Historical analysis of the various strains of conservative political and social thought in black America, from Booker T. Washington to Clarence Thomas.
How to explain, even when Bush’s popularity among African-Americans fell to microscopically low levels after Hurricane Katrina, the continued presence in conservative circles of Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and black intellectuals like John McWhorter? Regrettably, self-described liberal Bracey (Law and African-American Studies/Washington Univ.) cannot. To begin with, he fails to provide an adequate definition of conservatism. Indeed, he labels nearly every example of black political expression from the last 250 years as “conservative,” applying the term to public figures as diverse as Stokely Carmichael, Marcus Garvey and Chris Rock, who would no doubt be surprised to find themselves sharing an ideological stage with George Schuyler. Bracey seems unaware that criticizing the civil-rights establishment, denouncing some kinds of popular culture or stressing the importance of education, does not a conservative make. Declaring that Malcolm X exhibited conservative sympathies because he stressed black self-reliance is at once ludicrous and painfully obvious. When the author moves into more concrete territory, examining the thought of actual conservatives like Rice and Thomas, the book improves. Even then, however, it’s essentially a repackaging of information that has been given better treatment elsewhere. The author might have examined, with more success, the enduring media fascination with those few outliers and addressed the question of why their skin color gives pundits like NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams and The Right Side host Armstrong Williams such disproportionate weight in the marketplace of ideas.