An “Illiberal” Liberalism: Why Black Folk Can’t Get Ahead

It's not what you say; it's how you say it

If we dig more deeply beneath the surface of liberal rhetorical style, we would discover that not all public policies developed under the banner of “liberal” are helpful in addressing African American core concerns. In fact, some are destructive. Many who claim to be “liberal” push public policies that work against empowerment and encourage dependency, but the language they use makes it sound “right.” However, not everything that sounds right is right.


While many people are loyal to a single news outlet in their homes, my wife and I take in a considerable amount of daily news from a variety of viewpoints – domestic and foreign, liberal and conservative, and much more.  A few nights ago, Fox News featured an audience of articulate African American citizens who identified themselves as “conservatives.”  What caught our ear was host Sean Hannity’s teaser for the show: he announced that African American conservatives “don’t enjoy freedom of speech” in their own country.  With our curiosity piqued, we tuned in.

As we listened to the audience describe the disdain they had experienced from fellow African Americans for their conservative affiliation, we realized that, experientially, we had much in common with them.  We don’t subscribe personally to either the conservative or liberal ideology; we have as many agreements with both as we have disagreements.

Yet with few exceptions, one thing remains fairly consistent: when we express our disagreement with the prevailing “liberal” agenda, we’re often tagged with the same epithets that leftists use to besmirch these conservatives.

We seldom get this kind of reaction when we disagree with conservatives.  We find this ironic, since by definition, to be “liberal” is literally to be “open to new ideas and willing to debate the issues.”  However, our so-called “liberal” detractors have often proven themselves to be illiberal — that is, not open or willing to debate the issues.  Because they have a doctrinaire suspicion of differing ideas, they personally attack, insult, and marginalize those who disagree — especially conservatives.

It is clearer to me than ever, that we live in a climate dominated by political and social illiberalism.  If I subscribe to the aforementioned definition of liberal, there is a question that must be asked before I can throw my hat into the conservative ring: “How ‘liberal’ will conservatives prove themselves to be?”  While Mr. Hannity’s show covered much territory in its brief hour, this was the crucial question they failed to explore.  I’m persuaded that without addressing the deeper dynamics, the current liberal/conservative debate will continue to be frustrated by the extremes on both sides.


In today’s America, there are at least three cultural distinctions; a dominant culture, a sub-dominant culture and a culture that’s mainstream.  Before the late 1960’s, mainstream culture and White culture were virtually the same; Black culture was sub-dominant to the two.  Today, mainstream culture is an amalgam of elements from both dominant and sub-dominant cultures.

As I see it, the greatest conflict lies in the differences between how the dominant and sub-dominant cultures operate.

The orientation of the dominant culture is toward preservation of things as they are; after all, our flawed human nature dictates a desire to cling to power.  It’s not an American problem; the pattern can be seen globally as the dominant culture typically marginalizes many of the core concerns of the sub-dominant culture.  Given our flawed human nature, this should come as no surprise.

The orientation of the sub-dominant culture is toward change; those without power want to gain it, and in order to do so, alteration of some sort must occur.

Historically, liberals have gravitated toward change while conservatives have gravitated toward preservation.

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