My Open Letter to Conservatives
Conservative Black Man

A stunningly revealing metaphor, beautifully delineated.

I am a liberal white male American who grew up in the 60s, marching and protesting (and toking and copulating — all the priorities of a young liberal male at the time) in the South. There is so much visceral and intellectual truth in your words that it makes me ache for this kind of intelligence and compassion in our national discourse. Those words also slap me with the realization of how much I have missed a clear and rational conservative voice to illuminate neglected corners of my own intellect. I believe I have found that voice.

One statement you make triggers for me my usual critical response to conservative rhetoric: “ Feelings don’t work for policy, but they work when we deal with each other in the real world.” I have always felt that policy, as it has manifested historically, has been too far divorced from the real world that people, especially those at the bottom of the mountain, live in. My stance is that this disconnection is reflected more in the loudest of conservative voices, drowning out the reasoned and honest thinking of conservatives like yourself. I’m sure you would respond that for liberals, feelings mask inaction or are a replacement for effective action — we fail to walk the talk.

But feelings make policy, too, or we would allow computers to dictate that policy: once all the numbers are crunched, we come to a precipice where we make a decision, like Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, and that decision, with all the data arrayed before us, is based on how we feel about the information. Unfortunately the feelings showcased most by both left and right media seems to come from ideologues flogging conservative values for their own egos and agendas, rather than those working earnestly to apply conservative values to finding real and fair solutions. Just as you say white Americans need to come down the mountain, these conservative views need to be elevated.

For me, the problem is rooted in our compulsion to define (and excoriate) the “other” in our midst. You state: “ We are all individuals who would like to be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said. What I’m saying is that if you can recite the out-of-wedlock birthrate for African-Americans, but don’t actually know any African-Americans, that may be a problem.” When Shockley spouted his spurious conclusions about the genetic foundations for “the American Negro’s intellectual and social deficits”, the racist community seized upon it as justification for treating the other differently. What outraged me was that the issue was even considered at all: when we take some average or mean (however arrived at) of a group’s capabilities (white “intellect”, black “sports ability”) as a justification for how we treat or consider individuals in the group, we are choosing, as you express above, our rigid prejudice over seeing the individual standing before us.

It is ironic that you have to invert the most famous image from Martin Luther King to open eyes to the experience of black Americans. It is my hope that one day, we all will have come to the mountaintop — in order to see further rather than to look down. Yours is one of the voices that will take us there.