Black Republicans and the specter of tokenism

Black Republicans and the specter of tokenismThe whiff of tokenism notwithstanding, I’m actually glad to see that there are credible black Republicans angling for high-level political office.  I’ve long argued that it would be good for black people, and great for the country, if Republicans took the African-American community seriously.  For starters, greater black representation within the GOP would probably force our political culture to actually acknowledge the huge amount of ideological diversity within the black community, and increase the likelihood that those views would find substantive representation in the halls of power. I know I’m not speaking alone here when I say that I am regularly annoyed/driven to a blind murderous rage by the fact that our political culture treats black people as this liberal, ideological monolith, which – despite our heavy support for the Democratic Party – is really not the case.

That said, there is a definite aura of tokenism surrounding these guys.  After all, they aren’t just the lone black faces in a lily white party (indeed, a party that takes “lily white” to its Platonic heights) – they are the lone black faces in a party that routinely and casually exploits racial fear and paranoia for political gain, and whose most prominent representatives in the media are race-baiting demagogues.  More importantly, and as Adam recently pointed out, the GOP has yet to really grapple with its ugly racial history, and in fact, hardly acknowledges it (Ken Mehlman’s brief words in 2005 don’t really count).  By contrast, Democrats – from the  Civil Rights Act onwards – have devoted a hell of a lot of political capital to atoning for their ugly racial history.  Indeed, the 1960s are something of an inflection point in that regard: at the moment that Democrats committed themselves to racial liberalism, Republicans embraced the disaffected white southerners left behind in the march towards greater political equality.

Tokenism, as I see it, has less to do with numbers and everything to do with self-respect.  And insofar that any of these guys are tokens, it’s in their willingness to be used as props for a party desperate for cheap grace, and eager to absolve itself of its sins without doing the hard work of atoning for them.  That said, and assuming they want to reform the GOP from the inside, I wish them the best of luck.  They’re going to need it.

Update: Edited for clarity, among other things.

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15 thoughts on “Black Republicans and the specter of tokenism

  1. Yes, yes those evil Republicans who stood against the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Sen. Fulbright, Bubba’s mentor, Sen. Algore Sr., Algore jr’s daddy, Sen. Byrd of W.Va., the Grand Keegle or Keagle or Koogle.
    That’s why MLK was a Democrat!
    And, Jamelle, I do hope you’re trying your best to reform the commie-Dems!

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  2. Cheeks: It’s almost like the partisan realignment never happened! As soon as the Republican record on race comes up, we hear over and over again how southern Democrats opposed civil rights legislation as if mass defections among the segregationist set, from Wallace to Thurmond and beyond, was just some mass hallucination on the part of the liberal media.

    Can we do a little better with the boilerplate conservative response? Perhaps you can call Jamelle an elitist, an Obamabot in thrall to “The One,” maybe an America-hater or a socialist? A plant from ACORN to make you look bad? There are only so many options…

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    • RJ, thanks for that. I can’t help myself.I’m having fun today bouncing around two or three (I have dial-up) sites lighting little fires.
      As far as boilerplate, well whatever works, and besides my history on the CRA is right on…is that what hurts?
      Obamabot…I do like that!

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      • It’s right, but it isn’t relevant. Those people were driven out of the party or voted out of office. Besides, where do the vast majority of Confederate symps, people who talk about “white culture” and “those people” hang their political hats?

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  3. Cheeks, stop being a troll. It’s true that the Republican Party courted and gained the support of racist white southerners in the aftermath of the civil rights legislation. It’s also true that the current Republican Party contains a significant number of race-baiters and racists: remember the supposed “whitey tape”? The Ashley Todd thing? The birthers (come on, no other American president was accused of not being a citizen)? The stuffed monkeys? A Republican Party office putting out “Obama bucks” with watermelon and fried chicken on them? The Republican congressman who called Obama “uppity”?

    (and not just a few random kooks, I mean people actually in elected office). One of the southern Congressmen called Obama “uppity”, which is pretty blatant as racism goes. If you want more examples, and there are a lot, check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog at the Atlantic, especially the posts from during September/October 2008. Or maybe just read Jamelle’s links.

    Here’s one quote from TNC that I think is particularly enlightening:

    The saddest thing about many Republicans isn’t just that they disagree with liberals on race–it’s they are largely ignorant on race. When the McCain campaign cast the spell of diabolical jingoism, they have no idea of the forces they are toying with. We remember Martin Luther King’s murder as a sad and tragic event. Less remembered is the fact that ground-work for King’s murder was seeded, not simply by rank white supremacy, but by people who slandered King as a communist.

    This was not some notion bandied about by conspiracy theorist, but an accusation proffered by men who were the pillars of the modern Republican Party:

    ‘As late as 1964, Falwell was attacking the 1964 Civil Rights Act as “civil wrongs” legislation. He questioned “the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations.” Falwell charged, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.” ‘

    Falwell was not alone. These men didn’t kill Martin Luther King, but they contributed to an atmosphere of nationalism, white supremacy and cheap unreflective patriotism that ultimately got a lot of people killed. Confronted with Aparthied South Africa, men like Helms and Falwell used the same “communist” defense. While Mandella wasted away in prison, they dismissed the whole thing as a communist plot.

    Seeing what I have of the GOP, it amazes me that it has any black members at all.

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  4. K, dudette, please!
    The commie-Dems were the party of racism, the Klan, and have manipulated Blacks for over one hundred years. I do understand that Blacks may not want to be members of the GOP but that’s no excuse for continuing to be abused by the commie-Dems!

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