What Color Is a Conservative?

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The paperback edition of the inspirational story of the first black to hold a Republican leadership position—J.C. Watts, Jr.

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The paperback edition of the inspirational story of the first black to hold a Republican leadership position—J.C. Watts, Jr.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060932404
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/11/2003
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 808,453
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

J.C. Watts, Jr., is a dynamic preacher, congressman, and father of six. Currently serving his fourth and final congressional term, he is the Republican Conference chairman.

Chriss Winston was the first woman to serve as chief White House speechwriter. A Washington communications veteran of both the Reagan and first Bush administrations, she is now a freelance writer. Ms. Winston lives in Pomfret, Maryland.

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First Chapter

What Color Is a Conservative?
My Life and My Politics

Chapter One

Family Is the Rock on
Which We Build Our Lives

Know whence you came. If you know whence
you came, there is really no limit to where
you can go.
James Baldwin,
The Fire Next Time, 1962

Donna Brazile, Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign manager, and I ought to be friends, but we're not. We're about the same age. We're both proud African Americans who are involved in public service and fascinated by the political arena. Both of us can lay claim to a few "firsts" -- she is the first black woman presidential campaign manager, and I am the first black to serve in the House Republican leadership.

Our upbringings are also surprisingly similar. Our fathers both did odd jobs, and we were both raised on the poor side of the tracks. Growing up, love was a lot easier to come by than money. We both felt the sting of racism and exclusion, and I suspect that she too was called "nigger" a few times, as I was. Despite a less than easy road, however, each of us managed to graduate from college and go on to make our mark in politics and government.

Yet with all that we share, Donna Brazile decided to use me to play the race card in the 2000 presidential campaign. Attacking my integrity, my motives, and my commitment to African American children, she told a reporter, "The Republicans bring out Colin Powell and J.C. Watts because they have no program, no policy. They play that game because they have no other game. They have no love and no joy. They'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them."

I may have given up boxing years ago, but telling a youth minister he doesn't care about his kids is fightin' words. No one likes to be on the receiving end of a partisan barrage, but if I was going to get shot at, I was glad Colin Powell was in the foxhole with me.

I've never met Donna Brazile. She certainly doesn't know me or what motivates me. Maybe our paths will cross one day, and I'll get to ask her why she chose to single out General Powell and me for what I've come to affectionately call the "full Donna." But knowing her penchant for headline-making remarks (it was an off-hand comment that got her fired as Michael Dukakis's political director in 1988), I found her intemperate comments hardly a surprise.

Ms. Brazile is typical of many black leaders and political operatives today who simply can't accept the notion that there are independent-minded African American men and women who disagree with them, who have rejected their liberal philosophy and approach to problem solving. For them, group identity is more important than individual principles because for them, maintaining the group identity assures the continuation of their power.

Like any group that has endured much, African Americans have created a strong and mutually reinforcing sense of group identity. That's not a bad thing in and of itself. Once the exhilaration of emancipation had worn off after the Civil War and the reality of being free but black in America had sunk in, that group identity comforted, protected, and encouraged us as a people to move forward in spite of the barriers put before our progress. That group identity gave us new strength and courage during the civil rights movement of the 1960s that ended the reign of Jim Crow and began a new era of black educational and economic upward mobility.

Sometimes, though, this group identity can limit us more than it protects us. Just as the Irish, the Italians, and the Jews still take pride in their roots, African Americans today should be proud of their heritage and never forget the difficult path our people have been forced to walk. But when the group identity becomes more important than the individual, it can blind us to valuable viewpoints, options, and opportunities. I embrace my blackness, just as I do my conservatism and my Christianity, but I don't want to be defined or pigeonholed by any one of the many elements that make up my character.

That refusal to be stereotyped and cast into certain beliefs and behaviors is what gets people of color who take another path, particularly a conservative path, into a heap of trouble. It doesn't matter whether it is Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, Clarence Thomas, or yours truly -- we have all been labeled expedients, Uncle Toms, oreos, sell-outs, traitors to our race, and other equally uncomplimentary characterizations.

Most of all, however, critics of black conservatives say we've forgotten where we came from. I may forget a federal budget number or, God forbid, to set the alarm clock for my weekly 6 a.m. flight to Washington, but I know exactly where I came from. I know because every decision I make every day is based on the values and lessons I learned growing up on the poor side of the tracks in a dusty little Oklahoma town that most people have never heard of and nobody can spell right the first time.

I like to call the ethos I grew up with "Oklahoma values." But you'd be just as accurate if you said "American values." Except for our lack of a seacoast, Oklahoma has a little bit of just about everything that's American. We call the southeastern corner "Little Dixie" because it touches Arkansas and almost reaches Louisiana. The northern part of the state has a shared border with Missouri and Kansas. The northwestern section is a gateway to Colorado and New Mexico. And, of course, our entire southern boundary defines the northern edge of Texas. We're southern, and we're western, and Great Plains, too.

Every weekend when I fly home from Washington, I never get tired of seeing the beauty and bounty of my home state.

What Color Is a Conservative?
My Life and My Politics
. Copyright &#copy; by J C Watts, Jr.. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 25, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    Rev. Watts has a realistic insight of the what is happening in U. S. politics today, the bickering back and forth between the different parties, the “group mentality” which is stifling progress and growth. He also knows what it is like to struggle with the media’s bias against anyone who has a different opinion than their own ideology.

    The former House of Representative member (1995-2003) in the first chapter (p. 3) already states “I embrace my blackness, just as I do my conservatism and my Christianity, but I do not want to be defined or pigeonholed by any one of the elements that make up my character.” Throughout his book, Rev. Watts offers the tools for a successful and fulfilling life not through victimization, but through determination and commitment, to hard work, responsibility, and accountability. Through the help of loving family members, friends, coaches and faith in God he was able to move successfully through life despite the obstacles that he had to confront with himself and with others.

    Watts offers solutions for our modern problems, not in some utopian way but in strategies which will help build up a society with solid moral values. He is especially concerned for our young who are so vulnerable and who fall into the trap of moral relativism today.

    Watts is a teacher. The reader learns about heroes, men and women both living and dead, men and women of integrity, courage and compassion whose lives are and were at the service of others.

    It doesn’t matter if one is a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Independent, I recommend J. C. Watts’ book to be required reading for all university students, especially the Political Science majors and those students who expect the Government to pay for their entire education and health care.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2004

    Excellant book, This man is a true role model.

    I couldn't put this book down. From Mr. Watts descriptions of his family history and the influence his upbringing had on him to his sound opinions on politics, this book has made a deep impression on me. I borrowed this book from the library and now I can't wait to buy a copy of my own. I intend to read it often.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2003

    Amazing perspective!!

    I am so thrilled that I made the decision to read this book! JC doesn't hold back about what he believes and who he is. He talks about the history of his town, the history of his family, his mistakes, his politics, his years at OU, and the people who helped him become who he is today. He brings up points that I would've never thought of. I often found myself understanding his frustrations regarding the Democrat party's need to win by 'any means necessary' and how liberal leaders teach hatred, clouding minorities minds so that they cannot see the truth. He talks about how African-American leaders like Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and himself have been crucified for not 'reflecting' the African-American community and how crazy it is that these people who have come from poor backgrounds, have risen above biggotry and have become successful are blasted - you would think most would be honored to have these people represent African-Americans. The popular thought is that people like JC have forgotten their 'roots', but the truth is quite the opposite - he just chooses not to be a victim. Even though he is a Republican he admits his party is not perfect and discusses his view on many issues. He believes in working with people - Republicans and Democrats. This book should be read by anyone and everyone. From black to white and Democrats to Republicans. How ironic is it that in peoples minds JC Watts, Jr. who grew up on the poor side of town at a time when segregation was full-fledge, doesn't represent African-Americans; but Jesse Jackson Jr. who grew up priveleged and got his education through private schools does?!?! I highly recommend this book. If this man ever runs for President...he's got my vote!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2003

    This is how a black leader should be...

    Excellent! Everyone should read this book as a woman a black woman I finally see light at the end of the tunnel for us conservatives

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2003

    My thoughts..........

    I loved this book, and have sent a copy to a liberal friend. At least now I know why I like J.C. Watts, Jr. so much. His past explains his insight for the future.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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