Any faithful fan of the Bill Cosby Show will remember him. He was the dashing lieutenant who married the character played by Lisa Bonet. And he is also the son of one of my best friends from my student days at Hampton University, Clarence Phillips, who is now deceased.
Joseph C. Phillips proudly proclaims his conservatism and has become the engrossing young African-American voice for the Republican Party. He is suave, handsome, brilliant, articulate and erudite. He is also a staunch conservative and, like all the conservatives I know, he is steeped in religiosity.
I saw Joseph on C-Span recently. He was trying to help young Republicans (mainly white) conceptualize “conservatism.”
To his credit, he acknowledged that it is possible to see “racism” in many of the ways that the term is used and he tried to feed them a definition that is “faith-based” and he was careful to separate “faith” from religion and equated it with “a belief in a higher power.”
So far, so good.
Then, Mr. Philips began to factor in his definition with the utility of conservatism by the Republican Party, quoting from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” As brilliant as Mr. Phillips is, it seems that he is unable or unwilling to see that the Declaration of Independence had nothing to do with him (us).
These were white men declaring themselves free and equal to each other, while holding Africans in bondage and denying equality to their own women and, when called upon to justify this duplicity, hid behind the Christian Bible.
Mr. Phillips also quoted Thomas Jefferson as a supporter of his ideas.
It is hard to see how any slave owner, especially one whose own children were born into, and kept in, slavery, should be honored, let alone venerated. If that is not enough to dishonor Mr. Jefferson, consider the fact that he slept with a black woman for about 35 years and died leaving her in slavery.
Forever the actor, Mr. Phillips also quoted from Lincoln but it was not the quote that I would have selected. For me, Lincoln’s most powerful words were not even those written in the Emancipation Proclamation but those written in a letter stating why he could not honor Thomas Jefferson.
In this letter he wrote: “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not themselves, and under a just God, cannot long retain it.”
Mr. Phillips asked for questions from the floor and, as is typical of a white audience listening to a mesmerizing presentation by a black intellectual, the very first question was not intended to garner a better understanding of the main subject but designed to let him know that he is black and they are white.
It had to do with race. In essence, the questioner wanted to know what happened to cause blacks to turn away from Dr. Booker T. Washington and embrace the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Mr. Phillips clearly did not expect that left-field question and was somewhat stymied but he regrouped fairly quickly and made a comment that somewhat redeemed him, for the time being anyway.
He admonished his white counterparts that it is not enough to be against such things as welfare, affordable health care, and affirmative action, that they must be willing and able to put something better and attainable in their place.
For me, that was the most powerful statement he had made throughout the presentation. However, he needs to know that the Republican Party has nothing better to offer and will soon disown him if he ever becomes confrontational.
Like his fellow young black conservatives, the son of my deceased good friend fits the category of “he who knows not and knows not that he knows not…” However, we cannot afford to shun him. He might yet be teachable.
Gilbert L. Raiford, a contract worker with the U.S. Department of State and a retired social worker who has had a long career in teaching. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org