If you listened only to mass media, you’d think black people had no political variation within their community, as the pundits and activists we see usually align with a liberal or progressive agenda and rarely break from the status quo of mainstream black opinions. But it’s important to remember that black political thought is just as nuanced as it is within every other racial/ethnic group in the country. With that in mind, it’s important to highlight individuals who offer a different perspective on the issues and concerns facing the black community—and expose the uninitiated to a school of thought they might otherwise never hear.
John McWhorter is a self-described “cranky liberal Democrat” and supporter of Barack Obama who, in most cases, stands on the side of progressive policies. He’s written for The Atlantic, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and other popular outlets. McWhorter, while really more of a centrist, is exactly the kind of dissenter whose opinions and writings aren’t given the same weight as those of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Marc Lamont Hill—great writers who align more closely with the prescribed black opinions. But for every article you read by Hill or Coates, you should read one by McWhorter challenging their arguments and forcing you to consider an opposing point of view.
Larry Elder is a polemicist and provocateur who hosts a nationally syndicated, self-titled radio program. Elder is also a registered Republican and one of the few black conservatives with a major platform. While Elder often engages through a more aggressive and confrontational style of debate, the points he makes are worth heavy consideration. I’d recommend a read of his 2009 book, What’s Race Got to Do with It? Why It’s Time to Stop the Stupidest Argument in America.
Pleas for Black Americans to rise above the tethers of racism have been stated and echoed by many an author, politician, and pundit, but few have done so as eloquently and thoroughly as has Dr. Shelby Steele. Dr. Steele has written several books focused on race relations and the culture of victimization surrounding black America, but my personal favorite is White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era. This book is more relevant today than when it was written in 2006, especially with the rise and reemergence of mainstream black activism. Steele emphasizes how we must be cognizant of our past mistakes to avoid repeating them with future policies.
Writers such as Coleman Hughes, Jason Riley, Carol Swain, Armond White, Star Parker, and Michelle Bernard always challenge me to think beyond the normative, but my first exposure to life outside the progressive bubble was through Dr. Thomas Sowell. Reading Thomas Sowell has always forced me to think. The times when I disagree with him are perhaps the times when I am most enlightened, because I am forced outside my ideological comfort zone, and must be honest with myself and look at the merits of my arguments against the merits of his. I don’t go into the experience of reading Dr. Sowell with the expectation that I’ll disagree with him but rather that I will be challenged by his thoughts and in turn counter with my own.
Dr. Sowell’s plainspoken and often brutally honest nature has a way of exposing your ignorance on a subject while at the same time educating you in a way that doesn’t make you feel inept. While I disagree with him regarding Barack Obama and police brutality—his views on the economy, discrimination, and affirmative action forced me to reconsider my previously held positions on these subjects and look objectively at the facts, without my own biases and notions.
As mainstream media play a more pervasive role in our political discussions, it’s important to hear black voices from all sides of the spectrum represented. Don Lemon, Trevor Noah, Angela Rye, April Ryan, and Van Jones do an excellent job representing the left side of the spectrum—while the voices of Charles Payne, Lester Holt, Gianno Caldwell, Tara Setmayer, and Amy Holmes, express the other side of black politics.
With the increase in consumption of news from nontraditional sources, and the prevalence of social media in our lives, it’s important that black Americans encounter speakers, pundits, activists, and correspondents that espouse a range of opinions and stances. The rise of tribalism has led to news being viewed through the lens of our respective political sides, and the truth has suffered for it. If we are retreating to our ideological camps, let us at least do so with perspective, understanding that there are opinions on each side from which we can learn.
Within the halls of Capitol Hill roams a millennial making a name for herself in the Republican Party. Ayshia Connors is the president of the Black Republican Congressional Staff Association and a senior policy adviser covering several different areas of expertise. She has focused her efforts on increasing the number of black congressional staffers and interns, making sure that black Americans are in the room with decision makers, learning from and being heard by those who create policy. Connors represents a rising group of black millennials bucking demographic trends and vocally identifying as Republican or conservative. Another within that line is Antonia Okafor, the pro-2A campus-carry activist who does speaking tours around the nation advocating for more women—particularly black women—to arm and protect themselves against the dangers of our world. Because of her pro-2A stance, Okafor is routinely demonized, despite checking two of the identity totem boxes in being black and being a woman. Yet she does not enjoy the same level of exposure as an ideological opponent such as Shannon Watts. Okafor twice voted for Barack Obama and yet is not a Democrat because, as she put it, “I think for a long time the left has used this narrative that as a black person particularly … you are supposed to vote a certain way.”
Politicians such as Tim Scott, John Wood Jr., and Mia Love have the same love and hope for the black community as do Maxine Waters, John Lewis, Elijah Cummings, and Kamala Harris, but because of their party affiliation they are labeled race traitors, Uncle Toms, and other vile descriptors. Despite a shared end goal, those on the left seem unable, or unwilling, to approach right-leaning counterparts in good-faith discussions about the route to take in achieving their shared objectives. Lack of bipartisanship has us catering to the lowest common denominators in each party, and we have seen the rise of groups such as Antifa and the alt-right because of it.
Black Americans do not act, speak, or think as a monolith, yet for all intents and purposes we are the political pendulum consistently swinging elections in favor of Democratic candidates despite their unproven track record of success in our communities. Perhaps it’s time we listen to the other side.
Like all hypotheses, political opinions and policy suggestions should be tested and rigorously examined. I have found no better way to do so than to engage with thinkers and speakers who exist outside the current echo chamber that progressives have locked themselves in. What draws me to individuals to the right of the political spectrum is not that I think they have all the correct opinions, but rather that they are willing to have their opinions challenged. A false sense of self-righteousness has invaded our political discourse and dissuaded us from confronting opinions we disagree with. While the right has its own echo chamber, it is at this moment more willing to fight and object to groupthink and collectivism than is the left. The left seems to have lost all ability not only to be objective but also to be rational in its criticisms and demands. There is a sense of moral entitlement among progressives that alienates those across the aisle looking for common ground and a road back to political and social sanity.
But if we are to progress past this period of hostility and tribalism, we must be willing to hear the opposition.
Tosin Akintola graduated from UMBC in 2017 with a B.A. in political science. He currently works in higher education.
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