by Juan Williams
• Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
• Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
• Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell.
• The former head of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Dr. Ben Carson.
• George Mason University economics Professor Walter E. Williams.
• And the celebrated syndicated columnist and Stanford University professor of economics Thomas Sowell.
What do they all have in common?
Yes, they are brilliant people. Yes, they have reached the pinnacles of their professions. Yes, they are all black people.
Here is something else they have in common. What they have to say about race relations is ignored by most of the nation’s news media as coming from people far outside the mainstream of political views of most black people. To reporters, black America’s top achievers and intellectuals are far less important than anyone who identifies himself as a civil rights activist.
Here is one more point the distinguished black people listed above have in common.
They are categorized as “Republicans” and “conservatives.” And with that label comes the implied message that they are not really the best and brightest of black America because they are not really black, not authentic to the culture and even to be scorned by the far-left as race traitors, Uncle Toms and “house negroes.”
Modern American media and culture treats Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as the real voices of black America. Those men have made contributions with protest marches and TV appearances to denounce racism. But their words and marches can’t compare to the black conservatives who blazed a path to success, made a way for others to follow by overcoming racism and poverty to fight their way to the top in business, in the military, as scholars and as role models.
Comedy Central’s television program “South Park” once did an episode where an exasperated black student told his white classmate: “Jesse Jackson is not the emperor of all black people.” In that show any white character making a racially insensitive comment had to “apologize” by literally kissing Mr. Jackson’s naked rear end.
That parody is funny because people know it has a lot of truth to it.
What is not so funny is the loss of serious debate in the media with successful, often conservative, black people who have moved past white guilt. They are focused on how black America can become self-sufficient, better educated, richer and more worthy of respect from each other and the world. Critical conversations about "where we go from here," to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., are lost when the ideas of achievement-oriented black conservatives are dismissed in the media.
Even when successful black people who are not conservative speak out about improving black life they are often attacked in the media. Who can forget that when President Obama called for black men to do a better job as fathers he was rebuked by Mr. Jackson for the crime of talking down to black people? Mr. Jackson even suggested the president should be castrated for mentioning the subject of the high rate of fatherless children in black America.
The same rebuke hit Bill Cosby, the legendary comedian and a major supporter of civil rights groups, when he spoke out about steps the black community could take to gain political and economic power and give its children the chance for a better life. Mr. Cosby pointed to major problems driving high rates of poverty, school dropouts and incarceration. He sounded the alarm about the high rate of out-of-wedlock births to black women, acceptance of criminal behavior in the black community and the too-frequent failure to push black children to achieve academic excellence. (I wrote about Mr. Cosby’s bid to alter the debate in a 2006 book, “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America — and What We Can Do About It.”)
As reward for his valiant efforts, Mr. Cosby received a public lashing. Civil rights activists harshly and personally criticized him for his alleged failure to “cite racism” and for reinforcing “negative beliefs about the poor.” He was also attacked as an “elitist” (as in not truly black because of his success and wealth), and even as an “old man showing his age.”
Even though I am not a Republican, I have experienced some of the same vitriol aimed at black Republicans. I don’t fit into a traditional, predictable black liberal or conservative box.
For example, my sons are Republicans.
I am a proud employee of Fox News who appears regularly with strong right of center voices, like Bill O’Reilly, and even consistently conservative personalities like Sean Hannity (both of whom I consider friends). I think it is great to engage the other side in the arena of ideas. I am happy to agree with them when I think they are right. And I respectfully disagree with them when I think they are wrong.
I often defend the first black President against the far right’s litany of unfair attacks on Mr. Obama’s record and character, but I also am critical of him as an American political powerbroker when I see flaws, failure and hypocrisy in his record.
Many on the left would prefer if I did not appear on television with folks like Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Hannity, spurned them socially and just called them a bunch of racists.
In this regard, I suppose I am in the same boat as the black conservatives.
The truth is that black Americans want to hear the best ideas. Black Americans are a churchgoing, often socially conservative, group of people who want solutions. They want to hear more from people who have found the way to improve life for themselves, their families and their neighborhoods. The black conservatives listed at the top of this story are role models of success for my children, my grandchildren and anyone who wants to rise to the top.
They are successful people who deserve to be heard on the major civil rights challenges of this generation — fixing the schools, opening doors to better jobs and keeping families together to give children the best chance to succeed in a competitive global economy.
There is nothing funny about the decades of high unemployment, crime and family breakdown in black America that have been allowed to continue while the American media holds up the Jacksons and Sharptons as the real voices of black America. Imagine the difference if ideas from accomplished black conservatives were allowed to add to the vitality of political discourse inside black America.
Instead of hearing about can-do solutions to problems, black Americans are bombarded with complaints from civil rights leaders about what whites, Mr. Obama or the government has not done. Rappers celebrating big money, how many times they have been in jail, wild sex and getting high on the best liquor are all over television for children to see and regard as role models. These caricatures are treated as “authentically black,” while anyone labeled a black conservative is dismissed as phony.
Today’s black conservatives are very much in the tradition of Booker T. Washington, the former slave who became his era’s leader in advancing business opportunity, education and civil rights for African-Americans.
Washington once said, “No greater injury can be done to any youth than to let him feel that because he belongs to this or that race he will be advanced in life regardless of his own merits or efforts.”
Like Clarence Thomas and Condi Rice and Ben Carson, Booker T. Washington knew what it was like to be maligned by the black establishment of his day. Sadly, the character assassination of Washington has become accepted as truth in too many uninformed minds.
To this day, most Americans are taught that Washington was not a free thinking black man, but a pawn of white elites. The black educator encouraged black people — recently freed from slavery — to cooperate with segregationist white America. He is widely disparaged as advocating black appeasement of white, racist southerners during the Reconstruction era. Washington’s posture is often contrasted with the outspoken, even confrontational, approach of another educator, W. E. B. DuBois, whose reputation history celebrates for the organization he helped to found, the NAACP.
I have to believe that Washington would not have been troubled by this attack on his work. He preferred to quietly set about his work on making the lives of black people better through education and emphasizing personal responsibility.
It was Washington, after all, who said, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”
To African-Americans like my friend Armstrong Williams, founder of this exciting new venture, I say continue to stand up and speak out for the things you believe in. The best way to beat the haters, the naysayers and the race hustlers is to continue to comport yourselves with dignity and be the bigger men and women.
Journalist and political commentator Juan Williams is a co-host of Fox News Channel's "The Five" and author of the best-selling "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965."