It’s hard being a black Republican these days.
That’s one reason why I admire Sophia Nelson. She reps a small-government, Jack Kemp-inspired brand of Republicanism that emphasizes the imperative of fostering entrepreneurship in communities of color. If you’ve ever caught her appearances on CNN or MSNBC, you know she’s a far more credible spokesperson for the black Republican cause than some of her older, male contemporaries. I was in agreement with the case she made to President Barack Obama for going on Fox News.
Sophia is part of The Root’s diverse political perspective. She rightly blanches at being called a sellout because of her differing views. But it’s time she and other conservatives of color grew some thicker skin.
Just because it’s foul to label anyone an “Uncle Tom” doesn’t mean that black Republicans can’t be held accountable for the anti-black aspects of Republican politics.
There’s a reason most African Americans don’t take kindly to the GOP agenda. Here’s what black Republicans have to own up to before they can even think about getting a “fair and balanced” hearing from the black community:
Admit that Republicans say one thing and do another.
Where was the outrage of black Republicans in 2006 when President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress passed an unfunded $1 trillion Medicare prescription drug benefit as a naked pander to senior citizens? Back then, there were no calls for restraint.
Now? There’s a case to be made against comprehensive health care reform, but when Stanford’s black conservative dean Thomas Sowell calls Obama “charlatan in chief,” that’s not the way to make it. Big words don’t separate that attack from the less erudite, but more honest “You lie!” of Rep. Joe Wilson.
Stop selling what African Americans aren’t buying.
Jingoism is a sure route to permanently driving African Americans away from the GOP. Percentage-wise, black Americans are the only demographic that is overrepresented in the military, but that simultaneously and overwhelmingly opposed the Iraq War from the start.
No one did more harm to Republican hopes of attracting African Americans to their party than former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with her unadulterated championing of Bush’s shoot-first-talk-later foreign policy. Yet black Republicans persist in dismissing Obama’s foreign policy out of hand. Sophia says there’s no evidence the Bush administration sanctioned torture. Her response to Obama’s diplomatic efforts: “Yada, yada, yada.” These are non-starters among African Americans.
Start holding Republicans accountable for their hostility.
I know—there’s no direct evidence that Republicans are, per se, hostile to people of color—but there’s a whole lot of circumstantial evidence that they just can’t account for.
Sophia was one of very few Republicans unafraid to criticize fellow Republicans for their disgraceful treatment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. But she’s in the—ahem—“minority.”
Republicans can’t hide behind ostensibly pro-equality slogans like “Party of Lincoln,” anymore. It’ll take more than a new website to convince people of color that they're welcome in the GOP. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele has done more to publicly denigrate African Americans than any of his recent predecessors. He’s so repellent—trying to draw interest with cheesy hip-hop slang and references to “bling”—that fellow black Republicans tried to oust him from his post earlier this year. This is not the way to get people of color into the GOP:
“Uncle Tom” is an outdated term. If there were a defense for throwing around that slur, I wouldn’t be the one to make it. We’re nowhere near a post-racial America, but we should be getting close to a post-Uncle Tom America. The rededication of African Americans to the American Dream that took place a year ago with Obama’s election should have at least moved us past ideological racial litmus tests.
But black Republicans have to accept that their cherished narrative—that they’re the principled ideological antidote to the civil rights establishment as represented by the Congressional Black Caucus and Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton—was totally upended by Barack Obama. Obama now owns the old-school Booker T. Washington and the new-school Jay-Z versions of the “pull your pants up” black man ethos. Whether they love or hate Obama’s policy prescriptions, his emergence as a political brand completely evaporated their presentation of themselves as the “serious” blacks.
Here’s a hip-hop maxim that Republicans would do well to embrace: Respect is earned, never given. Until Republicans, black or otherwise, deal with that, they’ll never get any.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.