Over at The New York Times, there’s a story about how most major Black Republican figures are less leaders and the Black community and are more like token figures, whose main purpose is to reassure white GOP voters that “we’re not really racist after all!” Aside from being thoroughly dehumanizing to the subjects and their communities, this seriously retards the GOP’s prospects of better outreach to the Black community and other minority communities, who-just like white people- tend to identify with their culture first, which necessarily has an ethnic component, rather than with some cosmopolitan colorblind ideal.
Should policy be colorblind in terms of how it treats people, particularly in hot-button issues like affirmative action and welfare? Yes, there’s certainly a strong argument for that.
Should policy- and politics for that matter- be colorblind in how it approaches people?
No, no, no! As my mentor Michael Lind told me once, people are not homo economicuses, mere profit-maximizing rational beings. People have identities and heritages they’re attached to, cultural trappings and particularities that veritably give real meaning to human life. The accident of birth is a beautiful thing, and the diverse tapestry of mankind testifies to its wonder. Republicans shouldn’t be in the business of pandering to divisive identity politics the way lefty Democrats do; but it is certainly thoroughly un-conservative to assume that culture, identity, and heritage don’t or shouldn’t matter.
So when the Republican Party approaches Latinos or Blacks or Asians, the colorblind approach is self-defeating, because for the most part ethnicity, race, culture, and heritage really do matter. As the author of the NYT article put it,
“These race-conscious Republicans saw themselves as closely linked to a broader black community, and most experienced this connection as empowering. They were committed to conservative politics as a tool for the uplift of the black community. While they supported most Republican policy positions, their motivations were grounded in their black identity.”
What ever happened to the conservative belief that community, heritage, and culture matter? Not just the melting-pot 100% Americanism (which, by the way, doesn’t seep in very deep, for the most part) but the particular conscious and subconscious ethnic, regional, and professional heritages so many of our nation’s diverse groups love and cherish?
This isn’t a sappy liberal paean to “diversity” for diversity’s sake- the cult of multiculturalism is divisive and corrupting, undeserving of a hearing here or anywhere. THAT praise of local identity and community thoroughly denies the importance of unifying national traits and indeed the very existence of and rationale for united nationhood. It doesn’t particularly love the communities it praises. And it’s hypocritical, decrying white communities of all sorts as fundamentally oppressive and morally corrupt while lauding everyone else. No praise for multiculturalism here.
This is, rather, a profoundly conservative acknowledgment of one of the central truths of the human condition- that identity matters, community matters, and the two are inextricably interlinked. So long as there are human beings and societies, there will be different communities, and people will be attached to those. And since the dawn of time, until now, and until the end of eternity, people will always be socially healthier when they find actively find meaning and identity in their community of origin or adoption.
This isn’t to say Americanism isn’t important- it is. It is the main string tying together these diverse communities in the American sphere. But unlike rationalistic identities that allow no room for variation, like those of the Soviets or Jacobins, American identity has been remarkably fluid and malleable, allowing people of diverse backgrounds to retain what is best about their own heritages while assimilating into all the necessary trappings of American culture.
Republicans moving forward should encourage the cohesiveness of communities of all backgrounds- up to and including the various Latino immigrant communities and the Muslim community- and treat each with the dignity and honor of an integral component of a broader American community, filled with American citizens and aspiring American citizens capable of unquestioned patriotism and honor.
Just demanding “Be American, damnit!” will never cut it. There’s a place for it, and we need to emphasize the ties that bind us, not those that divide us. At the same time, it’s important to make sure communities are healthy regardless of their background. And to get their, the current Republican model of reaching out to minorities with “they’ll love our principles!” just isn’t useful or good in any way.