A frank conversation excerpted from the Badger Institute’s podcast series, Free Exchange
Mike: I’m Mike Nichols, president of the Badger Institute, and this is our Badger Institute podcast, Free Exchange. (You can subscribe to Free Exchange on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify and wherever else podcasts are available.)
Today, we’re going to talk about a topic on which there’s actually almost no free exchange in most places in America. We call this episode “Black and Conservative.” A lot of Americans seem to think that’s an oxymoron, actually, Black conservative. Not here in this room today.
So, our guests are: Cindy Werner, who is the state ambassador for the Frederick Douglass Foundation of Wisconsin, who has also run for Congress in Milwaukee as a Republican; Eloise Anderson — who just before we got on the air was accused of being both a maverick and a contrarian — former secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families under Scott Walker and a visiting fellow here at the Institute; and Shannon Whitworth, who is a Cedarburg resident, a lawyer, director of the Free Enterprise Academy at Milwaukee Lutheran High School.
Mike: (Eloise), you actually said to me at one point, “Skin color tells you nothing about a person,” and I’ve been thinking that’s a pretty radical statement. A lot of people don’t believe that in America right now. They think skin color, regardless of whether it’s white or black or any other color, tells you everything about a person. You don’t believe that.
Eloise: No, I don’t. My experience doesn’t bear that out. My experience just is, well, you maybe cannot take as much sun as I can but, other than that, what does it tell you? It doesn’t tell you what my values are. It doesn’t tell you what I like to eat. It doesn’t tell you where I’m from. It doesn’t tell you where I’m going. What does it tell you?
Conservatism and independence
Mike: Can we just talk a little bit about what conservative means? It’s just so hard to define nowadays.
Cindy: Well, to me, it means that I have independence. I can have that independent thought. When I deal with pro-life, I do no exceptions. I have a son. He’s an adult child now. We knew before he was born that there would be some complications. And we still chose, my husband and I (at the time) still chose to go ahead and have him, to deal with him. But he’s been a joy because right after him were twins, so don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.
Mike: I wonder, when you sit down and talk to members of the community about what you believe, whether or not you’re often in sync with them until you say, “Hey, I’m conservative” or “I’m Republican.”
Cindy: One of the examples I can give you is that I used to do a program called Women Off of Welfare. We would help them go from the rolls of welfare into the workforce. ... And to talk to the ladies, and we would get them together to put out résumés so they could better their situation, and it wasn’t until I was actually running for Congress that one of the ladies says, “Wait a minute, Miss Cindy. You’re a Republican?” And I go, “Yes.”
Mike: After you’d known her for a long time.
Mike: And talked to her about issues?
Cindy: Exactly, and the thing is that she would agree with me. And so, she would tell me. She would say, “I never knew you were a Republican.” And she goes, “Because you’re so nice.”
Cindy: And I think what the thing is that it’s a relationship. It’s a matter of building up those relationships, which we as Republicans have done a horrible job in doing.
Shannon: There’s a theory out there, which I personally believe to be true. And the first time I heard it articulated ... was when I was reading John McWhorter’s “Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America.”
I can’t remember who the person, whose theory this was, but what they posit is that a lot of Black people — in fact, most Black people — that you would talk to really are conservative. They have conservative thoughts and, politically, they are really on that side of the fence.
However, there’s a dual consciousness going on in that we are so emotionally invested in keeping white people on the hook for slavery that we will actually promote policies that are not in our self-interest, even to the point of self-sabotage. I tend to think that’s true.
The heist and hustle
Eloise: See, I think there’s a certain group of people who view the whole notion of keeping Black people tamed is of economic interest to them.
Shannon: Well, I think not only economic but political power.
Eloise: Well, political power gives them economic power because they can go and — I call it — heist corporations. They can go and heist the media. They can go and heist, actually, the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party stays in power as long as you have these hustlers who hustle the Black community on the ground.
I think the problem that Blacks have — many Blacks, not all — is that we are convinced that we will lose the little we have if we get off this wagon and go over to the Republican side or even an independent place because they believe that everything they’ve gotten so far is not because of their effort. It’s because somebody gave them something. ... My belief is affirmative action created another weight on us in terms of it being our effort vs. somebody giving us something.
Cindy: What I see when I talk to the ladies that I worked with, taking them from the rolls of welfare into the workforce, it was that lack of confidence is what it was. It was the lack of confidence in being able to do things because the government has replaced the man in your life and the government has become your man, or the government has become your God. ... So there are so many rights that are taken away from you because you need or because you use government assistance. And that was one of the things my mom always said was that this should never become a lifestyle. I think it’s a matter of actually just building up that confidence and getting people to become more selfsufficient because, at one time, we were there.
Shannon: There are so many pernicious ways that I believe not necessarily liberalism but progressivism and the Democratic Party and government have (made) Black people feel less than. I almost use the analogy, nowadays most Black people are taught that the only way they can score a touchdown is to have all the referees remove all the other players from the field.
Shannon: The most fascinating thing, I think, about what is happening nowadays is that I’m seeing just blatantly how many white people think that they have the absolute right to tell us exactly how we should think.
I remember playing a video in one of my classes last year — two years ago — where they were talking about the voter ID requirement, and they were on college campuses talking to students about voter ID requirements. And I was listening to these white kids talk about just how stupid they thought we were that we could not get a driver’s license. And saying, “Well, I just don’t think that they have the capacity, or maybe they don’t have the way to do, you know, this sort of thing, trying to sound nice.
Watching my kids’ jaws just drop until one of them said — he was a little bit younger — he’s like, “Well, exactly how hard is it to get a driver’s license?” And when I explained the process, he was dumbfounded. “You’re telling me that I can’t do this?”
Or Chelsea Handler when 50 Cent came out for (George W.) Bush, and she came up and literally said, “You know what? He is a Black man, and I’m going to call him. I’m going to tell him that he’s a Black man and he needs to be voting a certain way.”
And I sat there thinking to myself, “You know what? She couldn’t have been more racist if she had walked down to a Planned Parenthood and made a donation in blackface.”
But nobody called her on it because nowadays if you are on a certain side of the political fence, you can do anything you want with no accountability whatsoever.
Mike: You’ve used the term before of “it’s infantilizing.”
Shannon: Yes. Yes.
Mike: That has really stuck with me — in a prior conversation that we had.
Cindy: My backstory is this. My late husband was white, so my children are biracial. My grandchildren are biracial, except for one grandson. He’s triracial. He has a grandma that’s Asian, a grandma that’s Black and a granddad that’s white. So, how do you explain to these children that part of them is oppressors and part of them are being oppressed and one is being a victim?
It was just so sad to see where our country is getting to because when there’s real racism — and there is racism in our country, but not to the point that every time you turn your head around the corner, racism is stalking. You know? So, it becomes nothing.
Eloise: I tell my grandkids who are also mixed, I tell them, “You’re an American.”... Just forget all that other stuff. There is no hyphen here. It’s just American, and I think that’s where Black people have to get — I think the first thing for us to do is to get rid of the “African” piece and just say “American.” If we can do that, I think the road towards freedom is going to be one we can handle.
I think it’s because we lost our history that we kept trying to find it. I think the best way to find it is to tell every Black kid, “We’re going to have a genetics day. Go get your genetics done, and let’s see where you’re from. Then you go and adopt that country and know something about it.”
I was here when they started doing June 19th, and I know why it happened. It happened because we don’t have a holiday, so we’re going to do Juneteenth. And I said, “That’s not when we got emancipated. We got emancipated on Jan. 1 (1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation). So, I think it’s trying to recover something we’d lost, but we also need to move forward.
Critical race theory
Eloise: I think critical race theory is doing exactly the opposite of what it thought it was going to do. I think what they thought they were going to be able to do was pit whites against Blacks, and that is not what’s going on.
What they’ve done is to make Blacks (by and large) look at (it and say), “Do you really think I’m that stupid?”
Eloise: Remember, critical race theory comes out of critical theory. Critical theory comes out of the Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt School comes out of Germany, and it’s all out of the whole socialist, communist, Marxist movement. ... If you read the Frankfurt School and you read the critical race theory stuff, it’s the same stuff. It’s just not class. It’s race. Which has always been the Achilles’ heel of this country.
The foot off the neck
Mike: Do you agree then that maybe America is at maybe a freeing moment for the Black community? Cindy: Yes. Yes.
Eloise: I think it’s not just a freeing moment for us. I think white people need to be freed from thinking they need to take care of us and that we don’t have agency of our own. I think it will free them up.
Remember I told you that my grandfather said that when you put your foot on somebody’s neck, they can’t move, and neither can you. I think we’re maybe at the point where the feet are going to come off the neck, and my concern has always been whose foot is going to go on whose neck now.
Maybe we don’t have any necks with feet on them. For a white American, they need to be forgiven and move on.
Shannon: The great Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass has a great essay, “What Shall We Do with the Negro?”
Shannon: He starts it off by saying, “People come to me and say, after liberation, ‘What shall we do with the Negro?’ and my answer is, ‘Do nothing with us.’ Your doing has already done the mischief with us.’ ”
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