As a black conservative I had hoped recent events were indicative of blacks opening up to GOP. TOC strongly believes that a heterogeneous group of people numbering 41.8 million could not consistently vote for Democrats at a rate higher than 80% in Presidential elections. We have such diverse socioeconomic statuses that it is hard to believe this happens. Blacks should at least consider the “other party”, while the GOP must look for ways to incorporate the unique needs of the African-American community in its dialogue. The elections of Allen West (R-FL) and Tim Scott (R-SC) gave hope to some that progress was being made, but there is a LARGE amount of work to be done to bridge the gap between the GOP and the African-American community.
One example we have of this gap is the recent flap over Michelle Obama’s inviting “Common”, an African-American rapper, to the White House. While a lot of rappers choose to rap about rims, violence, and womanizing, Common’s work seeks a higher ground. He has a solid history of speaking empowerment and responsibility to the African-American community. At the heart of today’s controversy is Common’s song about Assata Shakur who was convicted of killing a police officer in the 70s and has since sought asylum in Cuba. The criticism for the invitation is not limited to Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly, but they have been the most vocal through their highly rated TV shows. Hannity and O’Reilly have some level of justification for criticizing “Common” for speaking on behalf of a convicted cop killer; however, they lose credibility with a diverse audience by ignoring the possibility that Shakur was convicted unfairly. If you listen to the words of the song, at NO point does “Common” EVER condone violence against police. Hannity’s and O’Reilly’s inability to consider this and consider the fact that blacks have historically faced prejudice in the judicial system shows their lack of objectivity and reveals their political agenda.
It is this agenda that epitomizes the GOP. Most African-Americans erroneously call it racism – TOC disagrees, but does lament over the right’s inability to discuss and present solutions to issues disproportionately facing African-Americans, such as food deserts that affect poor neighborhoods or the education gap of black males (only 12% of black fourth-grade males are proficient in reading and only 12% of black eighth-grade males are proficient in math). They lack the objectivity needed to convince an African-American audience that their point-of-view is worthy and not one-sided, politically motivated divisive language. Then again, the argument could be made that they are content with that reputation since it allows them to keep their present audience anyway . . .
Another example is a recent interview that Michael Steele did with BET. It was less publicized but more indicative of how the general status of the GOP relationship is with African-Americans. In the interview, he discussed his goals of developing an “off the hook” public relations campaign promoting the GOP and give the party a “hip-hop” makeover. Steele’s plan, which he unfolded in 2009 just after the election of Barack Obama, troubled TOC. If you have a message that does not convey how to help its audience, it does not matter if you rap it, rhyme it, be-bop it or get jiggy with it. Hip-hop is a medium through which to communicate, the focus should have been on what the message was and on how to influence his party to ensure their policies are supportive of and communicated to urban African-Americans properly. By itself, usage of hip-hop is not adequate. Success for Steele should have been a bi-directional communication effort – creating forums for communicating to African-Americans the substance of conservative ideas, gathering of feedback and using that to challenge the GOP leaders and influencers. Steele seems to have failed largely, as the rise of the tea party pushed the GOP away from large-scale efforts of attracting more African Americans to the GOP. Note that TOC is NOT saying the GOP, as-is, is racist, but it has failed to further the idea that there are CONSERVATIVE solutions to the problems that plague the black community, for example, economic empowerment and growth that raises ‘all ships’, the strengthening of the black two-parent household and education reform focused on the child and not the school or the teacher.
The two examples show how the GOP is driven by a race-neutral perspective. Again, this is not racist, but it fails to attract a community that has been disproportionately beleaguered by poverty, poor health and mis-education. There are conservative solutions to these problems, but an effort must be made by both sides to bring those solutions to the surface. The GOP must work to avoid seeming insensitive and being misconstrued as racist. Race neutrality is a completely fair way to view the world but it offers no answers to problems of racial disparity.
People within the GOP can disagree with the need to take such steps. They can continue to concede the African-American vote and believe that people of color will someday “get it.” If that is the case, then we all suffer – we miss a chance to have a constructive debate on solutions that plague African-American communities and the GOP misses a chance to gain a voting bloc. While the elections of Scott and West may give the GOP a false sense it is “making progress,” let’s not forget that 75% and 82% (respectively) of their districts are white.