Image: Michael Harriot (The Root/FMG)

Here’s a joke: What’s the difference between a Klan rally and a Republican Convention?

Answer: The dress code.

Here’s another one: How white is the Republican Party?

According to Pew Research, 83 percent of the registered voters who identify as Republican are non-Hispanic whites. The Republican Party is whiter than Tilda Swinton riding a polar bear in a snowstorm to a Taylor Swift concert.

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Why isn’t anyone laughing? Is this thing on?

And not only is the Grand Ole Party unapologetically white, recently it has been disposing of its dog whistles in favor of bullhorns, becoming more unabashedly racist every day. Aside from its leader excusing a white supremacist murder, calling Mexicans “rapists,” referring to “shithole countries” and settling multiple discrimination lawsuits, there is an abundance of evidence that shows the party’s racism.

Nearly half of the country (49 percent) believes Donald Trump is racist but 86 percent of Republicans say he is not, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. The same survey shows that 79 percent of Republicans approve of the way the president handles race. Other data points include:

  • 52 percent of voters who supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election believed blacks are “less evolved” than whites, according to researchers at the Kellog School of Management.
  • In a 2018 YouGov poll, 59 percent of Republicans agreed: “If blacks would only try harder, they would be as well off as whites.”
  • The same YouGov poll revealed that 59 percent of self-identified Republicans believe blacks are treated fairly by the criminal justice system.
  • 70 percent of Republicans agreed that increased diversity hurts whites.
  • Republican-appointed judges give black defendants longer jail sentences, according to a Harvard study released in May.
  • 55 percent of white Republicans agreed “blacks have worse jobs, income and housing than white people” because “most just don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up out of poverty” according to the Washington Post’s review of data from the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center.
  • Nearly twice as many Republicans than Democrats (42 percent versus 24 percent) believe that blacks are lazier than whites, according to the same NORC poll.

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Some would argue that having a racist as the head of a party doesn’t necessarily make the entire party racist, which is true. But there is not a single significant poll that shows Republican voters with lower negative feelings about non-white populations versus Democrats or independents. They have become the party of racism.

But how did the party get that way?


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Democrats are the real racists because the GOP is the party of Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Surely you’ve read the oft-repeated anecdote about how the Republican Party ended slavery and most importantly, fought for the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

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All of this is correct.

They say the best jokes are based in reality. So when accusations of racism enter into any political debate, conservatives invariably regurgitate those previously-mentioned bullet points from the recurring, well-rehearsed Republican comedy routine.

What they fail to mention, however, is that the party to which they refer to no longer exists. The only thing that remains of the original Republican Party is the name. And how the Grand Ole Party transformed itself from the party of Lincoln into the current version—a white, Southern party rife with racial resentment—has become a forgotten tale that takes advantage of America’s lack of historical knowledge and abundance of short-term memory when it comes to race.

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It is true that the Republican Party was founded on the principles of anti-slavery. They were so in favor of ending America’s peculiar institution that they were often called “Black Republicans” as a slur. They also believed in welcoming immigrants with open arms, elected the first woman to Congress and supported black suffrage.

In fact, most blacks identified with the GOP from Reconstruction until the election of Franklin Roosevelt. Until Carol Mosely Braun’s election in 1992, every African American who served in the United States Senate belonged to the Republican Party. Twenty-one black men served in the House of Representatives before a black Democrat was elected. It was the party of progressive values.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, was the party of the South. It was the party of social conservatism. It wanted to preserve slavery and segregation. It opposed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. It was the party of states rights, small government and Jim Crow.

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The Democrats wouldn’t even allow blacks at the convention until 1924, mostly to appease the Southern base of the party still butthurt about losing the Civil War (they still haven’t gotten over that one). After the Civil War, the Democrats in the “Solid South” blamed Republicans for ending slavery and refused to vote for them.

Then something happened.

That something was racism.

After Democratic President Harry Truman’s desegregated the Army and the Democratic Party said they would support laws that ended Jim Crow, 35 delegates from the Deep South walked out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention and formed the Dixiecrat Party. They elected Strom Thurmond as their leader, who would never identify as a Democrat again.

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In 1957, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops into Arkansas to desegregate Little Rock Central High School. In 1963, John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, broke with the party ideology and used Eisenhower’s playbook to federalize the Alabama National Guard and force the desegregation at the University of Alabama.

Then came the breaking point that would basically change the party affiliation of Southern voters. Shortly before the election of 1964, Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

The “Solid South” would never vote for a Democrat president again.


If Ku Klux Klan members started wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, would that automatically make them a civil rights organization? Suppose Donald Trump changed his name to Malcolm X. Would he immediately become a human rights activist?

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That’s what happened to the Republican Party.

Republicans would like you to believe that Republicans supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Democrats opposed it, which is only partially true. To understand the change in both parties’ ideology, all one has to do is count the votes.

  • There were 94 Southern Democrats in the House of Representatives. 7 voted for the bill.
  • There were 10 Southern Republicans in the House of Representatives. Zero voted for the bill.
  • Northern house Democrats voted in favor of the bill 145-9
  • Northern House Republicans favored the bill 138-24
  • Of the 21 Southern Senators (Democrat or Republican), only 1 voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act (A Texas Democrat).

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As you can see, it wasn’t the Democrats who opposed the Civil Rights Act and the Republicans who favored it. Everyone supported the Civil Rights Act except the South. It was Southern politicians from both parties who voted against the legislation. The reason Republicans say they supported the bill is that there weren’t very many Southern Republicans in Congress in 1964.

The Civil Rights Act was signed on July 2, 1964. In the presidential elections that year, 94 percent of nonwhite voters voted for Johnson boosting him to a win over Barry Goldwater.

But Goldwater, a Republican, managed to win five Southern states in that election, which was unheard of for a Republican. How did Goldwater do that? He won those states by opposing the Civil Rights Act.

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After the bill passed, Strom Thurmond left the Democratic Party, as did many Southern whites. In 1968, he teamed up with Richard Nixon, the 1968 Republican presidential candidate, and convinced Nixon that a Republican could win the South if he was willing to dog-whistle racism to the Southern voters.

Along with H.R. Haldeman, they developed the “Southern Strategy,” by emphasizing to white voters in the South that: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognized this while not appearing to.”

Nixon won the 1968 election by carrying seven southern states, a remarkable feat for a Republican. In the 1972 election, he doubled down on the racist rhetoric and won every single state in the South.

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Since that election, no Democratic candidate has won a majority of the old Confederate states formerly known as the “Solid South.” The old Confederate states fused into a Republican voting block few Democrats have been able to penetrate.

In 1981, Lee Atwater, the political campaign architect who refined the Southern Strategy for Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, described the Republican party’s winning template:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. ... “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

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Not only did the pro-segregation, anti-black Southerners switch sides, but they brought their political ideology with them. The Democratic Party is now the progressive party that welcomes immigrants and the Republican Party has become the party of small government, law and order and conservatism. In 2016, 73 percent of white voters in the South voted Republican.

It is now the party of the alt-right. It is the party of the Willie Horton ad and birtherism. It is the party of Donald Trump, the “Muslim ban,” the border wall, David Duke and all the other white supremacists running for election on the Republican ticket in the midterm elections.

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It is the party of white people.

And none of this is to say that all Republicans are racist. There is a legitimate debate to be had about economic conservatism, small government and trickle-down economics (Well... Maybe not trickle-down economics), but the GOP has doubled down on racism. It has made a concerted effort to bring bigots into its big tent.

Republican leaders like Steve King (R-Iowa) now spout white supremacist theories asking what nonwhites have done for civilization. They appeal to Islamophobia and its anti-immigrant base by repeating rhetoric that has no basis in fact. They rally right-wing support under the guise of “patriotism” and “American values.”

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But it is racism

It is the Republican Party.

So, while Black History facts credit Sean “Puffy/P. Diddy/Diddy/Puff Daddy/Brother Love” Combs with convincing people to wear bleached linen outfits to shindigs, his decadent bashes could never compare with the Republicans’ all-white party.

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That’s no joke.