Beyond Showroom Diversity and Other Thoughts
I like to read Rod Dreher’s blog over at the American Conservative. A post from November 2012 on Conservatives and Black Folk and set off a rather lively discussion that basically devolved into a shoutfest. Liberals and African Americans talk about how racist conservatives are and conservatives fire back about how useless it is to reach blacks, blah, blah, blah.
After reading this post and the comments , I had to heave a heavy sigh, because I’m tired of dealing with this constant back and forth between African Americans and Conservatives. It’s a fight that never seems to resolve itself.
So, from the viewpoint of an African American who voted for Romney, I want to share a few points.
First, while there have been some racially tinged rhetoric coming from conservatives, I don’t think that conservatives are automatically racist. People need to remember that it was under George W. Bush that we had not one but two African American Secretaries of State, Colin Powell and Condi Rice. Just recently, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, herself of Indian heritage, appointed US House Representative Tim Scott to the Senate to fill the seat vacated by Jim DeMint. In a state known for being the birthplace of the Civil War and the home of segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond, having an African American representing the state is nothing short of historic.
Second, while I don’t think conservatism = racism, that is the bias that conservatives have to live with. The larger society thinks this and speaking from experience, it is hard to break free of a stereotype. So even if you have nominated African Americans to high positions in government, the media and the rest of society will focus on the one guy who says something stupid and blow it up to represent all of conservatism. Stop whining about how unfairly you are treated because nobody cares. Really, we don’t care. It only makes you look more guilty. Ignore the trash talk and keep working at reconciliation.
Third, when it comes to the concerns of African Americans, conservatives tend to neglect us and focus on white people. At some point, somewhere in the last 40 years, the GOP just stopped taking Blacks seriously and ceded the community to the Democrats. During the election, the only visible time that Romney spoke to African Americans was at the NAACP convention and there he was denouncing Obamacare and not offering a viable alternative. I get the problems with the Affordable Care Act. But what conservatives don’t know is that many African Americans tend to be in a more precarious situation than whites when it comes to employment. This means we are more likely to lose health insurance, which means not going to the doctor and dealing with all the health issues that blacks deal with like high blood pressure and diabetes. Was Romney being racist? No. However, in talking about repealing Obamacare and offering nothing in its place made African Americans think that the GOP doesn’t care about them.
Fourth, while Rod is correct that African Americans won’t ever become a major part of the GOP coalition that’s not an excuse to just not bother with outreach. Republicans don’t need to get every vote, it just needs to get enough votes. In the 50-50 nation we live in, what matters is getting enough votes from different groups to eke a victory. The GOP will never get the majority of black votes, but if it can make in-roads; say make it a goal to get 15-20%, then they might make a difference.
Fifth, conservatives have to do more than what I call “showroom diversity.” You see this every four years at the convention when a number of persons of color speak at at the podium. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. But the real work has to be getting more delegates of color on the convention floor to match the diversity at the podium. If you can’t do that, then you aren’t going to get the attention of African Americans.
Sixth, the GOP has to actually go to black communities and listen to African Americans. Hear about our lives and what we think we need. The party doesn’t have to pander to us, but they need to tailor conservative ideas to the lives of black folks. I’m sorry, but a tax cut ain’t gonna help.
Seventh, if the GOP wants to make conservatism attractive to African Americans, it needs to start paying attention to cities again. Writing in the latest issue of City Journal, Edward Glaeser notes that the GOP has ignored the city, placing more emphasis on rural and suburban voters. The GOP hasn’t just ignored the city as much as it has come out against it. Glaeser cities the differences between the 1968 and 2012 party platforms:
The GOP wasn’t always so dismissive of cities. Almost at the front of its 1968 platform was a section called “Crisis of the Cities,” which declared that “for today and tomorrow, there must be—and we pledge—a vigorous effort, nation-wide, to transform the blighted areas of cities.” The platform advocated “greater involvement of vast private enterprise resources in the improvement of urban life, induced by tax and other incentives,” as well as “new technological and administrative approaches through flexible federal programs enabling and encouraging communities to solve their own problems.” After Richard Nixon won the election that year, he sought to deliver on those promises. Aided by his HUD secretary, George Romney (Mitt’s father), he moved federal policy away from subsidizing disastrous public-housing projects and toward a system of housing vouchers. Nixon also championed block grants, which gave cities flexibility in distributing federal aid, allowing them to target their greatest needs.
The 2012 party platform, by contrast, had no city-oriented policies whatsoever and used the word “urban” just twice—once to decry the current administration’s allegedly “replacing civil engineering with social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit.”
Since the majority of African Americans live in urban areas, being anti-city is interpreted as being anti-black. Don’t want to be called racist? Start paying attention to the cities again.
Finally, conservatives as a whole need to stop unintentional race baiting. Let me explain. After the Trayvon Martin incident, there was a lot of press in the conservative media about that insinuated that Martin was nothing but a thug. While there might have been no racist intent, to African Americans, especially those with sons, it seemed that conservatives were going after black men. I can tell you as a black man, I’ve been looked at as something to fear when in reality I’m about as harmless as a bunny rabbit. There were ways of talking about this without slandering a dead black kid. When such things happen, other conservatives need to speak up and set the record straight. You can’t just ignore it or act like it wasn’t a big deal because to blacks it is.
That’s my two cents.