"Our blacks are so much better than their blacks." You can thank conservative pundit Ann Coulter for that sound bite.
While this seems like the kind of statement easily rejected right off the bat as ludicrous, and while it is easy to simply assume a position of scorn in relation to Coulter and her remarks, there is danger in such a reaction. As such, we must take her seriously and talk about the reasons why such a statement is so blatantly wrong. Along the way it may seem like we're legitimizing her position but it would be worse to simply laugh or scorn it away without discussion.
Context: Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain has been battling accusations of sexual harassment and in his defense some conservative commentators have levied accusations of racism against the left. Now, liberals in America are not without our strands of racism – much as we hate it when it's pointed out to us – but to offer that as the explanation of why people are attacking Cain over these allegations misses the whole point: he's being accused of sexually harassing women over whom he held a position of power.
But back to Coulter: She was trying to explain liberals' racism toward black conservatives by saying that liberals resent the fact that, from her conservative point of view, "our blacks" are better than "their blacks." She was called out on her statement a couple of days later and defended herself, saying, "Our blacks are just more impressive."
Did you just laugh at her? Roll your eyes? Scoff and get righteously furious? Good. Now stop. Come back.
More context: Herman Cain agreed with the idea that he was being targeted because of his race in a recent Fox News interview. This comes just weeks after saying he believes that racism is no longer an obstacle for African Americans. It is here that we see the beginnings of just what makes Coulter's remarks – as well as Cain's near self-contradiction – just as ridiculous as they are: They are completely disconnected from reality as it actually is.
Coulter believes that black people who wish to be conservative face pressure from other black people to vote liberal and that conservative blacks who overcome this pressure are that much more impressive for it. But she is blind to the question: Why would a black person who wanted to vote conservative be pressured to do otherwise by other black people?
Because despite Cain's belief, black people in America still face the obstacles of racism, not just on the micro-level of daily interactions, but on the macro-level of institutions because of a deeply entrenched historical commitment to white privilege. And while the left, as I admitted, has its share of racism, it is often the economic and social policies of the right which most directly augment this "possessive investment in whiteness," as University of California professor George Lipsitz calls it.
Coulter may want to shake her fist at the all the black people who try to convince black conservatives to not vote conservative but the enormous power of historical memory – it was a conservative position to oppose school integration and the Civil Rights Act – and the facts of reality – according to a study by the PEW research center, the median household wealth of blacks is over 20 times less than for whites – are not on her side.
Does this mean black liberals are better than black conservatives? No. It means that any kind of statement like that misses the whole point.