Tim Scott Doesn't Represent Black Progress

Adolph L. Reed Jr. argues at the New York Times that excitement over South Carolina's newest senator doesn't change the fact that modern black Republicans tend to be tokens rather than signs of real progress.

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Tim Scott (Getty Images)

Adolph L. Reed Jr. argues at the New York Times that excitement over South Carolina's newest senator doesn't change the fact that modern black Republicans tend to be tokens rather than signs of real progress.

WHEN Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina announced on Monday that she would name Representative Tim Scott to the Senate, it seemed like another milestone for African-Americans. Mr. Scott will replace Senator Jim DeMint, who is leaving to run Heritage Foundation. He will be the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction; the first black Republican senator since 1979, when Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts retired; and, indeed, only the seventh African-American ever to serve in the chamber.

But this "first black" rhetoric tends to interpret African-American political successes -- including that of President Obama -- as part of a morality play that dramatizes "how far we have come." It obscures the fact that modern black Republicans have been more tokens than signs of progress.

The cheerleading over racial symbolism plays to the Republicans' desperate need to woo (or at least appear to woo) minority voters, who favored Mr. Obama over Mitt Romney by huge margins. Mrs. Haley -- a daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India -- is the first female and first nonwhite governor of South Carolina, the home to white supremacists like John C. Calhoun, Preston S. Brooks, Ben Tillman and Strom Thurmond ...

Even if the Republicans managed to distance themselves from the thinly veiled racism of the Tea Party adherents who have moved the party rightward, they wouldn't do much better among black voters than they do now. I suspect that appointments like Mr. Scott's are directed less at blacks -- whom they know they aren't going to win in any significant numbers -- than at whites who are inclined to vote Republican but don't want to have to think of themselves, or be thought of by others, as racist.

Read Adolph L. Reed Jr.'s entire piece at the New York Times.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM