Are Republicans Racist? No, But…
If you were following the news yesterday concerning the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, you saw a number of politicos who came to speak on this historic occasion.
But something was missing at the event. Actually, someone. Actually, a whole lot of someones. Republicans.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. According to Roll Call newspaper, a number of Republican leaders were invited, but none that were asked bothered to come. Some, like both Presidents Bush had legitimate reasons to skip. But others like House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor didn’t clear their schedules to attend.
On Facebook I saw some people saying that Republicans wouldn’t have been welcomed anyway so why bother?
Ummm…maybe because not coming makes you look like bigots?
Blogger Doug Mataconis sums this up rather nicely:
In the days leading up to yesterday’s event, I saw many conservatives online pointing out that conservatives such as South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were apparently not invited to speak at yesterday’s event, but here we have two of the top elected Republicans in the country both of whom apparently decided they had better things to do than appear at this event. Given that both living former Republican Presidents were apparently unable to attend for health reasons — Bush 41 for rather obvious reasons at this point, and Bush 43 because he is still recovering from surgery to repair an arterial blockage — it seems that it would’ve been wise to have at least one Republican there. It does seem to send a message about just how important minority voters are to the GOP these days, doesn’t it?
None of this means that the GOP is akin to the political wing of the Klan. There are many good Republicans who don’t hate African Americans or another other minority group.
The problem between African Americans and Republicans is not because of racism. The problem is actually a problem of neglect. Republicans do not hate Black folk, they just don’t care about our lives.
Artur Davis, a former House member as well as an African American Democrat-turned-Republican has commented about how the GOP fails to take the concerns of African Americans seriously. Unlike others, Davis didn’t praise Kentucky Senator Rand Paul for showing up at the historically black Howard University last spring. In the wake of President Obama’s musings on race after the Zimmerman verdict, Davis took white conservatives to task:
…whatever Obama’s inadequacies as a national persuader, conservatives are wrong to dismiss Obama’s talk as just so much “divisiveness” or “race-baiting”, to pick out a few choice adjectives. It’s a revealing error of judgment, though: to see Obama’s observations about the persistence of racial indignities as something unduly provocative is to purchase a myth much too common on the political right—that racial limitations are nothing more than a proxy for something else, perhaps class or educational differences, and that stressing over discrimination is just a liberal wedge tactic. While, as Gallup just documents, well below a majority of blacks describe bias as the most significant obstacle they face, the number who genuinely believe race has vanished altogether as an impediment is infinitesimal, well below the roughly 900,000 or so African Americans who voted for Mitt Romney. The evidence against too pollyannish a thesis on race is sweeping, from surveys documenting the large numbers of whites who harbor stunningly stereotypical views of blacks on subjects ranging from intelligence to work ethic, to the rickety foundations black owned businesses enjoy even when they are propped up with government loans, to astonishingly low numbers of blacks on some of the most prestigious fast tracks in America (elite law firm partnerships, Wall St brokerage firms, senior leadership at Fortune 500 firms to signal out a few).
The right’s tendency to embrace too sanguine a view of race, and to brush off consternation over profiling and stop and frisk as the lament of professional activists, may actually be the single most intractable reason why Republicans fall flat with parts of the black population who are affluent enough that their security doesn’t depend on Obamacare, welfare, food stamps or some other element of the safety net. And the fact that a good chunk of the conservative base is resistant to the notion that there are institutional barriers that flow from those cultural suspicions of blacks has opened a blind spot: precious few on the political right are willing to update their vision to contain reforms that might alleviate some of those burdens, or to acknowledge the reductions of those burdens as a price of restoring a freer market and a more cohesive culture.
Lastly, as ineffectual as Obama’s policies have been in actually diminishing some of the harshest gaps between blacks and whites, the euphoria in the African American community around Obama’s remarks are a reminder of why blacks have not punished him for those failures electorally. For the overwhelming majority of blacks, Obama’s emergence and survival has itself validated their confidence in the inclusiveness of the American system. But while conservatives universally assume that attachment has to do principally with race solidarity, it is much more rooted in admiration for a black politician succeeding without trading off a populist/fairness-oriented agenda, or short-changing race-centric themes like health disparities or income inequality: Obama’s bluntness just underscored that appreciation.
Davis shares what I have always thought about some white conservatives: that they tend to see racism as a thing of the past and not something that blacks deal with at present.
White Republicans don’t need to make some of the same appeals that Democrats make, but they do have to be able to “feel their pain” as a certain Southern Democrat once said. They have to be willing to listen to how African Americans still face challenges in employment and health care. They have to understand the fears the are brought up when Republicans talk about Voter ID and they need to explain to blacks with empathy why this will not disenfranchise African Americans.
In the end, Republicans need to do two things when it comes to African Americans: they need to listen and they need to care. Otherwise expect hear the “GOP is racist” meme for a long time.