What My Mom Taught Me About Black Conservatives

In 2004, my mother accompanied me to Long Beach, California for the United States Olympic swimming trials. I was going to cover the Athens Summer Olympics for the Detroit Free Press that year, and I was sent to tryouts to write about a young phenom named Michael Phelps, who went on to become the greatest American swimmer in history and one of the most decorated Olympians of all time.

I knew my mother would enjoy the trials because of her deep passion for swimming. She loves water. She had been a swimmer as a child and had even dreamed of becoming an Olympian herself. Later, she became a certified lifeguard and worked for the YMCA and the Oakland Community Center. Even when she was fight against addiction during my childhood, my mother sometimes splurged on a health club membership just to get access to a swimming pool.

This article is adapted from Hill’s forthcoming book.

One night in Long Beach, we stayed up late, arguing heatedly over whether former President George W. Bush had lied about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction to justify his decision to invade in 2003. She didn’t mean it. I was extremely critical of Bush – I would have been right about how he misled the American public – and neither my mother nor I backed down that night.

Politically, my mother and I are polar opposites. Although my mother does not like to be called a Christian conservative, she is more than comfortable calling me a liberal. For me, both labels seem appropriate. However, my mother explains that her political views stem from what she calls a “biblical worldview.” My mother is pro-life, although she raised a daughter who had an abortion. She told me for years that as a Christian she would go against God if she voted for any candidate who supported a woman’s right to an abortion.

My mother’s perspective, while not uncommon among black people, is largely ignored in American politics today. Black people aren’t necessarily put off by conservative ideas. But many of us are put off by a party that seems to willingly embrace blatant racism and anti-darkness.

Although I disagree with my mother, I admire the way she has remained true to her principles. We all get a good deal out of voting, because so many politicians have serious flaws. So I wasn’t terribly surprised when my mom seemed to buy some of Trump’s misleading and confrontational rhetoric during his 2016 presidential campaign. I was disappointed, though. Trump’s relationship with evangelical Christians is one of convenience. He was more than happy to put down roots in their community in return for their loyalty and support. He gave them what they wanted: Supreme Court justices who would destroy Roe vs. Wade. He facilitated an environment in which religious freedom protections would allow people to openly discriminate against LGBTQ people. And he created an atmosphere in which evangelicals felt entitled to be open fanatics.

I would not consider my mother to be part of the far-right extremist Christian movement. And I cannot ignore what so many Christians in America are willing to tolerate and excuse for their religion. Many haven’t just impatiently ignored Trump’s racism, misogyny, xenophobia and abject cruelty; they took things one step further and deified Trump. Paula White, a hugely popular but controversial evangelical who served as Trump’s spiritual adviser when he was in the White House, called his work with Trump “a mission from God”. Pastor Jeremiah Johnson became known as “Trump’s prophet” for proclaiming that Trump would be re-elected in 2020. The day after his defeat, Johnson sent a letter to his mailing list claiming that he and a “chorus of mature prophets and tested” had been assured by God that Trump would be victorious. “Either a spirit of falsehood has filled the mouths of many prophetic voices of confidence in America,” he wrote to his followers, “or Donald J. Trump has truly won the presidency and we are witnessing an evil, diabolical plan unfold to steal the election. I believe with all my heart that the latter is true.” (Johnson later apologized for his remarks and temporarily closed his ministry.)

With all of this in mind, I know many people are surprised to learn that a black woman in her 60s would be receptive to Trump’s message. But I’ve learned through many conversations with my mother — some of which weren’t so pleasant — that Trump’s appeal was fueled by the disappointment some people his age feel about young Americans. .

My mom thinks “this generation” — a broad category that includes my fellow Gen Xers and myself — is sweet, authoritative, irresponsible, and too politically correct. She thinks we squandered the gains of the civil rights generation. My mother was among those who cheered on Bill Cosby as he spoke to black people about personal responsibility before his own fall from grace. During his infamous speech “cake”which he delivered at the NAACP event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Cosby has hit every spot on the respectability-politics bingo card. He not only suggested that black women who get pregnant out of wedlock should be ashamed, but he also criticized women for having “five or six different children” from “eight, 10 different husbands, or whatever”: “Soon,” he joked. , “you’re going to have to have DNA maps to know who you’re having sex with.” He also mocked black parents who give their children names that were too ethnic and swept away “people with their hats upside down, pants down around the crack.”

Cosby had created classic television series, including The Cosby Show and A different world, which portrays black characters in a positive light. Yet his speech showed a simmering hatred for some black people, reducing many of us to the worst stereotypes of the lowest common denominator. My mother isn’t that tough, but she gravitates towards the politics of respectability – she always has, like many other members of my family. So I’m always amused when white people try to paint the whole black community as liberal and lecture us about personal responsibility, as if black people haven’t heard the Cosby-type messages on repeat in our homes, our churches and our schools for our entire lives.

To be clear, my mother was never a member of the Trump cult. She has never worn MAGA clothes. She certainly never rejected black people or her blackness. She is proud to be a black woman. However, she was initially drawn to Trump’s no-nonsense delivery, his alleged business acumen, his “draining the swamp” nonsense and, most importantly, his choice to run as an anti-abortion candidate. Never mind that he proudly claimed to be “pro-choice in every way” during a 1999 interview with legendary NBC anchor Tim Russert on Meet the press“I hate the concept of abortion…but I still believe in choice.”

While I hate to give Trump credit for anything, he’s always been good at marketing himself. His messages are commendable, but he knows how to deliver them effectively.

Unlike my mother, I recognized Trump as a racist con man early on. In 2017, about a month after a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, I criticized it on social media, which got me in trouble with my then-employer, ESPN. Given our heated debate in Long Beach, my mother must not have been surprised that, even though my professional life exploded because of my comments, I never backed down. Trump was not the first president that history has proven me right about.


This article is adapted from Hill’s forthcoming book, Uphill: a memoir.

Barry F. Howard