The GOP's Rainbow Coalition

The RNC's speakers are racially diverse, but don't expect the audience to reflect the lineup.

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At South Carolina GOP events, people often point to U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, an African American who beat out the son of Strom Thurmond in a runoff election, as an example of racial harmony in their party. Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House Leader who has labeled Barack Obama the "food-stamp president," told me that Scott was his good friend during a conversation in South Carolina. He said that he and Scott have talked about ways the GOP can be more inclusive.

When I covered Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on the National Mall two years ago, I was criticized by an emailer for writing that there was more diversity on the stage than in the crowd that filled the space, though Beck himself invited the observation with images of the 1963 March on Washington and comparisons of himself to Dr. Martin Luther King. That long-ago march and civil rights movement sought federal and court relief from oppressive state policies, the opposite message of today's government-averse conservatives.

Occasionally, someone else will notice. In the run-up to the South Carolina primary this year, Inez Anders, 22, one of the few African Americans at a Romney rally in Columbia, told me that GOP attacks that implied all blacks were on welfare or burdens to the social service system stood in the way of other parts of the party's message.

Last year, a Columbia meeting of the South Carolina Federation of Republican Women welcomed Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Joe Wilson, the S.C. congressman whose "You lie!" disrespect of President Obama brought him fame, campaign donations and re-election. But amid the celebration after the House budget vote that slashed spending, Sonny Googins, a 74-year-old retired state legislator from Connecticut who had moved to North Carolina, pulled me aside. "There are no black people here, except you," she told me, and said diversity has to "become part of an effort of things we give a damn about."

Until Republicans leaders make sincere efforts to talk with as well as to voters who may disagree with them, the party's progress on diversity may continue to be most notable every four years at the convention podium.

At least everyone loves a good gospel choir.

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to the Washington Post "She the People" blog, The Root, Fox News Charlotte, Creative Loafing, and has worked at the New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.

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Mary C. Curtis is a Roll Call columnist and contributor to NPR and NBCBLK, who has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, Politics Daily and as a contributor to The Washington Post. She is a senior facilitator for The OpEd Project at Cornell and Yale universities. Follow her on Twitter.

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