Black conservatism seems so unappetizing

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Two great tastes that taste great together." That's how Madison Avenue pitched the blending of "real milk chocolate" and "good old-fashioned peanut butter" in those classic Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ads decades ago.

Those ads appeared when anything that deviated too much from standard junk food fare was considered suspect and required a major sales job. As far as my pre-teen self was concerned, blending two "foreign" flavors like peanut butter and chocolate really was exotic -- until I took my first bite into a Reese's cup. I didn't need much convincing after that. Chocolate and peanut butter really did go great together.

Because my initial skepticism about peanut butter cups was rendered ridiculous by one bite in 1972, I tried to keep an open mind about other "innovations" over the years. Sometimes I would ask myself if something I was initially suspicious of could, upon closer review, be another example of "two great tastes that taste great together."

My initial flirtation with political conservatism occurred during my first year of college. After listening to a little too much conservative talk radio, I had developed into something of a noisy malcontent when it came to pointing out the political failures of prominent black leaders. I deeply resented the stranglehold the Democratic Party held over the black vote in Philly -- but not enough to actually vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

My sudden interest in religion, along with my friendship with some very conservative folks who saw the world strictly as an ongoing battle between good and evil, made me amazed that my drift toward the progressive end of the political spectrum didn't result in more hard feelings. Being black and being conservative in the 1980s -- two great tastes that taste great together? Not in my case.

Watching newly minted black conservative hero Ben Carson walk back his Santorum-like utterances on same-sex marriage last week was excruciating. Earlier, Dr. Carson said on Sean Hannity's talk show that marriage was "between a man and a woman" and that "no group -- be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn't matter what they are -- they don't get to change the definition."

Dr. Carson appeared genuinely taken aback by the backlash. In his social and religious circles, he's used to hearing gays lumped in with child molesters and people who have sex with animals. He may not have been directly equating them, but he was casually associating marriage equality with evil sexual practices by mentioning them in the same breath. He would have to be naive or stupid -- and he isn't stupid -- to think people wouldn't make the connection.

By all accounts Dr. Carson is a good guy, but his brilliance as a pediatric neurosurgeon doesn't translate into anything remotely resembling a political philosophy one should take seriously. There are lots of Republican doctors in Congress, but you'll be hard-pressed to find one who isn't a creationist or an espouser of bizarre theories. That's why I winced watching his apology on MSNBC -- "If anybody was offended, I apologize to you." Dr. Carson clearly has no idea how he's coming across to folks who won't defer to him just because he's a doctor.

At the same time that Dr. Carson was making his tepid apology, Southern Baptist Convention president Fred Luter, the first African-American elected to that post, made a bizarre connection between gay marriage and threats by North Korean dictator-in-training Kim Jong Un to nuke the West Coast.

"I would not be surprised that the time when we are debating same-sex marriage, at a time when we are debating whether or not we should have gays leading the Boy Scout movement, I don't think it's just a coincidence that we have a madman in Asia who's saying some of the things that he's saying," Mr. Luter told an obscure right-wing radio host egging him on. Even after he admitted that prophecy wasn't his forte, it never occurred to Mr. Luter to simply shut up if he didn't know what he was talking about.

It is depressingly easy to goad black conservatives into saying something bigoted out loud, especially if it involves gays and lesbians. Give them a microphone and they'll find a way to fit the conservative narrative of what a "sensible" black leader is supposed to sound like. Somehow, they're always shocked when their sanctimony isn't enough to shield them from criticism.

Though every American would be better off in a system where both parties compete fiercely for every vote, conservatives overwhelmingly prefer mayonnaise and Wonder Bread to a peanut butter and chocolate world.

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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