The only thing those on the left hate more than a conservative white male is a conservative black male. It simply infuriates leftists when a black man rejects their socialist dogma and espouses such conservative ideals as individual initiative, freedom from government, self-reliance, responsibility for decision making, and competing in the marketplace. How dare he!
A conservative black male who has not only espoused such ideals but lived them is Larry Elder. One of the most dynamic, articulate, forceful, and successful personalities on radio and television today, Elder is frequently labeled an “Uncle Tom” by white leftists and black activists who cannot compete with his intellect or command of facts. Argumentum ad hominem is their first, last, and only defense when engaging “The Sage from South Central,” as his radio listeners in Los Angeles know him.
Born Laurence Allen Elder in Los Angeles in 1952, Elder came from strong stock. His father enlisted in the Marine Corps in November 1943 and later served as a cook on Guam, rising to the rank of staff sergeant at a time when there were no more than a few hundred blacks in the Marines, which eventually comprised more than a half-million men during World War II. After his discharge in 1946, Elder’s father settled not in his native Georgia, but in Los Angeles, where opportunity beckoned. He went to work cooking for a wealthy family, saved his money, and opened a small café, Elder’s Snack Bar.
Elder’s mother was born and reared on an Alabama farm and moved to Washington, D.C. during WWII, where she worked as a clerk typist for the Department of War. She married Elder’s father in 1947 and gave birth to Larry and his two brothers in Los Angeles. She taught Sunday School, was a den mother for her sons’ Cub Scout troop, helped with the boys’ Little League teams, and later went to work for the local phone company.
Larry Elder attended Crenshaw High School, which at the time was one of nine nearly all-black public high schools in South Central Los Angeles. Despite many students at Crenshaw performing below standards (though they did better then than they do today), Elder excelled. Upon graduation he was off for Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The Ivy League school was a long way, both literally and figuratively, from Crenshaw High and South Central, but Elder continued to thrive academically and, after graduating with a degree in political science, attended the University of Michigan Law School. Upon graduating from Michigan, Elder was hired by a law firm in Cleveland, Ohio.
After three years of hard, often joyless, work at the firm, the enterprising Elder formed his own legal executive search company in 1980. By 1988 he handed over daily operations to one of his associates and began hosting a daily talk show on a local Cleveland television station. This program soon earned him a reputation in the broadcast business. In 1994, KABC Radio lured him away from Cleveland to host a program on AM 790 in the big-time market of Los Angeles.
Being a talk-radio junkie, I started listening to Larry on his very first broadcast. I was immediately a fan. Larry shared my conservative viewpoint, but as a black man he could also talk more freely about racial topics, such as welfare reform and affirmative action. By the mid-’90s, it was clear that when I or any other white man discussed race-related issues, we were vulnerable to being called racists. But when Elder did so, he would be immune to such charges. Or, so I thought.
Not many weeks passed after Elder’s Los Angeles debut before black activists and others began calling him an Uncle Tom, a “white man’s lackey,” a “house nigger,” “a bootlicker” and other such terms of endearment. Despite this opposition, KABC moved Elder to a coveted slot during the afternoon rush hour a couple of years later. This change made him even more well-known wherever KABC’s signal reached.
As Elder’s profile grew, the pushback increased. An organization of black activists in South Central, the Talking Drum Community Forum, distributed leaflets throughout the area attacking Elder. One said “Wanted: White Man’s Poster Boy—Dead. Bring Head to South Central.” It featured a photo of Elder superimposed over a bullseye. A leaflet campaign also attempted to organize a boycott of his sponsors.
Although Elder’s ratings for the afternoon time slot were breaking KABC records, sponsors, including American Airlines, Sears, and Ford, were concerned about the controversy ginned up by the activists and began pulling their advertisements. KABC executives got the shakes and cut Elder’s four-hour program to two. The other two hours were given to a liberal talk-show host.
At the same time, though, thousands of listeners began rallying to support Elder, writing letters to KABC and to sponsors, and raising money for pro-Elder ads.
Elder invited the Talking Drum activists to debate him on his program but got no response. CBS News’s “60 Minutes” program tried in vain to get a Talking Drum representative to appear on camera. Newspapers could get pre-written statements from Talking Drum, but they were never able to schedule interviews. It took more than a year, but it finally became apparent that the Talking Drum Community Forum was the artificial creation of a small number of radical activists, probably numbering no more than three dozen people. Yet, they managed to intimidate Larry Elder’s show sponsors, who turned craven, ran for cover and abandoned the black conservative. What we now call “cancel culture” was already in evidence during the mid-1990s.
Elder survived many more such attacks and today is heard for three hours nightly on a highly rated, nationally syndicated radio program. He’s also a regular guest on a variety of television shows. The left still hates him, and still prefers to call him names rather than to debate him.
Elder published his first book, The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America in 2001. I made it required reading for a cultural history course I was teaching. The majority of my students loved it. It looked at blacks and at racial issues, but it also examined media bias, women’s issues, education, health care, welfare, drugs, and guns. The book demonstrated that Elder could address a wide variety of subjects from a conservative perspective, with an admitted libertarian streak.
In 2004 Elder visited my house with a film crew to interview me for a documentary he was making that would be released as Michael & Me. It was an answer to Michael Moore’s 2002 gun control propaganda film, Bowling for Columbine. Despite garnering a very good viewer score of 6.8 on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the site posts a very negative review of Michael & Me on the documentary’s main page when any one of several highly positive reviews would have better reflected the 6.8 rating—but one has to go to another page to find those reviews.
In 2020 Elder released a second documentary, Uncle Tom: An Oral History of the American Black Conservative, which has an extraordinarily high rating of 8.9 on IMDb. Nonetheless, Uncle Tom is being omitted from consideration for documentary awards. The reasoning behind this oversight seems clear—Larry Elder’s documentary is an hour and 45 minutes of historical footage and lively and interesting interviews with black conservatives. This includes not only of such prominent figures as Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell, Herman Cain, Robert Woodson, Carol Swain, Ben Carson, Jesse Lee Peterson, Allen West, and Candace Owens, but also lesser-known blacks who have rejected the message of victimhood, have lived by conservative principles, and have made a success of themselves—and have been called Uncle Tom as a result of those efforts.
Their stories are enlightening, poignant, inspiring, and contrary to the leftist narrative of black victimhood. In contrast to the unrelenting negativity and anger that we are bombarded with from the left, Uncle Tom is an uplifting film. Most compelling is the transformation many of those featured went through in their own lives. These individuals had bought hook, line, and sinker the leftist narrative that improvement was impossible without government aid. They had accepted that their fate was controlled by their racial identity.
They only found happiness and success once they stopped thinking of themselves first and foremost—and only—as black, and started thinking of themselves as American first, and embraced conservative values such as family, education, hard work, perseverance, and self-reliance. They still think of themselves as black, but now the relevance of their racial identity has dropped to third place behind American and conservative. In a sense, Uncle Tom is something of a “How To” film: it presents a series of steps, a template to apply to your life, and promises that you cannot help but succeed in this land of opportunity if you change your perspective.
There is nothing Pollyannish about those featured in Uncle Tom. They all understand the history of American blacks and the plight of many in America today. Unlike the left and black activists, though, they attribute the problems to the welfare state’s destruction of the black family. What slavery, the Klan, and Jim Crow couldn’t do, the welfare state has done in quick and devastating fashion. The wreckage of the dismantling of the black family is seen on the streets of many large cities today.
Larry Elder’s Uncle Tom unquestionably deserves at least a nomination for Best Documentary, and arguably the Oscar as well. Despite its high ratings and financial success, Hollywood’s famous trade publications, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, have made no mention of Uncle Tom, neither as a contender nor even simply as a documentary released in 2020. Now that’s a sin of omission, big time.