In the aftermath of the Nov. 2 election, I found myself wondering about a statement that I kept hearing: in 2010 there were more Black Republicans running for office in the South than at any time since Reconstruction.
I think that we have arrived at a moment when we need a “time out.” Let’s be very clear on a few things. The Black Republicans who ran for (and won) elected office during the period of Reconstruction (1865-1877) were, by and large, individuals who were fighting to expand democracy, including the rights of the poor. They were fighting against any and all forms of racist oppression.
These were individuals, for instance, who fought for the introduction of free public education, but also in many cases, for the rights of workers. These were not individuals who sided with the rich and the powerful, but were those who saw in Reconstruction a moment in the history of the USA where democracy could come to represent more than a platitude.
When I look at most of today’s Black Republicans, I see something very different. While I am sure that there are many Black Republicans who are concerned about the poor (though, in the interest of full disclosure, I have never met any), that is not the predominant characteristic. We are not talking about Black politicians who continue to be Republicans because that was the party of Abraham Lincoln, but rather individuals who are comfortable with a party that openly despises people of color and will perpetuate various forms of voter suppression against people of color.
Let me mention two things that have led me to wonder about today’s Black Republicans. A few weeks prior to the elections, in Nevada, elements associated with the Republican Party became involved in an aborted campaign to discourage Latino voters from turning out Nov. 2. This was unbelievable, and fortunately, was halted. Nevertheless, this was a targeted campaign against voters of color encouraging them to NOT exercise their Constitutional rights but, instead, to stay home. I did not hear any Black Republicans criticizing this.
On election evening at 7:30 p.m., I received a call on my home line. A recorded voice said that “we” had done our work, the Democrats had won, and that there was nothing more that “we” needed to do now but stay home and watch the results of the election on TV. Interesting, except in my state the polls close at 8 p.m. In other words, we were being told that there was no further need to vote, if you had not already. This incident, and several other voter suppression incidents around the country, is being investigated for violations of the law. But here is my point: I did not hear any Black Republicans criticizing this behavior either.
So, while it may be true that there are all of these Black Republicans running for office, I keep wondering about their souls and consciences. Who are these people? How can they remain silent, or in some cases actively support, actions that are explicitly targeted at misleading and/or suppressing the voting strength of voters of color?
Are they that cynical? Are they actually Black? I am open to being convinced.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.