One of my all-time favorite comedies is Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles. Truly a product of its time, the racially provocative mock Western could not be made today. Nor could it have been made any time before it was. The moment in popular culture was just right for black Sheriff Bart and his quest to earn the respect of skeptical townsfolk in time to save them from annihilation.
A large part of what made Blazing Saddles both an effective comedy and a scathing social commentary was its unapologetic confrontation of racial stereotypes. The film did not minimize the ethic differences between racial groups. Rather, it proposed that those differences matter less than where individuals stand on freedom.
This is a message largely lost on today’s political culture, where racial and ethnic identity is often expected to determine political ideology. The black community in particular is expected to display loyalty to the Democratic Party, to Marxist “social justice,” and a professed victim status. While the voting habits of the black community meet this expectation, it is high time for conservatives to present them with an alternative.
Last weekend, I was a guest on a local talk radio show in the Twin Cities, representing Minnesota’s North Star Tea Party Patriots. Host Ron Rosenbaum, a self-described fiscal conservative and social liberal, spent much of our time together addressing the perceived dissonance between my racial identity and my participation in the conservative movement.
You are an African-American… Many people have said, “I don’t want to have anything to do with the Tea Party. They’re racist. They hate black people.” It’s very easy to throw around that term, but I’m sure you’ve heard the claim. And I’m sure people have said to you, “How in the hell can you, as a black man, be associated with this movement?” And you say to them what?
What is informing the question? Why shouldn’t a black person hold and advocate conservative ideals? There is nothing inherent to racial identity which ought to determine ideology. The ideals, principles, and beliefs of an individual ought to be the product of their knowledge and rational deduction, not group think. If conservatives intend to build sustainable pluralities to secure public policy consistent with our values, it is necessary for us to impress this truth upon individuals in communities which have been up until now ceded to the Left.
Newt Gingrich spoke this this point at David Horowitz’s most recent Restoration Weekend. He put out an encouraging and timely call.
We, the people in this room, the conservative movement, we have to decide that the right to pursue happiness belongs to every single American of every ethnic background in every neighborhood in America. And we have to have the courage to walk into those neighborhoods, [and] convene the meeting to ask what it is about the culture, what it is about the bureaucracies, what it is about the tax code, what it is about the lack of public safety, what are the factors which are blocking Americans from their God-given right to pursue happiness. And then we have to have the courage to take out those inhibitions to human creativity, so that every American of every background has a true opportunity to pursue happiness.
And the morning that they believe we are serious, we will have created a 70% majority that is a center-right majority, because all the Latinos, all the Asian-Americans, all the African-Americans, and all the Native Americans who share our values but fear us because they don’t understand us, and we don’t understand them – The morning they decide we care about them, they will care about what we know about their lives being better.
Part of what made the racially-charged jokes in Blazing Saddles so funny was the absurdity of racism in the midst of existential dilemma. The story climaxed with the white townsfolk accepting the aid of previously disparaged minorities in order to band together and save their town. To a far grander extent, and under more serious and sober circumstances, the conservative movement in America must do the same. That’s not to say that racism has prevented such outreach. As Gingrich said, it is a matter of mustering the courage to engage in unfamiliar territory.
As some have taken to saying, we need all hands on deck. That means expanding the ranks by first abandoning assumptions regarding ideological predisposition.
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota’s North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.