A small cadre of black Republicans has worked long and hard since before the Nixon era to keep a committed black presence in the GOP. Most of them have apparently faded away, been driven out or have become Democrats. I know of several examples in each category. All of them were loyal and had much to contribute, but they were not given opportunity to advance within the party. In the end, they got tired.
Ironically, I remembered all of the white faces present. They had been elevated, thrived within the hierarchy of the party. I spoke with many of them (people like Ron Kaufman, Sally Atwater, Ann Stone, former RNC Chair Jim Nicholson and others) and we talked about the old days, and I asked them how it felt to have a party now run by a black man. Most of them were very pleased, relieved even—they are desperately looking to Michael Steele to change the GOP brand. No one likes being labeled as intolerant or racist, several of them told me.
But both the GOP and black people must confront their separate but related issues: It is not healthy for a major political party to be so severely lacking in diversity both in its senior ranks and among its rank and file. For black Americans, it is unwise not to hold the Republican Party, one of the two major political forces in the country, accountable for its actions in addressing their concerns, regardless of who is in the White House.
It will be interesting to see if Michael Steele can raise money, win elections and otherwise manage the party, given the demographic challenge he faces within the Republican Party. I hope he succeeds because there is far more at stake than just political wins ands losses. What is at stake is the healthy competition, the checks and balances crucial to the survival of our democratic traditions.
This can only happen when both political parties can seriously compete for the votes of all of the American people.
If the GOP does not pull it together by 2012, I will no longer call myself a Republican.
Sophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to The Root.
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