Reinforced Stereotypes Only Cloud the Issues

Posted: Aug 21, 2002 12:00 AM
A Washington newspaper recently reported that a wild pack of black journalists heckled black conservative activist Jesse Lee Peterson at a forum on reparations. "He was booed, jeered and called 'the white man's boy' by a crowd of nearly 300 black reporters and media figures for speaking against reparations at last week's annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists," the article noted. It is true that Peterson was jeered by a few of the black journalists in attendance. (The article fails to note that the remarks came from a vocal minority, not majority.) It is also true that the jeers were provoked by several inflammatory comments by Mr. Peterson regarding race relations in this country. This is Peterson's MO. He makes a living by soliciting knee-jerk reactions from his audience. During past appearances on my radio program, he maintained that the NAACP serves no purpose, that Jesse Jackson has never done anything to benefit black America, and that current black leaders are more prejudiced than whites were during the Jim Crow era. In such a manner, Peterson shocks people into paying attention to him. That's his shtick. Jeers inevitably follow. But by skimming over Peterson's predilection to provoke and by generalizing the response of the black journalists, the article gives the horribly reductive impression that black journalists are less professional than other journalists. It depicts black journalists as being unable to reign in their personal beliefs long enough to serve their professed goal, which is to dispassionately record the facts. Could you paint with a broader brush? This is dangerous not only for the suggestion that blacks are somehow less able to control their emotions (the centuries-old rationale for the enslavement of women and minorities), but also because it reinforces the idea that blacks are only capable of greeting conservative ideals with indignation and disgust. My experience has proved otherwise. I am a black conservative. I have strong opinions on issues that can only be considered traditionally Republican. And I am often hard at work conveying those views to anyone who will listen - on TV, at speaking engagements, debate forums, etc. Often, my views do not mesh with the majority of black listeners (why preach to the converted?). Rarely, however, am I jeered. Rarely do my peers in the ethnic papers swarm on me like angry adolescents. More often than not, we engage in a genuine give and take, the sort of honest friction that broadens one's perspective. Get it? Black journalists are professional and black voters are capable of being - gasp - contemplative when confronted with conservative ideals. In fact, a recent study by The Joint Center of Political and Economic Studies, a think tank specializing in urban issues, found that young black Americans are favoring traditionally Republican positions on Social Security, educational quality, vouchers and federalism. "We see a new generation of African Americans who are better educated, more successful, more pro-business and, therefore, drawn to policy positions vastly different from their parents and grandparents," said the Institute's president and CEO, Eddie Williams, during a public address announcing the findings. And yet the stereotype remains that blacks are incapable of seeing beyond the decades-old cultural mandate that says vote Democrat. That stereotype does not give blacks credit for being able to augment their political views to fit changing social dynamic. It implies that blacks are more prone to emotional, rather than intellectual decisions. And it suggests that blacks are followers, incapable of taking control over their own fate. Shattering these stereotypes is not an easy task, especially when organizations purporting to act in the best interest of black America have turned these stereotypes into a small cottage industry. For example, Julian Bond ridiculed black conservatives as "ventriloquist dummies," during the July 2002 NAACP convention in Houston. Tossing this sort of rhetoric into the public arena prevents any thoughtful discussion of the issue. It is a shortcut to thinking; one that ultimately gives the impression that blacks are more prone to react, rather than contemplate the issues that have the greatest impact on their lives. Shattering these stereotypes is essential to achieving social equality.