The American Conservative Union’s Annual CPAC conference was last week. The Conference plays host to the most conservative right-wing portion of the Republican party. Many identify as tea partiers and are pro-gun, anti-immigration, anti-union, anti-big government (and by extension many federal and public programs), and they are huge fans of free market capitalism. And given some of the extremely racist sexist, nativist, and homophobic things that have come out of this movement, it is a wonder that a so-called humanist organization would choose to be among them, to recruit, or to increase the visibility of atheist conservatives. What may have been more perplexing though was the appearance that was made by social and political commentator, columnist, and podcaster, Jamila Bey in conservative Stepford Wife drag complete with a wig.
It was baffling to many of us. Those of us who have often thought of Jamila as a liberal progressive given many of her prior stances on issues. Her program SPAR with Jamila certainly gave the impression of someone with a liberal progressive consciousness. We’ve heard her speak on everything from reproductive rights, gay rights, to other issues affecting the underprivileged and disenfranchised. So to see her rubbing elbows with the CPACkers, many of whom are undermining the the rights of women, those that identify as LGBT, and people of color is disheartening. Just as it is disheartening to see Dr. Ben Carson, who grew up poor and who should know how important the expansion of healthcare is, to condemn “Obamacare” as “the worst thing that has happened to our country since slavery.” SINCE SLAVERY! In another demonstration of mind-boggling ignorance Carson blamed feminism for single motherhood which he thinks led to the death of Michael Brown, despite the fact that both of his biological parents were involved in his life. Equally infuriating is Congresswoman Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who favors policies that might have kept her own parents from staying in the US and who spoke of wanting to destroy to Congressional Black Caucus from the inside. Demonizing and pathologizing black people and other minorities has been a strategy of the Republican party for a long time, and having people of color willing to engage in this sort of behavior helps the party to justify their rhetoric as simply “tough” or “patriotic”. But no matter how they deflect, these types of statements are racist and bigoted and are designed to appeal to their largely white male base.
So, it sucks to see someone who you have admired use “we”, “our”, and “us to describe vague points of supposed agreement she shares with right-wing extremists, especially when she is known for challenging people and being outspoken on many progressive issues. For instance, I think many of us were proud of her when she openly challenged the representative for the Coalition of African American Pastors when they came out publicly against same sex marriage. But seeing her throw immigrants under the bus as she did came out of left field. She chose to say that children from outside the US had a better chances of getting into elite schools than American children, instead of challenging the conservative republican ideal of decreasing taxes and the size of government that has reduced state funding of institutions of higher learning. Reductions that in turn drive up the cost of tuition, reduces student financial aid, and reduces enrollment. And it is a little ironic and sad to see Jamila plea for acceptance and to be embraced by a group of mostly white male affluent bigots, whilst representing a self-professed “humanist” organization that appropriates civil and social justice language. A “humanist” organization that has expressed little to no commitment to causes that don’t concern privileged white males. A humanist organization whose president talks about equality and freedom but only for a narrow group of mostly white anti-theists and only when it puts him and the organization in a position to antagonize the religious.
In her brief speech she echoed the familiar revisionist history that so many Republicans use to try to appeal to the black community: that their party fought for abolition. As party they share a name with the Republicans of old who labored to help free the slaves but I doubt very seriously that the Republicans of the 1860’s would support the current incarnation of their party. I don’t think that Republicans like Frederick Douglass, who supported universal suffrage and spoke against abuses of the carceral system (which really amounted to re-enslavement), would have looked favorably upon the GOP’s support of voter suppression laws or an unregulated economy where rich corporate interests are free to run amuck.
Recently Jamila wrote a piece about her experience, and I’m not sure if she is being deliberately obtuse or what. But it is difficult to believe someone as polished and politically savvy as she seems to be would really think it odd that people are interested in knowing about her political views, after she decided to appear before CPAC and out herself as a Republican. Now all of a sudden she is “purplish”? I don’t get it. But I agree with James Croft, that coming out as a Republican (at CPAC of all places), whatever her views on social justice or civil liberties may be, tells you more than a little bit about her priorities-whether she cares to admit it or not.
CPAC: Hackneyed and Hollow