Sellout!: The Black Republican in the Black Community
Abraham Lincoln was the founder of the Republican Party. Republican Ulysses S. Grant saw 90 percent of Black voters (in the very first presidential election we could participate in) cast a ballot for. That Black voting bloc muted what the majority of white voters wanted as Grant became the first President to win an election with the minority of the white vote.
It was an easy call for the Black community. Grant was second only to Lincoln (if at all) in the eyes of Black people at the time. The Union general who promised and began to deliver Reconstruction by smiting terrorist groups attacking free Blacks in the south. Many southern Blacks were stuck in a debt peonage system of indentured servitude known as sharecropping post slavery which led to the Great Migration north (and into cities) for better economic opportunities. Black people were able to thrive in many cases albeit under protection of the US Army though racism was still entrenched everywhere in the country.
At the turn of the 20th century, Progressive Republican Teddy Roosevelt would become the first President to break the White House invitee barrier when he would dine with Booker T. Washington, the most famous and “accepted” advocate for the Negro Cause, in 1901. Less than 100 years from Lincoln, that same 90 percent voting block became squarely cemented in the Democratic Party seemingly never to return to the GOP. What caused the shift? And why do Black people have such disdain for those 10 percent who advocate for and vote with the Republican Party?
The Black Community’s Problem With the Republican Party Is Conservatism
The primary and historical problem Black people have had with the modern Republican Party has to do with the conservative movement. Originating in the 1950’s, it consisted of three major interest groups that formed an uneasy partnership in response to the administration of FDR amidst the backdrop of the Cold War:
- Social Conservatives (Evangelicals and Nativists)
- Free Marketeers (Libertarians and corporatists)
- States Rights Activists (segregationists and neo-Confederates).
Social Conservatives were primarily concerned with the spread of secular humanism and the degradation of Christian values (They pushed Eisenhower into putting “In God We Trust” on our currency). Free Marketeers were concerned about over-regulation, bureaucracy, and government spending, a product of the Keynesian Economics of the time. The State Rights Activists were primarily interested in reducing the power of the Federal Government and increasing the power of the States. There was some intermixing between these various interest groups, but those were the three major issues that bonded them together and served as the driving force of conservatism. These ideas were increasingly out of sync with the demands of the Civil Rights Movement as it became more relevant in the 1960’s and the desire to stop communism from spreading in Africa and the rest of the developing world put more pressure on the federal government to take action.
Civil Rights Movement
The civil rights movement challenged a lot of the traditions of the country including the doctrine of separate but equal. Furthermore, since many of the defenses of racism and segregation were grounded in religion, many of the demands of the civil rights movement came off as secular in nature. (A significant amount of conservatives, including J.Edgar Hoover saw this assault on American Traditions as being evident of a Communist Plot. During the Second Red Scare, it was believed that people who supported interracial dating or marriage were likely to be communists)
The Civil Rights Movement, following the tradition of almost every Black focused and centered movement in American History, demanded an increase in government action to fight discrimination in both the public and private realm. It required the federal government to reverse the laws and policies that had led to increases in poverty, criminalization, housing segregation, and a general system whose mission was to prevent Blacks from securing their own economic determinism beyond set parameters all while during the greatest economic expansion and growth of the middle class in human history.
Especially, in the South, the Civil Rights Movement consistently desired the Federal Government to exercise power over states to fight against racism. Blacks wanted the government to fight against many of the acts of intimidation by white southern citizens who were against integration and the Voting Rights Act.
The conservative movement did not, does not, and will not have a good theory on how to protect the rights of individual Blacks from the desires and wishes of white people nor state governments that want to oppress them. That protection has not and seemingly can not be integrated within the principles of the conservative movement.
In terms of a theory or strategy, conservatives never developed an intellectual approach to dealing with racism and its legacy which explains why many Blacks have never fully embraced conservatism. Conservatism has consistently found itself dismissing problems the black community has traditionally faced claiming that they have either become irrelevant or are now distractions. This naturally appeals to those who can’t get over the snobbish and dismissive way coastal elites and cosmopolitan types have always treated them.
For the overwhelming majority of the Black community, the disrespect to the civil rights movement shown by Black Republicans via feeding into the myth that bBack people who vote Democrat or choose not to vote Republican only do so because they are “on the Democrat plantation” is unforgivable. Hyperbolic comparisons evoking actual trauma while lacking in both fact and context does a tremendous disservice to both the black community and Republicans trying to make inroads into it. It is the anti-legacy of Civil Rights.
In conversations with some Black Republicans, many in the Black community are often relieved when they find out those Republicans are not in denial of racism nor racial issues. That relief is replaced with joy when they find out that they do not share the platform of the modern GOP when it comes to racial issues. More often than not, that joy is ultimately replaced with apathy as the conversation invariably leads to what Democrats (not Republicans) have or have not done.
Within the Black community, the question ultimately boils down to what, individually, is one doing to benefit “all of us”. Black people unfortunately have not had the benefit nor luxury of vacuum-sealed individualism here in the great United States of America. Race has always been the prism we have been viewed through.
In Pre-colonial America, one of the reasons the British system transitioned from indentured servitude to slavery was because African slaves stood out in the population more readily than European indentured servants. It’s that sense of isolation that black Americans all experience living among a white majority that amplify the sense of community among us individually. It’s also why black people, in spite of being subject to human rights violations at the hands of their state throughout their existence, were often voluntarily present in the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the middle east. To be a black American has often meant loving a country that has not loved you for the vast majority of its existence.
Uncle Tom Should Be Sambo
However, it is indeed true that black people are not a monolith. Not all within the Black community feel nor share those common bonds of ancestry. Black Republicans, due to their allegiance to the GOP fueled by conservativism and the notion of the supremacy of the individual, are largely seen within the Black community as anti “us”.
Black Republicans are assailed by other Blacks (and even some nonblacks on the left) as “sellouts”, “coons”, and “uncle toms”. It should be noted that Uncle Tom was the good guy from the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel, and Sambo is the appropriate character for the sentiment that “Uncle Tom” conveys.
As a whole, Black Republicans seemed to have made it their collective effort to sabotage anyone fighting systemic racism while attacking black victims of police brutality. This makes them extremely dangerous to black people as a whole by providing cover to racists who portray Black people as willful accomplices to many of the injustices we face prioritizing white conservative acceptance. Again, it’s important to acknowledge there are Black Republicans who will choose their community over their politics; however, it seems the cardinal sin for a Black Republican is defending Black people from truncated racist tropes popular in conservative and Republican circles.
This is because the concept of “Blackness” (innate concepts and beliefs concerning the black community from a perspective of the black community) is to be generally rejected and reviled unless and only if it can be commoditized. Nowhere is that more evident than the Republican Party. Prominent Black Republicans with national platforms don’t routinely call out racism unless the victims aren’t Black. Black Republicans, for some reason, are seemingly unwilling or unable to criticize mainstream Republican positions on issues related to the Black community. Putting a Black face on white supremacist ideology and rhetoric is a tactic rooted in slavery.
This is why attacks on the Democratic Party fall so flat for most of the Black community. Black people don’t love the Democratic Party; however, in a two party system, the choice for Black people is fairly clear given the Republican and Democratic platforms.
Generally, there is only scorn and ridicule (certainly not profit) for black activism in America. While Democrats have shown a begrudging willingness to address issues important to Black people (even if superficially), that has not been the case for the modern Republican Party. Black Republicans often talk about freedom, but many aren’t free to speak out against systems of white supremacy if they wanted to. A majority of Republicans avoid subject matter that challenges their view of America rendering the possibility for activism virtually nonexistent.
Types of Black Republicans
As with anything involving politics, race, history, and culture, context and nuance are required. Jevioso Orishas describes the four types of Black Republicans.
Colin Powell Republicans
These Black Republicans are generally not viewed with derision and scorn despite the fact that they are usually very upfront about their allegiance to the Republican Party. They do not use their platform to dismiss, mock or insult liberal Blacks or Blacks in general, who bring up issues pertaining to racism in the U.S. They do not fall into the traps that many conservative media platforms use to pit Black Republicans against Blacks whom are not nor people who live or have cosmopolitan or coastal values.
Michael Steele Republicans
These are Black Republicans who grew up in the black community, understand the context of issues facing the black community, and are conscious enough not to be dismissive of them and their relevance in evaluating the progress or lack thereof when it comes to Blacks in America. Many of them became conservatives not out of frustration with the community, but because the status quo they grew up under was liberal and they didn’t like the results they were seeing for their community. These people tend to be conservative primarily because of economics, not because of social issues. In other words, they tend to be much more libertarian in their make-up. They might get some scorn from the community, but it’s usually from those who are very political and very left.
Ben Carson Republicans
These Black Republicans are usually the creme de la creme for intellectual defenses of conservatism. They came of age in the 1980’s as critics of LBJ’s Great Society Programs. Unlike Michael Steele Republicans, Ben Carson Republicans are equally invested in economic and social conservatism espousing problems in the Black community are based on social and moral failings. These people tend to be a lot more harsh in attacking Black people, though they tend to be more empirical about it.
They’re much more likely to be ridiculed within the Black community than the Colin Powell or Michael Steele Republicans because they don’t mind attacking or insulting Blacks especially on conservative platforms (giving the impression that though they were talented and well educated, they were excommunicated from the community because they didn’t try to fit in). A lot of their standing in the Republican Party is due to being ruthless in their intellectual attacks on liberals and the Black political mainstream.
Candace Owens Republicans
Within the Black community, these are the Black Republicans that are absolutely despised and reviled. They are the “coons, sambos, and Uncle Toms”. They insult and castigate Black people for the sake of entertainment of white conservatives saying racist things about Blacks that white people want to say but can’t due to social pressure.
These are Black people that are attracted to the culture wars, don’t care nor know much about economics, and are not Republican due to policy. They make a living pushing White Evangelical Propaganda and using their platform to promote the idea that Black people ought to be grateful that white Americans tolerate them and took them away from the jungles of Africa. These are the types of Black people that embrace Robert E. Lee, the confederate flag, and posit arguments that Blacks were better off under Jim Crow pre-Civil Rights and Great Society.
There will always be a seat at the table for anyone promoting or normalizing anti-Black sentiment. If Black Republicans ever want to ditch the label of “Sambo”, “sellout”, “coon”, or “Uncle Tom”, they must be cognizant of the system as it is, where black people are positioned, and the role they themselves play in deteriorating, maintaining, or augmenting that position.
What It Means To Be A Black Republican In the Black Community
So then what does being a black Republican mean to the black community writ large? To be a Black person in the Republican Party, is to deny the racism that exists in too many Human Resources departments and to defend the police in instances of police brutality (no matter how egregious their behavior). When in doubt, blame problems in the Black community on the destruction of Black family or Black on Black crime.
Being a black Republican amounts to denying the plight of Black people in America when not ignoring it altogether. Being a Black Republican means defending George Zimmerman while demeaning Trayvon Martin. Being a Black Republican means never using intellect nor platform (the GOP is overwhelmingly white) to benefit black people; rather, only to reinforce the very worst to be thought about the Black community with you as one of the few lone exceptions. Being a Black Republican means giving a full-throated defense of the L.A.P.D. officers who nearly beat Rodney King to death. Being a Black Republican means defending the N.Y.P.D. officer who choked Eric Garner to death, blaming Freddie Gray for his severed spine, and defending Michael Slager’s character to the detriment of Walter Scott’s life. It means attacking Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake and George Floyd because they deserved it. It means combing through the life of Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor to justify their deaths.
The Black community is not calling the 10 percent of its voting population not voting Democrat names because they believe in supply side economics; however, Black people whose silence, or worse, overt acts are complicit in giving routine acceptance to crimes against Black people committed by the state are not going to have sterling superlatives attached to their names.