The GOP and Minorities

March 16th, 2009

Shelby Steele is an award-winning author, documentarian, and public speaker with an acute grasp of American race relations, social culture, and identity politics.  He’s presently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.  His opinion articles have often appeared in publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. 

Steele has written an insightful article, Why the GOP Can’t Win With Minorities, in which he discusses the unfortunate image of American conservatives and the Republican Party in regard to minorities.

He begins with these words:

Today conservatism is stigmatized in our culture as an antiminority political philosophy. In certain quarters, conservatism is simply racism by another name. And minorities who openly identify themselves as conservatives are still novelties, fish out of water.

Anyone with any degree of political consciousness will benefit from Steele’s thinking.  If you’re one of those liberal Democrats who believe that conservatism is properly characterized as antiminority and racist, he’ll show you why you’re wrong.  If you’re among the majority of conservative Republicans who aren’t racist, don’t know any racists, and think the Party doesn’t have any real problems in regard to race and minorities, he’ll show you why you’re wrong, too.

Concluding paragraphs from the article:

What drew me to conservatism years ago was the fact that it gave discipline a slightly higher status than virtue. This meant it could not be subverted by passing notions of the good. It could be above moral vanity. And so it made no special promises to me as a minority. It neglected me in every way except as a human being who wanted freedom. Until my encounter with conservatism I had only known the racial determinism of segregation on the one hand and of white liberalism on the other — two varieties of white supremacy in which I could only be dependent and inferior.

The appeal of conservatism is the mutuality it asserts between individual and political freedom, its beautiful idea of a free man in a free society. And it offers minorities the one thing they can never get from liberalism: human rather than racial dignity. I always secretly loved Malcolm X more than Martin Luther King Jr. because Malcolm wanted a fuller human dignity for blacks — one independent of white moral wrestling. In a liberalism that wants to redeem the nation of its past, minorities can only be ciphers in white struggles of conscience.

Liberalism’s glamour follows from its promise of a new American innocence. But the appeal of conservatism is relief from this supercilious idea. Innocence is not possible for America. This nation did what it did. And conservatism’s appeal is that it does not bank on the recovery of lost innocence. It seeks the discipline of ordinary people rather than the virtuousness of extraordinary people. The challenge for conservatives today is simply self-acceptance, and even a little pride in the way we flail away at problems with an invisible hand.

It’s worth reading the entire article, regardless of your political orientation.


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9 Responses to “The GOP and Minorities”



  1. Brian |

    Until my encounter with conservatism I had only known the racial determinism of segregation on the one hand and of white liberalism on the other — two varieties of white supremacy in which I could only be dependent and inferior.

    Never heard of him before. Honestly, I didn’t even know that there were any conservatives working at Hoover. I thought Cato and Ayn Rand employed them all.

    But, I will be reading him more in the future. I want to weep that there are so few of him (of any color).

    Thanks for the article, Tom.


  2. Kevin |

    Last time I checked there were white liberals marching alongside blacks in the Deep South, being brutally beaten alongside blacks and even being murdered alongside blacks in the 60’s.

    White supremacy indeed…


  3. Brian |

    Kevin, it is the idea that blacks cannot make it without enormous assistance from their “betters” in government that is repugnant. To assume that they cannot make it on their own is to assume the very worst about them – that they are either too stupid or too indolent to accomplish anything. Newsflash: some of them are indolent, and some of them are stupid. These quota systems assume that they all are.

    Case in point: in 1997, UCLA med school admitted 51 minority students (I wrote a paper on this a while back) out of about 300 admissions. Fifty of them were admitted with both GPAs and MCAT scores lower than the mean. Nation-wide, this translated into disaster. The national average for failure rate on the National Medical Board Part II (taken at the end of the 2nd year) is about 12%. For these minority kids, it is (or was – haven’t really looked lately, though I don’t imagine it has changed signifigantly) about 40%. This carries over to graduation rates as well as on into internships and residencies.

    In 1995, the Houston Police Department began a big push to hire more minority officers. In order to get them, they started hiring candidates that had deferred adjudication for FELONIES!

    This is not the kind of “help” that anyone needs.


  4. doris |

    Oh, Brian, you sound so racist…. I know you don’t mean it that way. Don’t you think that the fact that black kids have had far inferior schooling, still today, and a lot less chance of comfortable lifestyle to study, plus a whole lot more longer-hour working parents, plays a role in this? I think, too, that a lot of schools pass a lot of kids, of all colors, to meet quotas.


  5. Tom |

    Kevin, what Steele writes and thinks in no way implies any lack of respect for the dedication and courage of whites who put their bodies on the line in the civil rights movement. What he wants is to be is “a free man in a free society.” That isn’t possible if you’re seen first and foremost as a member of a group, with your own identity submerged in the identity of the group.

    Despite his preference for the philosophy of Malcolm X, who yearned for “a fuller human dignity for blacks,” he would agree with Martin Luther King, who also didn’t want people treated as members of a group but as individuals:

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    In regard to affirmative action, Steele has said:

    …white incompetence is always an individual matter, but for blacks it is often confirmation of ugly stereotypes.

    In the case of blacks and whites, for instance, racial preferences imply that whites are superior just as they imply that blacks are inferior. They not only reinforce America’s oldest racial myth but, for blacks, they have the effect of stigmatizing the already stigmatized.

    Conservatism stresses individual freedom and the value of people based on their individual talents and strengths; group identity is secondary. Liberalism, American style, stresses group identity and collective social responsibility for the success or failure of members of groups. There’s something to be said for both approaches, but the net effect of liberal programs on blacks in America over the past 40 years has not been good. Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted one of the most important negative effects a long time ago; we would have been better of heeding his advice, even now.


  6. Tom |

    Doris, I don’t think anything Brian said is racist. In any large group of people, however the group is defined, you’ll find some people whose individual qualities and character are less than ideal. In every group, there are people who are stupid or indolent. Can you point to one group for which that’s not true?

    Seele’s point, which Brian supports, is that he would rather be treated as an individual than as a member of a group. I find that hard to disagree with.

    Personally, I want my doctor, my lawyer, my police officer, and anyone else whose skills and abilities are important to my life to be the best of the best. I don’t care about his/her race, religion, sexual preference, or any other of the factors we use these days to put people in special groups.

    I spent most of my life in the military, and I served side-by-side with people of all kinds. In particular, I don’t remember even once thinking about the race (or other group identity) of a person who covered my butt in combat or a person whose butt I covered. That’s the way it should be.


  7. doris |

    Sorry, Brian. I agree with Tom. Like horses, when asked about a horse for sale, confirmation, temperament, ability, willingness to learn and sometimes inherited qualities are all you ask, color is the least and most unimportant thing. People aren’t given this chance, as with horses, the most unimportant thing is color. Sad to say, this is true with stupid people all over, the first thing they see and ask about when looking at a horse is color.


  8. Brian |

    Doris, putting an unqualified candidate in any position is a disaster waiting to happen. An 18 year old black male who has the academic skills to make it at the University of Houston is probably not capable of making it at Rice or Baylor. Putting that kid at Rice or Baylor isn’t going to help him, no matter how bad his upbringing was. In fact, it is easy to argue that it is going to hurt him because he probably won’t make it at Rice or Baylor, where he would have met with success at U of H.

    Do a google or yahoo search for Dr Walter Williams. He’s the chair of the economics department at George Mason University in Virginia. Read some of the things he’s had to say about this issue. Dr. Williams is black and approaching 70. He made what he did of himself before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted.

    The very best sergeant I had when I was a policeman in Houston was black. Sgt. Roynell Rideau is a man of impeccable integrity. Around the same time that the department starting hiring these misfits, they started race-norming promotions. Sgt Rideau was fit to be tied. His words to me were “now, officers are going to look at my chevrons and wonder if I earned them.

    One of the dregs that we hired around 95 or so was in the Army for 10 years. He was an MP in the army. He was a Spec-4 when he was discharged. Most MPs make it to sergeant within about 4 or 5 years of service, and this guy was only an E4 after 10 years! He either got busted back, or he couldn’t make it past the review boards to get the promotion. About 2 years after he got hired, he was busted for trading sexual favors in lieu of taking a woman to jail.

    Yes, white officers have done this as well. But with him, we absolutely knew that he had issues, yet hired him anyway simply because he is black.


  9. doris |

    I understand that. I take issue with hiring due to race, also. When I worked at Exxon Chemical, as an analyzer technician, a woman tried to hire on for 5 years and finally made it, when she married a Hispanic man and took his name. She was fired for continually sleeping on the really great job she had finally gotten. She was stupid. I still think a lot of children would do better, as Asian children do, because their parents care a lot and work really hard to teach them. If only schools cared, it would help, too. Most parents are too busy with their own lives to care. Did you get any treats last nite, Brian????


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