MBM: I'm here with Joseph Phillips, who's latest book – He Talk Like A White Boy – is being presented and highlighted here at the Black Caucus convention. Tell me a little bit about your book.
JCP: The book, He Talk Like A White Boy, is about values: the values of family, faith, character, idealism. These are the values that I believe are the foundation, have been the sustenance and strength of the black community and I think that they are the strength of the larger American community. The title really addresses this notion of authenticity in the sub title: what is it to be authentic and who is it that decides what is authentic? I think that what really is authentic about people are the values that we share. These values, again, are family, faith, character, idealism. And that they are old school values. I think over the years we have tended to turn our backs on these old school values and embrace new school values that often times are counter to family, faith, idealism and don't really serve us.
MBM: The concept of values, is that something that has one expression in our community, or is there room for a number of different executions of the values can also support faith and family? What's your sense on that?
JCP: Well, if what you are asking is whether the values are owned by any particular political party or political ideology then the answer is no. These values are universal. They don't belong to the right or left. They don't belong to the rich or the poor. They are values that we all share as Americans and so that's my answer if that's what you mean. If you're talking about one particular religion then again my answer is no. The founders were very clear. They supported the notion of a God fearing people. Though they were Christians, that did not necessarily mean that excluded the Jewish faith or Muslim faith – and I believe the same thing. Listen, Aristides said that our notions of justice come through reason and an association with the Divine. Not through reason only, but through the acknowledgement of one that is greater than ourselves: one objective truth that is sustained yesterday, today, and tomorrow. De Tocqueville said that liberty is not attainable without morality, nor morality without faith. The important thing is faith, the acknowledgement of one greater than ourselves. The idea of liberty – the liberty that we enjoy as Americans – is directly tied into a belief in something greater than ourselves. That does not mean that everyone has to have the same faith. It means that we have to acknowledge and be a faithful people.
MBM: What is your sense about the intersection of faith and politics? You talked about right and left, it seems like of late the right has done a great job of using (and maybe I'm editorializing a little bit) faith as a political tool in ways that perhaps the left has not. What's your sense about that?
JCP: Well, I find that . . . that's kind of a cynical view. No offense, Michael, but, the fact is that this intersection between faith and politics has been there from the beginning. It was people of faith who . . . uh, listen again, the foundation of our republic was established by men of faith, and faith was an essential ingredient in the foundation. The drive to end the horrible institution of slavery in this country was lead by people of faith. It was people of faith who were out in front in establishing women's rights in this country. It was people of faith who lead the second revolution in this country to establish civil rights. Faith has been the central part of politics since the beginning of time and I find it rather cynical that we are to say that its OK for people to kneel and pray at the foot of the Edmond Pettus bridge, and yet we cannot have people of faith give their opinions when it comes to issues of abortion, when it comes to issues of homosexual marriage, when it comes to – issues, even of taxation.
MBM: Some would say that the right used the issue of gay marriage as one to spark an emotional response from people when – in reality - particularly in the black community – when in reality there are a myriad of other, much more critical kinds of issues in terms of things that have a direct impact on our uplift. Do you have a thought on that?
JCP: Clearly, I have a thought on a lot of things – most everything – which is what I say in the book – I have an opinion on everything. laughs
My answer is that it was not the right who continues to attempt to change a millennia old definition of marriage - that came from the far left. I won't say the left, because in all truth it's . . . again – these values don't belong to . . . there are people on the left who don't agree with this issue. So it was a wedge issue, but it was not a wedge issues that was used by the right. It was a wedge issue used by the left, it happened to backfire on them. The same, I think is true, with the issue of abortion. More and more you have the left staking out this territory that any encroachment into the right to destroy life is a violation of civil rights – that comes from the left, it doesn't come from the right. So, its not the right that is attempting to use values issue, it's the left – the far left that is assaulting these values, and listen, the right and those of us who disagree have every right and responsibility to vocally and passionately disagree. And if you lose the argument you can't claim that your civil rights are being violated or that people are bigots. You're losing the argument and people just happen to not agree.
MBM: One of the things that we debate about quite a bit on our site is trying to identify a conservative black agenda or a black conservative agenda. There is a very clear conservative agenda, and we've tried to understand what a black conservative agenda is. Do you have a thought on that?
JCP: You know what's interesting, is this notion of being a black conservative. One of the essays in the book I try to explore what that means – to be a black conservative. It doesn't mean being a Republican because black people have been Republicans since the party started. It doesn't mean being conservative, because – by and large - black people are conservative when you break it down issue by issue – black people tend to be – generally speaking - very conservative. I think that what being a black conservative has come to mean . . . I think . . . my first knowledge of the term came in the late 80's, and I think that, and Shelby Steele talks about this, it really has to do with an embrace of an ideology that is absent race – that you are not looking through and filtering every issue through the issue of race. I think that gets you branded a black conservative. In terms of a black conservative agenda, I think that what has worked for us . . . and again, right, left, center . . . is an adherence to the founding principles of this nation: the idea of equality, the idea that our rights come to us from God - not from men, that the duty of government is not to create rights but to secure our natural rights, that government derives its just powers, not its powers, its just powers, from the consent of the governed. These values, again strength of family, the necessity of faith in our lives - that seems to me to be the agenda, those are the tools that we need.
MBM: Our founders also built this nation by and for wealthy white men. I mean you could be a white. You could be a man. But if you weren't wealthy then you still weren't a full citizen. Obviously, slavery was a raging issue back at the founding, so if . . . and I imagine that you and I probably would agree that the whole 3/5th issue was a mistake. . .
JCP: NO. We would not agree with that. We cannot confuse the principles with the compromises people made to establish a nation. The 3/5 clause was a compromise that the – listen without the 3/5 clause the South would have been stronger and the institution of slavery would have been more entrenched – without the 3/5 clause. But beyond that, I want to say this. . .
MBM Because the 3/5 clause appeased the South?
JCP: No, the South wanted to count all – wanted to count everyone. The North said . . . we'll give you 3/5. And, of course, the North and the founders was looking forward to the end of slavery . . . but that's really not the issue. The issue is that the principles - are what's important. The civil rights movement was. . . one of the greatest speeches in American rhetoric – delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King Jr. referenced the founding – those principles of equality and rights coming from God. That movement was about the realization of those principles. So, all I'm saying is - I'm in that school – so all I'm saying is lets . . .
MBM: But Martin also said, "Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy" . . . The founders wrote the words . . . Jefferson wrote the words . . . but it was extremely idealistic . . .
JCP: But again – it's this notion of idealism. There is not a more idealistic people, I think, on this planet than black people because we believe in the promise of America. We have fought for it from the beginning. Those principles – that notion that all men are created equal is burned into us as a people, and I believe that that is the fuel - that sense of idealism is American fuel. It makes America different from any other nation on this earth. You know when you look at some of the problems - at this notion of establishing democracies in other places - one of the differences is that they don't begin from the foundation that all men are equal. That we all have certain rights that come to us from God. They don't believe that.
MBM: Do we?
JCP: Yes. We do. Now, the trick is to, as King said, is to make it real. And what is the problem with making it real? I ask people all the time who want to fuss with me about it, what among those values and those principles do you disagree with? Do you not agree that all men are created equal? Do you not believe that governments' job , its duty, is to secure those rights? Do you disagree that government derives - or should derive - its just powers from the consent of the governed? What among those do you disagree with? Just let me know and that's where we can begin. Well I agree with all of them. Well, then fine. Well let's not worry about what some folks did or didn't mean 200 hundred years ago. Let's agree now that these are good principles and let's build from there.
MBM: Two last questions – you mentioned in talking about the black conservative agenda – that Shelby Steele said the black conservative is an agenda that looks at the world absent color.
JCP: I was saying that I think that is what gets you branded a black conservative.
MBM: I was just wondering how realistic is it to view the world and to operate that way when so much of the world doesn't operate . . .
JCP: It's not so much "void of color". It's that the problems that we experience now can no longer be traced to racism. We cannot look at the problems we have and blame it on ˜the man'. Listen, this is what got Cosby in trouble – because that is essentially what he was saying. Look – you know, we can no longer say the white man is doing this . . . at some point we have to begin to talk about what is it that we are doing. What is within our power to do. A lot of the obstacles have been broken down. Doors are open. Those doors that are not open are certainly cracked open. And as McWhorter says, we may not be at the mountain top – but we are certainly within view of it and if we hitch ourselves up we can take the last few steps. That makes a lot of people nuts. And you saw what happened when Cosby said it – it makes them nuts. When Steele said it in 1989 in "The Content Of Our Character" he lost every friend he had. When McWhorter came out and said it four or five years ago in "Losing the Race" – and he is not even a conservative – but he was branded a conservative and people cursed him on the subway in New York City. When I write about it in my columns and I say similar things, people email me and call me everything but a child of God. So I'm convinced that people don't care whether or not you're for lower taxes or whatever, but the second you begin to say – look – some of this has to do with the choices we make – AHHHH!!
MBM: But – in Dysonian fashion – do you also acknowledge also that there is a broader societal context within which those choices are made – that impact the choices that we make?
JCP: Listen – of course, but the issue is this, what does this have to do with whether you marry the mother of your children? What does that have to do with whether or not you honor your wife or your husband? What does it have to do with whether you get up and go to church on Sunday? What does it have to do with whether or not you do two hours of homework at night? What does it have to do with whether or not you read to your children? There was a time in this country where . . . you know - Strange Fruits – Billy Holiday sang of black men hanging from trees. Where there was certainly far more pernicious racism than we face in 2006, black men still found a way to work jobs, to value education, to honor their women, to be married. That's all I'm saying – and so for somebody to talk about what the white man is doing – well, what does that have to do with what you do and the choices that you make? And again, and Cosby thinks he broke some new ground. People had been saying this for years. Shelby Steele said it in 1989. But the fact of the matter is, that people who are faux conservatives have been saying the same thing for years, that you have – and again – this is something that I talk about in my book - this is old school – the idea that there was a time when black people learned to read by lamp light, that took the risk of losing their lives to get an education. Where you had families that said – in no uncertain terms – look – I only have a 6th grade education, I'm going to work two jobs – I don't care what you are going to do – you are getting it. And now you have knuckle heads who sit and talk about – well, the curriculum doesn't speak to me as an African American. WHAT? Dropping out of school. WHAT? You talk like a white boy. WHAT? Reading books is white. WHAT? We used to hang photographs on the wall of DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes – intellectuals. Now we got fitty cent. WHAT? WHAT? Authentic black music is music that denigrates black women. WHAT? WHAT? And then you want to talk about the context of racism in America. WHAT? No. No. No. No. It has to do with the choices that we make. I mean, I can't stress it enough. Strong families. Men honoring their women. This is my Alpha brother right here (motions to someone standing by) – and he's going to signify everything I'm saying – that's what Alpha is about – scholarship, manly deeds, love for all mankind, honoring women, taking care of TCB. Am I right?
MBM: Last question: are you – I'm a business person. I got an MBA and I've been doing the corporate thing. And I'm sort of building this site and writing on the side and so I have this, sort of, dual identity. Are you an actor who writes. Are you a writer who acts? How do you see yourself?
JCP: I'm an actor. I'm an actor who writes a weekly column and I have a book out. And as I say in the introduction to my book – I'm a husband, father of three boys. I'm am actor who had a little taste of celebrity and liked the way it tasted and I happen to have an opinion on just about everything. Welcome to my world!
MBM: Just out of curiosity, have your opinions impacted opportunities on the acting side at all?
JCP: Not so far as I know. Not so far as I know.
MBM: Well I appreciate it. You've been very generous.
JCP: Thank you so much.