Rod Paige, an African-American and George W. Bush’s first Secretary of Education, has an interesting response to the often-posed question, how can a Black man be a Republican? He reminds people that it was Democrats who turned dogs and fire hoses on Civil Rights protesters in Mississippi when he was growing up. The Democratic Party in the South was the core of the resistance to the Civil Rights movement. It was only with the support of a sizable majority of GOP Congressmen that President Johnson was able to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As a party we desperately need to realize that the Democratic Party’s dominance in the African-American community is one of history’s most spiteful twists. In another segment I’ll describe at some length how we got here, but at this point it’s enough to say that it didn’t have to happen this way, and it need not remain so.
Black Americans are a natural constituency for the GOP. It would surprise many Republicans to realize that the primary political concerns of a large swath of the African-American community are crime, education, and economic progress. What’s more, they overwhelmingly share conservative values on matters of family, religion, and culture.
So if the black community is so conservative, why aren’t they complaining about the Democratic Party? They are, but we on the right are mostly unaware of it. So if they are conservative and frustrated by the Democratic Party, why aren’t they becoming Republicans? A few are. But the unpleasant truth is that we have created a climate that makes it very difficult for African-Americans to participate in the GOP.
White conservatives bristle when they hear the word “racism” tossed around. They will be quick note that they “have lots of black friends” (names, please?), and feel no animosity toward others based on their skin color (which is mostly true). The root problem is that when whites and blacks talk about race they are using a completely different language consisting of the same words. Over the past generation, neither side has made much progress understanding the other.
Perhaps a good starting point is the term “racism” itself. Whites only want to see the word deployed when it refers to Big “R” racism. Blacks insist on a more nuanced little “r” use which is just as valid. We would be well on the road to better relations if all we did on either side was to understand the way each of us understands the word ‘racist.’