This is the second in an irregular series on building anti-racist conservatism. The opening post is Here.
Conservatives have used all kinds of bandwidth criticizing the concept of white privilege and institutional racism – and in doing so, we have politically obstructed ourselves for no good reason.
I’m old enough to remember when Conservatives tried to explain Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mistakes. In the late 20th century, “this man” and the welfare state he sponsored was still debated over US political law.
One policy – arguably the most egregious – remained largely undiscussed. The FDR made racial segregation the law of the country. Ta-Nehisi Coates provides the hideous details.
In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA insured private mortgages, which resulted in a decrease in interest rates and a decrease in the down payment on home purchases. However, an insured mortgage was not an option for Clyde Ross. The FHA had introduced a map system that rated neighborhoods based on their perceived stability. On the maps, green spaces with the rating “A” indicated “sought-after” parts of the city, which, as one expert put it, “were missing a single foreigner or negro”. These neighborhoods were seen as excellent prospects for insurance companies. Neighborhoods where black people lived were given a “D” rating and were usually rated as ineligible. They were colored red. Neither the percentage of blacks living there nor their social class played a role. Blacks were seen as contagious.
“A government that offered builders and lenders such a premium could have required compliance with a non-discrimination policy,” wrote Charles Abrams, the urban studies expert who helped found the New York City Housing Authority, in 1955. “Instead, the FHA a race policy that could have been removed from the Nuremberg Laws. “
In other words, the most successful political Democrat in American history instituted policies specifically designed to make it difficult for black Americans to own property. If this is not institutional racism, then it is nothing.
During my entire time in Conservative and Republican politics (since 1988), I first heard about Federal Housing Apartheid in 2014. Not a single Republican has ever bothered to find a way to make amends for more than thirty years of government distortion in the real estate markets. Indeed, the elimination of this hideous policy (which was finally repealed in 1968) was more popular with the Democrats who imposed it than the Republicans, who originally opposed it (GovTrack).
I can only ask: Why?
The conservative movement has rightly spent decades talking about the unintended consequences of various government policies. You – we – railed against plans that we believe would change the political climate for the worst. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read how conservatives have warned that the government is creating a culture of dependency among the population.
However, we cannot consider the possibility that past and present racists may shape their hatred of government policies.
We weren’t always like that. Conservatives recognized that government policies could disproportionately hurt blacks: Davis-Bacon, state school monopolies, etc. We were more than ready to acknowledge that there was indeed institutional racism; In fact, it was one of our reasons for skepticism about the big government in general.
I am not sure what happened. Perhaps hearing the left about white privilege sparked our anti-left impulses beyond reason. Perhaps time has eroded our memories of how racist the FDR welfare state actually was.
Or … maybe I was one of the few conservatives who really cared about it, instead of using it to cover up white supremacism, until Donald Trump gave the impression that the trick was no longer necessary.
Whatever the reason, Conservatives, by and large, have sought solace in opposition, leaving the whole field to the left. It’s not good for conservatism – or the country.
White supremacy is now part of Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian arsenal against democracy. It must be opposed by all patriotic Americans – and especially conservative Americans. This also includes the white supremacy that has remained in our institutions over the years and decades. Otherwise, Conservatives and Republicans risk entering the story defined by the support of the Big Government for Whites Only.