a racist, and the uncomfortable white liberal, with the tendency to walk on eggshells at the considerable risk of never being genuine in their entire life.

I like your name. I presume it’s a reference to the Kingdom of Kush and not the White French rapper of Italian origin?

Yes I do. But it is very much contingent on the demographics of the local gang population. Here is the real problem though. I think that when police work a particularly blighted poor high crime community, there is danger they will develop what I would call experience-acquired racial basis. We see the same problem with ER doctors and nurses and EMT’s- specifically in relation to the distribution of pain meds. One possible way of correcting faulty availability heuristics, at least within American policing, might be to give them overtime to attend African American faith communities acts of worship, periodically, when they are in the process of working poor high crime areas. One would have to couch it in terms of attending African American community centres- otherwise one would run smack bang into the separation of Church and State issue.

First, I would say that we need to find a reliable way of diagnosing or at least remediating such tendencies, without absolutely decimating the tenuous bonds of human trust within institutions. Unfortunately, the human brain is built for classification. It is hyper-attuned and generally very good at determining potential risk, but it is also absolutely terrible at correctly dismissing extremely low risks when it encounters them.

A good example of this would be the extraordinary levels of resources poured into combatting Islamic Terrorism. Instead of surveilling American citizens, they should have been surveilling American roads and transport infrastructure, with a view to using AI to disrupt the logistical supply chains of the drug trade. It would have saved more lives…

2 Likes