In most younger social circles, calling yourself a “Republican” is social suicide. To many it is paramount to being a member of the racist, old white man’s party that also believes that God created Man one day with the snap of a finger.
When I attended my first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. last year, I remember walking into the enormous ballroom where Rick Santorum was yapping about God and seeing a sea of white and grey in the audience. Out of over 600 audience members, I only noticed two black attendees and a small handful of Hispanics. I grew up in lily-white New Hampshire and this was way whiter.
I had the opportunity to meet the two African American attendees later that day. They were twin sisters named Nicole and Kristine Douglin from Connecticut. We quickly hit it off and spent the afternoon together.
Walking around CPAC with Nicole and Kristine was an unforgettable experience. It was impossible for us to go anywhere in the convention center without being stopped by members of the press. You know, to display the GOP’s representation of “people of color!” (“See, black people like us, too!”)
Now, understand, I have an ego like everyone else and I like press coverage whenever I can get it. But while hanging with Nichole and Kristine, I was overlooked by everyone holding a camera or microphone – indeed, I was completely invisible to the conservative press who was drooling to chat with my two African American friends.
As a young person, it’s not always easy being labeled a Republican (trust me, I know first-hand) — but it’s even harder to be a black Republican.
“I have faced a lot of criticism,” Nicole told me. “Not only am I Black, but I am also a young woman. Believe me, I get criticism hurled at me from all avenues.”
Regardless, Nicole boldly shows her face at numerous all-white Republican events and even voices her opinions to the press on camera. Indeed, she seeks out the opportunity to express her views.
Nichole told me “Republicans generally treat me with respect and really value my opinion even if they do not agree with me. A lot of Republicans I meet are white males but I would say that in comparison to liberal white males, I really feel like they actually hear me and aren’t constantly dismissing my opinions.”
Nicole argues that most of the criticism towards black conservatives comes from closed-minded liberals. She said, “People like Allen West are often called ‘Uncle Toms’ or the N-word because they are Republicans.”
My experience at CPAC got me thinking about the Republican party’s PR problem, especially with minorities. I gave my friend Adam Haywood, a 20-something African American from Massachusetts, a call for his input. He’s a Democrat.
He said, “I think you seem almost like a traitor to your race if you were to vote Republican as a black person.”
I asked Adam if the problem with Republicans was rooted in the party’s policies, or if it was more of an image problem.
He responded, “The Republican Party is seen as out-of-touch. They don’t empathize with the cultures or histories of others but stick to their set ways. The young charismatic candidate generally does much better with the black vote.”
A few more calls to my other black and Hispanic friends confirmed similar impressions of the GOP.
Yes, the GOP has a significant PR crisis on its hands.
Nicole said, “I think there are so few black people in the GOP because they are largely misinformed about what republicans stand for. It doesn’t matter how high unemployment for young black men is, it doesn’t matter that blacks face severe poverty as a result, it doesn’t matter that democratic policies have destroyed the black family — nothing matters as long as politicians, almost always Democrats, ‘say’ they are trying to help blacks.”
Many Democrats are well aware of this and use it to their advantage. “I think blacks are democrats because they have a sense of entitlement,” Nicole said. “Which I think is paramount to the success of the democrats across the board. I know many black people who maintain the idea that the US government owes us basically because of slavery and past institutionalized racism.”
The idea that government owes blacks entitlements for past wrongdoings is often played upon by Democrats to boost support for their own party. During the 2012 campaign, Joe Biden told a crowd of black voters, “They [Republicans] want to put y’all back in chains!”
Conservatives want to empower blacks to improve their lives with such programs as school choice, tax breaks for inner-city businesses, and strong anti-crime incentives. So while the Republican Party may offer blacks a brighter future than the Democrat Party, it will never matter if they cannot articulate their message effectively to minorities. For the GOP to survive, they had better start doing so.
Republican candidates have an obligation to aggressively and consistently campaign in the inner cities like Detroit and Oakland, and begin showing how conservative economic principles can raise everyone out of poverty if they are willing to work. More smart, savvy black candidates like Allen West and Ben Carson must be recruited to run for office at all levels, and to help transform the warped view minorities have of conservatism. Today, every poverty-stricken, hopeless, inner-city slum is under Democratic control. It’s easy to highlight how liberalism has utterly destroyed minority communities, but nobody is doing it.
Transforming the Republican party from a nearly all-white party to one that all races want to support is indeed possible. But it will take a new generation of smart, energetic candidates. There has never been a more opportune time for ambitious, conservative minorities to grab power, and to turn their communities around. For the sake of our inner-cities, and for the country, let’s hope these candidates step forward. (Are you reading this, Nichole and Kristine?)