After receiving less than 7 percent of the black vote in the last two presidential elections, the Republican Party had a quandary. It could win in midterms. It could win locally. But nationally, there was a problem: The GOP couldn’t win the presidency without more votes from people of color. And it couldn’t win with such a paltry percentage of the black vote.
Inroads had to be made.
A black outreach campaign in Ohio here. Some black Republican Leadership Initiative fellows there. And of course, there are the many black Republicans—the most logical ambassadors—out trying to make inroads with the black vote, like Sen. Tim Scott in South Carolina.
But not every black conservative is taking a nuanced approach. In fact, those with the loudest voices seem to be intent on insulting their way into the black electorate.
Crystal Wright, the self-proclaimed Conservative Black Chick, recently made an appearance on Fox News that demonstrated why black conservatives are often the GOP’s worst enemy when it comes to reaching black voters. In less than four minutes she claimed that black people have shown a “slavish support” for Democrats for over 50 years, like being “political dummies.”
Said Wright, “Part of me wonders if the Republican Party should even bother asking for the black vote because black Americans seem to like being political dummies. … We’re the only race that has voted lock, stock and barrel for the same party for over 50 years. So it’s really on lockdown. … It’s a sad state of affairs for blacks when all they have to do is pander and insult … black Americans decade in and decade out. And we keep coming back for more misery. It’s like we’ve given up on ourselves economically by voting for Democrats.”
Her rhetoric was divisive but not at all uncommon.
Many black conservatives, both pundits and politicians, follow a similar script. Individuals like Rep. Mia Love of Utah, former Florida Rep. Allen West and presidential candidate Ben Carson often condescend to African Americans by self-servingly deploying the language of slavery and suggesting that black people are not intelligent enough to vote their interests. They blame the Democratic Party, liberal policies and black civil rights leaders for the social conditions in poor black neighborhoods and frequently accuse the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and other “race hustlers” for focusing too much on race.
Given the penchant for insult and condescension by the party’s most extreme spokesmen, no one expects black conservatives to persuade a significant part of the black electorate to vote Republican. That said, the tactics of people like Wright also undermine black conservatives’ efforts to yield any influence within the black community. Black politics, at least in the public sphere, are dominated philosophically by liberal ideas about government and its role in delivering racial justice, and reinforced structurally through overwhelming support for the Democratic Party. What lies beneath is a different story.
The black community’s politics are complex and nuanced. African Americans are more likely than whites and Hispanics to say that blacks experience unfair treatment in American institutions like law enforcement, the court system and public schools and at work. On the other hand, only 30 percent of African Americans see discrimination as the main reason (pdf) many blacks can’t get ahead, while 53 percent see blacks as being responsible for their own condition. African Americans are also more likely than whites (65 percent to 57 percent) to believe that children need a father and mother in the home (pdf) to grow up happily. Contrary to popular perception, black conservatism has a long history on the spectrum of black political thought.
Despite the damage that black conservative demagogues do to the conservative brand, there are other black conservatives who genuinely care about the issues affecting the African-American community and articulate their principles in a way that communicates concern, not contempt. The Root spoke with political commentator Lenny McAllister, a former congressional candidate, about black conservatives and whether they are hurt by their most polarizing voices. I was surprised to learn that he doesn’t believe people like Wright make it more difficult to reach black voters—many African Americans would disagree—and he drew a distinction between pundits who will say anything to sell books and generate Web traffic and leaders who are doing work on the ground.
In a speech on ending stop and frisk in Pittsburgh, McAllister remarked, “It is impractical and almost impossible to commit to ending racism, sexism or any form of systematic hatred that may be found within police ranks—or anywhere in the workplaces of America—if we also simultaneously justify any tool, policy or behavior that enforces the hatred we seek to overcome.” That type of stance is firmly within the black mainstream, but it is hard to hear the voices of moderate conservative black authors and political analysts when it seems as if conservative media outlets like Fox News prefer pundits who say things about black people that whites couldn’t say for fear of being labeled racist. That’s why many African Americans see these types of people as sellouts—an insult that black conservatives say they hear often—willing to throw blacks under the bus for the sake of white audiences.
The irony is that Wright herself criticized another Fox News contributor for using extreme rhetoric to bash black people. Stacey Dash made a 2014 appearance on Sean Hannity’s show and remarked that blacks in Louisiana were “getting money for free,” felt “worthless” and were “uneducated.” In addition, she accused the Democratic Party of fostering a “plantation mentality” to keep black people uninformed and dependent. It was Wright who criticized Dash’s remarks and said, “To suggest, as Dash does, that blacks are largely ‘uneducated’ and ‘getting money for free’ is a racist narrative that conservatives need to stop perpetuating. That kind of talk is an offensive nonstarter in getting blacks to consider voting Republican.”
Even Wright knows that if the most extreme black conservatives, herself included, don’t change their tone soon, they will stay on the sidelines of politics and culture for a very long time.
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