GOP Blacks: Some Face Backlash, Others a Pass

Why is Colin Powell popular among blacks, while Clarence Thomas isn't? And what about Stacey Dash?

Powell (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty); Thomas (The Washington Post/Getty);Dash (Frazer Harrison/Getty)
Powell (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty); Thomas (The Washington Post/Getty);Dash (Frazer Harrison/Getty)

(The Root) — This week actress Stacey Dash generated some of the greatest attention she has enjoyed in recent years. Unfortunately for her, not all of the attention was positive.

While many fans commended the actress’ youthful appearance during a televised cast reunion of the classic 1995 teen film Clueless, others harshly criticized her recent endorsement of Republican presidential nominee Gov. Mitt Romney.

Wearing a red bathing suit reminiscent of the television show Baywatch and a big smile, Dash posed in front of an American flag for a photo that accompanied a tweet reading, ‘Vote for Romney. The only choice for your future.” Her message was retweeted thousands of times. It also generated endless insults, with some questioning her intelligence as well as her blackness. (She did receive some high-profile support from conservative pot stirrer Ann Coulter.)

Dash is not the first black American to face criticism for expressing support for conservative candidates or ideas. Black conservatives from Florida Rep. Allen West to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, as well as black Democrat-turned-Republican, and former congressman, Artur Davis, have faced particularly impassioned criticism from black Americans.

But not all black Republicans have faced allegations that their party affiliation makes them less black. The Dash backlash, therefore, raises a question that has rarely been explored: What makes some black Republicans more accepted in the black community than others?

In an interview with The Root, Tara Wall, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, acknowledged that she relates to Stacey Dash because she, too, has received particularly pointed criticism from black Americans for being a Republican. About Dash’s endorsement of her candidate, she said, “I think it’s great,” adding, “I think it’s sad that people have been so hateful in their responses, but I can relate. I can’t repeat some of the things she’s been called on Twitter.”

Wall said of the criticism that she has received over the years in her role as a Republican spokesperson, “You get some negative, nasty comments, but my dad raised me to have a thick skin.” But Wall acknowledged that there does seem to be almost a litmus test within the black community that dictates which black Republicans are deemed more palatable to black Americans, such as Colin Powell. (A 2007 poll I conducted in conjunction with the Suffolk University Political Research Center for the book Party Crashing found Colin Powell to be the third-most-influential black American among blacks ages 18-45, just behind Oprah Winfrey and then-Sen. Barack Obama, who tied for most influential.)

Wall theorized that part of why Powell was embraced by black Americans even before his endorsement of Obama in the 2008 election was that Powell is perceived as a moderate. But in terms of whether or not there is a black-conservative litmus test, Wall said, “I don’t know who is the arbiter of what kind of black Republican is an acceptable black Republican. I think it’s a great question to ask Democrats. It’s usually Democrats doing it [determining whether a black Republican is acceptable or not], which is quite laughable. You don’t see Republicans doing that to Democrats.”