We are living through an update of radical chic. Elite white liberals are apologizing for and even applauding the worst riots in a generation, if not two. They are now joined by people who used to pretend at least that they were Republicans — former President George W. Bush and former nominee Mitt Romney have both been talking about systemic racism and how black lives matter, as if they had hitherto spent their careers asking racists for votes.
This is all rather ugly. It overlooks the black people who are victims of the riots or who simply disapprove. Worst of all it leads to the silencing of black conservatism — I don’t mean anything ideological or even political in a broader sense, but what former President Obama appealed to when he complained about fatherlessness among black people. We didn’t use to pretend the only thing black people can do is riot. We used to respect their dignity more.
Saying sensible things about black life has come to be an almost revolutionary act. Just go on Twitter and follow Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor Terry Crews, who’s talking about love and avoiding the rhetoric of black supremacy. That is not going down well on a lefty platform like Twitter. There are not many conservatives applauding this man for daring to stand apart from the aggressive and intolerant attitude our elites have embraced, as they fire journalists, editors, academics, or whoever dissents, however mildly.
Yet we need people like Terry Crews if we are to have any chance at compromise and achieving the common good. Racism is the gravest accusation an American can be forced to answer for publicly — indeed, it often destroys people before they have a chance to answer the charge. Now, it’s being used by the richest, most privileged people in America against a majority of people vastly poorer than themselves. This cannot end well, since the people cannot be expected to consent to humiliation and see their own party leaders betray them.
However the political problem will turn, we also need to think about morality seriously, in the language of common sense. And here we need men brave enough to speak up and tell truths that are now intolerable in public discourse.
The foremost candidate for this restoration of sanity and decency is the most important black actor in a generation, Denzel Washington, winner of two Oscar prizes among many other honors. He is also a man who speaks about his Christian faith and the need for endless hard work. He speaks about personal responsibility in face of difficulty and achieving social change in the direction of justice instead of making everyone hateful.
White liberals can’t really understand his thinking. Here’s an interview he gave while promoting the movie Fences, which he directed and produced, and which earned him a Best Picture Oscar nomination. He speaks with his usual decency and seriousness to a white interviewer desperate to cajole him into making incendiary statements about racial relations in America. White liberals have turned racism into a matter of piety, even if black people disagree.
Denzel explains something about the core of our liberal politics — the core of modern politics — the distinction between private and public life, the limit of legislation and the need for people, over time, to change what’s in their hearts, which cannot be forced or legislated. Race relations can improve only so much by political changes.
Denzel ends the interview saying he’s not part of a system, but a human being. This is what the interviewer denies him and what our elites are now denying black people. Denzel also suggests that people who think like this are sowing hatred in people’s hearts. Today, we see that hatred — we reap it.
The ugliness of our liberalism nowadays is that elites continuously try to violate people’s privacy, to force them to believe and to obey even in their private lives, and they deny men like Denzel the respect they deserve as thinking men whose experience is more urgently relevant than that of rich white liberals.
If liberals really believed in helping black Americans, they should be lionizing Denzel and encouraging his views on leadership and personal responsibility to reach all Americans. Instead, as you can see from such interviews, he’s being repeatedly asked to obey liberal ideology — though he nobly refuses.
Here he is again in 2017, talking about another very good movie about the black experience, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (we at the American Cinema Foundation have done a podcast on it). He insists on talking about character, which is instilled in family. If conservatives believe family is the basis of society, then Denzel is not only a conservative, but one of the voices we most need to hear from — not because of his skin color, but because of his character, his reputation, and his enlightened patriotism, both in his movies and in his public speeches.
Denzel’s the best, but he’s not entirely alone. I started with Terry Crews, so let me end with another black actor who says things that would shock — Anthony Mackie, who become a celebrity in Marvel movies as the hero Falcon. He is an intelligent adult with his own views and a daring insistence on discipline and pride.
He dares to recommend the old Seventies and Eighties Hollywood where people could still laugh about their differences on race; he insists, which is most shocking, that young black men should be respectful of police officers even if they’re being discriminated against, both for reasons of caution and so they can respect themselves morally — rising above prejudice, not allowing oneself to be dragged down — but insisting on legal and official confrontations where justice will prevail.
These men do not vote Republican or go to Trump rallies — their politics is conservative in a different sense — they’re looking to conserve black communities. They mean to confront racism in a reasonable and principled way, building on all the good things that civil rights have brought to America without damning the country. They know the suffering and humiliations black men suffer, but they also talk about their fathers teaching them to be responsible. They grasp human nature better than the liberals who have suffered nothing and demand everything.
What America can always learn from black people is tragedy. One part of America is as much victim as beneficiary of Progress. Things do not always get better and people who promise perfection are often lying or self-deceived and, either way, will bring catastrophe. There is a unique dignity in insisting on morality and self-respect in trying circumstances and against elite opinion, above all. We should admire, imitate, and honor these men. Community and family can bring the nation together despite our partisan divides.
We can have a conservative majority this way. But to do so we have to behave as these men have and as they say we should. Complaining about an unfair system or discrimination or being silenced or betrayed by elites will not do it. Anger leading to madness will certainly not do it. Finding and following leaders who are serious will do it. Conservatives shocked by their elites’ betrayal need Denzel as much as young black men do.