January 6, 2023


The ‘Why’ of A Renewed African American Conservatism

By: Louis Damani Jones

In a previous article, I reflected on some of the trends revealed in African American voting behaviors post the 2022 midterm elections. Since that time, it’s been discussed that the Republican National Committee ordered an autopsy a la the post- 2012 autopsy after the loss of Mitt Romney to former President Barack Obama. It will be interesting to see their thoughts on the state of the African American conservative vote in that document, if there are any.

However, there is more to the African American conservative conversation than simply how many voted for the Republicans. In fact, when thinking of an authentic African American conservative project, I can’t think of the last time I’ve read a comprehensive overview by an influential, mainstream conservative thought leader of what the content of African American conservative thought currents actually are. That is not to say that there is not a host of fantastic writing and speaking on the state of African American life from a center or center-right perspective – past, present, and future. Significant representatives of the vanguard generation of contemporary African American conservatives continue to be influential—Glenn Lowry, Thomas Sowell, Robert Woodson, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas all continue to speak publicly with almost as much fire as in the Reagan-era and just after. Newer scholars like Ian Rowe of the American Enterprise Institute draw from the common well with fresh vigor and insight. Although not academics or scholars, commentators like Candace Owens, the Hodge Twins, Amir Odom, Christian Walker, and Gothix have become prominent voices amongst younger Americans, particularly on social media. The dynamism of the African-American intellectual world is such that some of the most interesting writings representative of contemporary African American conservative thought come from people who don’t even identify as conservative, like John McWhorter of the New York Times and Coleman Hughes of the Manhattan Institute. However, not often do these pieces provide a comprehensive road map of what a renewed, delineated, and summative vision of a unique African American conservative project will look like in the decades to come.

There’s been no lack of pieces, as I’ve even touched on at America’s Future, on the new ideological currents burgeoning on the right including the new libertarianism of Barstool conservatives like Saager Enjeti, the fiery nationalism of New Right leaders like Senator Josh Hawley, and the intellectual and religious post-liberal project of scholars like Patrick Deenen. What one may notice in reading about these “new visions” is that they lack any direct, coherent message for the lived experience of so many working class African-American voters that would be an indispensable ally in any working class conservative coalition. Some may ask “why should there be such a ‘direct, coherent message’ aimed at one particular ethnic reality in the country?” That’s a fantastic question with a simple answer: because you want them to vote for you. At the very end of the piece discussing the trends in African American conservative voting post the 2022 midterm elections, I discussed the concept of credible messengers. However, there can’t really be a credible messenger without a credible message. And what establishes a credible message? Connection with my lived experience as an American, a human being living in the world, and the unique aspects of what constitutes my day-to-day life being something that rises to the level of your concern and rhetoric.

Some may wonder if crafting a unique message for the African American cultural reality necessarily entails abandoning, modifying, or eliminating core principles of what constitutes the general American conservative currents. Some also may wonder if the attempt to communicate effectively to a potential voting block is essentially no different than “pandering” a la Hilary Clinton declaring that she doesn’t go anywhere without hot sauce in her purse or Joe Biden declaring that African-American voters that don’t vote for him “ain’t black (ironically on the exact same show). Absolutely not. In fact, crafting a unique message that speaks to the unique heritage, ancestry, and contemporary social experience of a community is at the core of what it means to engage in a conservative politic. Classically, some conservative thinkers like Michael Oakeshott and Russell Kirk have denied that conservatism is an ideology at all, but is rather an anti-ideology grounded and rooted in the social context in which it arises. With this understanding of conservatism, it is nonsensical to posit that any truly American conservative movement could deny drawing from the fountain of one of the oldest ethnic groups to comprise American culture. In the next article, I will sketch the contours of the older wave of contemporary African-American conservatism that had it’s zenith in the Regan era and immediately following, setting the groundwork for a forward looking agenda that could serve as the credible message for a credible messenger.