How is it that the party of Lincoln, a party that led the way in opposing slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, the KKK, poll taxes, led the way on integration and voting rights for black Americans, and percentage wise, voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act in greater numbers than Democrats is now only getting about 10% of the black vote? Democrats say racism, but any objective observer would quickly discard that explanation given the significant number of popular black Republicans. If even a large percentage of Republicans were racist, certainly Allen West, Herman Cain, Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, Tim Scott, Mia Love, Condi Rice, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Star Parker, and Larry Elder couldn’t exist, much less be popular with conservatives. Additionally, although Republicans don’t support Affirmative Action, very few black Americans actually benefit from it and many are harmed as well.
So, why are Republicans doing so poorly with black Americans?
1) Economics: Black Americans are suffering economically compared to the rest of the country. “In 2009, the average net worth for white households was $113,149 and $5,700 for black households.” 14.1% of black Americans are unemployed compared to 7.4 percent of whites and “black households’ median annual income fell” more than twice as much over the last two years as white Americans.
Since black Americans have been monolithically voting for the Democratic Party for 40 years, those numbers are actually a terrific argument for voting Republican. Unfortunately, as a practical matter, it doesn’t work that way. People who are doing poorly economically tend to welcome any short term help they can get, even if the increased dependence on the government ultimately makes it more likely that they’ll remain mired in poverty. Combine that with the fact that black Americans are dramatically over-represented amongst government workers (11.6% of the population vs. almost 20% of the government work force) and there are strong short term incentives for many black Americans to stay in the Democratic Party even if they’d ultimately benefit more from adopting a more conservative philosophy.
2) The skin color of the speakers: One of the great ironies of the race debate in America is that Republicans have internalized Martin Luther King’s famous saying, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” while most black Americans have rejected it. This creates a bit of a Catch-22 for Republicans. Black Americans are much more likely to listen and consider what black Republicans have to say, but there just aren’t a lot of black Republicans to say it. This is a problem that’s slowly, but surely being corrected as more and more black Americans are rising to prominence within the GOP, but we’re just not there yet.
3) Racism culture: Even black Americans who are extremely prosperous and have never been significantly harmed by racism in their lives feel compelled to talk about America as if Democrats like George Wallace and Bull Connor were still running wild. There are three reasons for that.
A) It’s at the core of the Democrats’ political strategy in dealing with black Americans. No matter how poorly served black Americans are by the Democrats, they won’t listen to what Republicans have to say with an open mind if they’re falsely convinced we hate them.
B) If you say that racism is no longer a serious problem for black Americans, then there still has to be some sort of explanation given for why black Americans aren’t doing that well compared to white Americans. Many black Americans fear that other Americans might conclude that the old school Democratic racists were right and they are inferior. This is why pointing out that racism isn’t a serious impediment for black Americans today can almost come across like a slap, as opposed to a plain statement of obvious fact.
C) Shouting “racism” is easy and it doesn’t require you to do anything other than complain. Tackling other issues that are hurting black Americans like children being born out of wedlock and out of control crime in the inner cities is really hard.
Most Republicans do not consider racism to be a significant impediment to success anymore and that puts us up against a deeply ingrained, shared cultural belief with black Americans.
4) Outreach: That last item is the biggest factor in the GOP’s mediocre, almost but not quite, non-existent outreach to black Americans. White Republicans assume what they say will be de facto ignored because of their race at best or they’ll be called a racist no matter what they say at worst. Moreover, most Republicans have an almost instinctive dislike of identity politics that keeps us from creating a conservative NAACP and hiring our own Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons to push the conservative message to black Americans. So, the solution to this problem has been to do very little outreach and hope that black Americans will just drift into the Republican Party on their own. Judging by the number of black Americans voting for the GOP, this strategy isn’t working and isn’t likely to work in the foreseeable future.
5) Issues: The Republican Party is on the same page as most black Americans on “abortion, gay marriage, and being friendly to Christianity. Many black Americans also agree with the conservative stance on illegal immigration, school choice, being tough on crime, and supporting entrepreneurs.” We have to do a better job of working with black Americans in areas where our interests coincide instead of expecting them to come to us. We also have to start using conservative principles to address issues that disproportionately impact black Americans. We need to find ways to implement enterprise zones and micro-loans to help black Americans in inner cities. It’s also a disgrace that any American, in any neighborhood, has to worry about getting shot in his yard or drug dealers selling on the corner where his kids go to school. We’re the law and order party. We should be effectively tackling that the way Rudy Giuliani did in New York. It’s not enough for Republicans to say, “Look at the places we agree.” As John Maxwell once said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We have to show black Americans we care, not just with words, but by rolling up our sleeves and tackling the issues the Democrat Party has been ignoring for decades.