We need black Republicans. By black Republicans I don’t mean black people who will cheerlead for the Republican Party. I mean black people who actually speak for the interests of the black community within the GOP. There’s a big difference.
Anybody who knows me knows that this article has got to be a little self-serving; I’ll cop to that. I’m a candidate for congress in Los Angeles, and yes I am a black Republican. But the point here is a real one: the black community suffers materially, because the political conversation does not focus on our interests. It doesn’t, because black votes are not in play.
As blacks we vote Democrat because we do not trust the Republican Party. Why would we? The Republican Party has done virtually nothing to earn the trust of black people for the last 45 years, and in fact has threatened the interests of black and poorer peoples, by threatening welfare and unemployment spending during times of recession (even while some of them continue to support government subsidies for oil companies and tax payer funded bailouts for big banks), and by maneuvering to suppress Democratic turnout by trying to pass cynically timed voter I.D. requirements in key states in the 2012 election. Of course, there is a lot that can be said about the ways in which the Democratic Party has actually betrayed the interests of black people as well, but such points do not absolve the guilt of the Republican Party.
I am a fan of neither party as they currently stand, though I understand why most black people would rather be Democrat than Republican. But it doesn’t change the fact that black people are left in a lousy political situation, taken for granted by the party we’re in and ignored by the party we’re not in. Why should Democrats work particularly hard for black votes on a broad scale when they are going to get them anyway? And why should Republicans when they know they are inaccessible? Black people often complain to me about how it is politicians always seem to be talking about Latino issues and Gay issues, fighting for immigration reform and the DREAM Act, gay marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, etc., but seem much slower to move on issues of direct concern to African-Americans (inner-city education reform, the war on drugs, reparations…?). The answer to this lies in the politics. Latino-Americans and Gay Americans are predominantly Democratic, but between a quarter and a third of them routinely vote Republican. As such both parties feel they have a reason to compete for these votes.
The results of this show themselves in real legislation. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed because Democrats and Republicans supported it as a matter of gay rights, and high profile Republicans one by one have been quietly indicating their support for gay marriage or at least greater rights for gay people (including Dick Cheney). And while immigration reform and the DREAM Act have not passed yet, the bipartisan support for these efforts (especially where you have Republicans representing significant Latino populations) is real, with some Republicans like Marco Rubio and John McCain showing a real willingness to fight their fellow Republicans and work with Democrats to get such reforms accomplished.
Any black American who knows the political history of the Civil Rights movement knows that the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were only possible because Republican and Democratic legislators joined together against segregationist Democrats and reactionary Republicans to make it happen. But in the sixties, there was a significant black population in both parties pushing them to accomplish this. In the early 20th century almost all blacks were Republicans, and we did not get that much accomplished politically. In the early 21st century we are almost all Democrats, and we are failing politically (in terms of getting key bills passed or even considered) for the same reason.
As a people we do not need to turn out a bunch of black Republicans overnight, but we do need to establish power within the Republican Party in order to push both parties to serve our interests. Furthermore there are Republicans that the black community can work with to find real common ground. Ron Paul’s campaign opened the flood gates for a wing of the party that is eager to put the brakes on the war on drugs, to renew voting rights for ex-convicts, to eliminate institutional racism in the criminal justice system and perhaps more importantly than anything to dismantle a bureaucratic and self-interested educational system that systematically punishes inner-city children of color and to replace it with a system of equality. But without blacks speaking for the black community within the Republican Party this coalition will not be forged, and in the mainstream legislative conversation we will continue to be ignored.