Black Conservatives Listen Up
Yes, the GOP needs to do better by blacks. But black conservatives aren’t exactly helping the Republican Party’s outreach efforts.
Electing an African-American chairman may help the GOP with its “black” problem. But black conservatives haven’t exactly done a lot to boost the party’s cred. Real outreach will take more than a splash of color at the top.
The GOP stands poised today to elect its first black party chairman and/or its first black female co-chairman at its annual winter meeting in Washington, D.C.
Whatever happens, most black people will hardly care because most blacks simply do not care what Republicans do. Ninety-six percent of us voted for President Barack Obama, and more than 90 percent of African Americans self-identify as Democrats. If they did care, the party's racially tinged antics, both recent and past, (e.g., sending out “Barack the Magic Negro” CDs) have turned even the most loyal black Republicans (e.g., Colin Powell and others) away from the party of Lincoln.
However, the GOP's real problem with black people is not so much that the white conservatives in the party do not reach out to blacks, but that so-called black conservatives do not do enough outreach to black voters.
Black conservatives as a group, particularly the prominent intellectuals, seem to go out of their way to attack the black community. Consider conservative author Star Parker’s intellectual meditations titled, Pimps, Whores, and Welfare Brats or Uncle Sam’s Plantation. Ouch!
Most black conservative commentators are largely viewed by blacks as opportunistic, attack dogs for the white conservative establishment. This perception is entirely unhelpful in a community that understands that its core interests are in equal access and opportunity, health care and community redevelopment.
In short, black conservatives often can't get a hearing on important issues among blacks because they have positioned themselves as hostile to the interests of black people.
Ward Connerly, who describes himself as “one-quarter black, the rest a mixture of Irish, French and Choctaw,” may be the most despised. Connerly became a wealthy and influential man in California and then used his influence to attack such programs. He is the mastermind behind Proposition 209 and is the founder of the American Civil Rights Institute(which is opposed to so-called race and gender preferences).
Bill Cosby, on the other hand, can be viewed as a “populist conservative,” if you will, and he is generally respected by blacks, even if he has taken heat for some of his more controversial public statements. President Obama has preached very conservative family values—and the need for our black men to become responsible fathers and partners. The reason these two men and others can go into the pulpit or stand on a national platform and command respect on these sensitive issues is because they have proven their connectedness to the community.
The fact is black people are “conservative” (consider that a majority of blacks supported Prop 8 in California, banning gay marriage). But as a community, we can’t stand black conservatives. So where’s the disconnect?
The disconnect is what Michael Steele (GOP chairman hopeful) has spoken of recently in a spate of newspaper interviews—Steele says, "The problem is that within the operations of the RNC, they don't give a damn. It's all about outreach ... and outreach means let's throw a cocktail party, find some black folks and Hispanics and women, wrap our arms around them—'See, look at us,' " he said.
Steele continued, "And then we go back to same old, same old. There's nothing that is driven down to the state party level, where state chairmen across the country, to the extent they don't appreciate it, are helped to appreciate the importance of African Americans and women and others coming and being a part of this party, and to the extent that they do appreciate it, are given support and backup to generate their own programs to create this relationship."
I disagree slightly with Steele. It's not all up to the RNC to reach out to the black community. The black members of the GOP rarely, if ever, stand up and speak out when the party does the wrong thing. Where are the black conservatives when Rush Limbaugh says, “We are being told we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over and grab our ankles ... because his father was black, because this is the first black president, we've got to accept this”? Limbaugh is out of control. He is being overtly racially offensive and both black conservatives and the Republicans in Congress are terrified to denounce him publicly.
As long as the blacks who self-identify as “conservatives” continue to lay down for this nonsense, and continue to attack and alienate themselves from their own community, instead of reaching out, listening and building coalitions within the black community; black voters for the foreseeable future will continue to reject the Republican Party and black conservative ideology.
Sophia Nelson is a regular contributor to The Root.