"I think it's easy to underestimate how much this Organic Black Conservative tradition resonates. It really is one of things that connects us. It's about going upschool to check on your son, and finding out that the kids that are cutting up the most in class, are the one's whose parents are the least involved. It's about walking up Lenox, at ten in the evening on Sunday, and seeing eight year-olds out playing. There's a deep sense, in all of us--even left-wing me--that we aren't doing enough.
I don't know that that sense is rational. I don't think it makes policy. But we have a strong need to believe that we don't have to wait on policy reform (read: the consent of white folks) for change. That if we just change how eat, how we raise our kids, our study-habits, how we talk to each other, then everything will be OK. I feel like that all the time. It is the religious part of me."He's right. I recognize a lot of this having lived in a few "black neighborhoods" and working with a lot of older black men. I remember listening to guys my father's age agonizing about why they can't get their sons to dress and speak better. My own parents, who were certainly working class too, generally told us to do what we wanted and not worry too much about what the old farts thought about it. My father is a great man, but he can be a bit obstinate, and I remember my parents fighting over his insistence on wearing his dirty work clothes to PTA meetings. His point: if they didn't like it, well then screw 'em! I remember, as a child, thinking that there was something snooty and phony about being too dignified. Luckily, we lived down the street from my grandfather, who spent hours teaching us how to comport ourselves. He was pretty old school.
However, it was funny to me because, in the largely black areas that I've lived in, the men my father's age dress just like my grandfather. It's not dressing "rich"; it's just dressing well. They look sharp. Maybe this is what's so weird to me about Hamilton, another working class city with a largely white population- I see men in their 40s with dirty, sleeveless shirts, hanging jeans, and a general demeanor of angry defiance- if you don't like it, then screw you! I'm not actually used to seeing this in large numbers of middle aged men. It seems weird.
As for the "Organic Black Conservative tradition", it's strange how little you hear about it, outside of the black community or its media. Coates is absolutely right here: there is a strong cultural conservatism in the black community, an almost "Midwestern" emphasis on dress, demeanor, family, faith, and tradition. I always called it "churchy", meaning no disrespect. So when Bill Cosby or Barack Obama talk about these things, they're speaking within a tradition; there's nothing 'revolutionary' or even unique about it. Coates is also right that it's tempting, and probably wrong, to assume that these behaviors can solve every social problem. I do think that this Organic Black Conservative tradition he's talking about might gain a bit more attention with Barack Obama, who is absolutely a product of that tradition, becoming President. But, that's another post.