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?
Dash (Frazer Harrison/Getty)
Brandon Andrews, a 26-year-old black conservative, echoed this sentiment. Andrews is somewhat of an anomaly: a Republican aide on Capitol Hill who is also a political-action chair for the NAACP. He is helping to lead the civil rights organization's voter-registration efforts in Washington, D.C.
Andrews explained that he has been warmly embraced by African Americans in the D.C. area, many of whom may not share his party affiliation but do share his commitment to community activism. Ultimately, "People know me as a community volunteer first, not a Republican," he said. "As a young politico, it is easy to get caught up in doing something for one party or the other, but I think I'd be doing an injustice to the community if I spent more time phone-banking for a candidate than registering voters in the community that candidate is running in."
Andrews cares about issues like having a strong military and more efficient government, but because people know he cares about social justice, too, and has consistently demonstrated that fact, it doesn't seem to faze them that he may not share their views on other issues or their party label.
Stephen Lackey, a 32-year-old Republican fundraiser who is black, shared similar experiences. "For me, I've been embraced by the community, and it's because I'm seen in the community as someone who cares about the black community, period. My ideals and the way I do my work [come] from the conservative agenda, but the work remains the same."
Raynard Jackson, who is a veteran of a number of GOP state and national campaigns, argued that until Republicans, black and white, confront the party's issues with race, black Republicans will continue to face suspicion within the community. For instance, he said that Romney surrogate and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu's recent comments calling President Obama "lazy" were racist, and he should be fired from the Romney campaign. "I won't vote for the Republican ticket if Sununu is not terminated for that," Jackson said.
He also lamented that "Republicans get themselves in trouble when they talk about this Pollyanna idea about being 'colorblind.' If someone can't see that I'm black, then they need to go to my eye doctor, because they have a medical issue. You should see me for who I am but not treat me [as inferior] because of it."
Steele pointed out that it was a Republican president and an African-American Republican appointee who helped shepherd the first government-sanctioned affirmative action programs decades ago. Arthur Fletcher, called the father of affirmative action, was an appointee serving in the administration of President Richard Nixon.
Now, years later, affirmative action could be dealt a fatal blow with the help of another black Republican, the Supreme Court's Thomas. That would be an outcome that Steele doesn't believe will be good for America or black Republicans. "There are people who believe my skin color has nothing to do with my success," Steele said. "That may be true, but skin color can damn sure affect who is successful."
Joe Watkins, a former White House aide to President George H.W. Bush, explained that the whole notion of a litmus test really boils down to one thing. Noting that black viewers were always very kind to him while he was a conservative political commentator for MSNBC during the 2008 election, he said, "If they think you're reasonable, people will be reasonable. If people think your positions are unreasonable or you are unreasonable in terms of how you present them, then they treat you different."
Watkins added, "If people think you have love in your heart for all people, particularly your own people, black people -- even if they disagree with you -- regardless of your party, they will at least listen to you."
Keli Goff is The Root's political correspondent.