As Rick Warren's Saddleback presidential faith forum approached last Saturday, I ran to the store before it closed to pick up a few items. At the register, the conversation quickly turned from my purchases to politics. The problem with politics, the white male cashier said with more than a hint of cynical frustration, was politicians, especially Republican politicians. Republicans, he continued, could not relate to everyday people—folks who struggled with everyday issues like child care, crime and education. Republicans, he concluded, didn't have much contact with real people.
I smiled politely. As a survivor of a violent crime and a former single father who graduated from college at 30 while caring for two young children, I related more than he may have imagined. I told him I was a card-carrying Republican. I ended the conversation respectfully, letting him know that I had to attend a meeting for volunteers of the Domestic Violence Speakers' Bureau.
A lot of labels, theories and bits of conventional wisdom have been tossed around by pundits and experts lately, as they try to figure out how citizens will vote in November. We are conservative and liberal. We are boomers, Gen Yers, the hip-hop generation. We are blue-collar voters, working-class voters and black voters. There are energized Democrats, disaffected Republicans and unaffiliated voters.
There is one demographic category, however, that regularly gets overlooked. It is a group that most people simply laugh off, are puzzled by or outright dismiss. Meet the "Hip-Hop Republicans" of 2008.
The moniker may seem like an oxymoron at first, but the worldview that it encompasses fits the politics of many in the post-civil rights generation.
It may be easier, in some ways, to begin with what a hip-hop Republican is not.
A Hip-Hop Republican is not an Uncle Tom.A Hip-Hop Republican is not a sellout.A Hip-Hop Republican is not a race traitor, willing to sell out the best interests of the black community for the scraps off of the proverbial political table.A Hip-Hop Republican is not meek and mild, content to be a poster-child for GOP diversity.
Former Lt. Governor of Maryland Michael Steele perhaps said it best, "…African Americans and other minorities no longer want a seat at the lunch counter, but to own the entire diner…" Hip-Hop Republicans have not lost their collective identity as a result of self-hatred or economic success.
Modern Black Republicanism—and notably Hip-Hop Republicanism—is an avant garde movement. It represents the cutting edge of black political diversity, and it ensures equal protection in our political reality.
So, what's the difference between a Hip-Hop Republican and a black Republican?
Hip-Hop Republicans grew up with the influence of hip-hop culture and, unlike their peers over age 50, are able to see how Republican values and policies should be applied to urban issues. And while black Republican is a label based solely on race, "Hip Hop Republican" speaks to the existence of a group that has transcended race in many ways.
If Black Republicanism is about assimilating into old-school GOP culture, then Hip-Hop Republicanism is about changing GOP culture to look, feel, and sound more like us.
As Public Enemy said on the classic CD It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, "Don't believe the hype… I'm a different kind (but) we're brothers of the same mind, unblind…" Politically, we may be "…caught in the middle (but we're) not surrenderin'…"
The pillars of Hip-Hop Republicanism are economic empowerment, educational choice, access to information and empowering the potential of the individual.
This means that in West Baltimore, North Philadelphia, Milwaukee or Oakland, parents should have the opportunity to take the tax dollars assigned to them via the current public school system and redistribute the funds to schools that will truly prepare their children for 21st century jobs. A Hip-Hop Republican believes that competition, the prime motivator in a free market, will force change and progress. Either bad schools will improve or they will be forced to close.
New black conservatism holds that buppies and yuppies must take advantage of the current tax climate and invest their capital into private endeavors that will create wealth and opportunity for our communities. In a society that embraces Social Darwinism, only the strongest survive. We must invest time and money into our communities to become stronger.
Democrats are not the only ones concerned about the legacy of civil rights. And young Democrats are not the only ones trying to influence a changing of the guard in terms of black leadership. As the children and grandchildren of civil rights patriots, Hip-Hop Republicans embrace cultural diversity and cultural integrity. We are connected to our communities; we are connected to our blackness. We are connected to the post-civil rights generational struggle. But we believe that we have reached the point in American society where blacks must be active across the political spectrum in order to achieve true equality.
Those of us who identify as Hip-Hop Republicans, see our slow acceptance into the larger political landscape much like the trajectory of hip-hop music. When hip-hop started, it was dismissed as unoriginal, cut-rate and insignificant. Over time the music came to be respected and fully represented in the mainstream.
You may not recognize us yet; you may not want to acknowledge our place in the political discussion. But I can assure you, we are here. Maybe even standing next to you in line at the grocery store.
Lenny McAllister ( www.lennymcallister.com ) is a political contributor who appears on "Fox News Rising" every Monday in Charlotte, NC. " His blog "We Down with GOP" will appear on The Root during the Republican National Convention.