Black People and Republicans.

(x-posted from U.S. of J)

Shelby Steele on the GOP’s problems with minorities*:

 And here is conservatism’s great problem with minorities. In an era when even failed moral activism is redemptive — and thus a source of moral authority and power — conservatism stands flat-footed with only discipline to offer. It has only an invisible hand to compete with the activism of the left. So conservatism has no way to show itself redeemed of America’s bigoted past, no way like the Great Society to engineer a grand display of its innocence, and no way to show deference to minorities for the oppression they endured. Thus it seems to be in league with that oppression.
Added to this, American minorities of color — especially blacks — are often born into grievance-focused identities. The idea of grievance will seem to define them in some eternal way, and it will link them atavistically to a community of loved ones. To separate from grievance — to say simply that one is no longer racially aggrieved — will surely feel like an act of betrayal that threatens to cut one off from community, family and history. So, paradoxically, a certain chauvinism develops around one’s sense of grievance. Today the feeling of being aggrieved by American bigotry is far more a matter of identity than of actual aggrievement.
Ignoring for the moment the wealth of studies which demonstrate the real and lasting impact of racism on various economic and social outcomes, it’s hilarious to me that Steele could — with a straight face — announce that the GOP’s problem with minorities is that its just too principled.  If only minorities could abandon their “grievances” and understand that conservatives have their best interests at heart, then they would abandon those exploitative liberals.
The problem with Steele’s diagnosis, of course, is that it relies on a radically sanitized version of the GOP’s recent history.  Republicans built their current coalition on the backs of racially resentful whites. Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush — to one degree or another — relied on a strategy of appealing to white racial prejudice to build their support.  Even if plenty of minorities are basically conservative, this doesn’t translate into support for the conservative party because it’s blindingly obvious that conservatives are friendly to racists, or at least aren’t too concerned with the use of racial prejudice to garner votes.  What’s more, Republicans — even “thoughtful” ones, like Douthat — refuse to own up to their party’s reliance on racial prejudice as a matter of electoral strategy (”law & order,” “welfare queens,” and Willie Horton).  By contrast, and as Steele himself notes, liberals and Democrats effectively renounced their previous tolerance of “racial conservatives” by embracing racial liberalism in the 1960s and 1970s.
The simple fact is that Steele isn’t trying to provide an answer for Republican’s difficulties with minorities; doing that would require an honest account of the GOP’s often-disgraceful history of using coded racial appeals to win elections.  No, Steele is doing what he does best: providing a way for conservatives and Republicans to feel better about themselves without actually taking that honest account of their history.  And as long as conservatives continue to approve of Steele’s work, we’ll continue to see these transparently revisionist pieces of political history.
*I meant to comment on this a while back (h/t to Aaron) but never really got to it (between finishing my thesis and keeping up on my school work, I didn’t really have much time).




Jamelle Bouie is a writer for Slate. He has also written for The Daily Beast, The American Prospect and The Nation. His work centers on politics, race, and the intersection of the two.

You can find him on Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram as jbouie.
  • mute

    that’s a fantastic poster. i’m upset i’ve never seen it before today.

    (who is the negro that posed for that?)

  • I respect black Republicans who ideologically fit in with the GOP for sticking to their beliefs, but when they point fingers at other blacks, as is shown above, it’s insulting. Can’t they be politically conservative without cooning? Knowing what history I do know about the GOP since Jim Crow folded and about CURRENT events, I can’t help but think that the motivations of many Republicans are racist and classist. I can’t help but think that conservatism is more of a front and a buzz word for many of them, and that the idea of the Moral Majority still lives as a dog whistle for preserving white power. I don’t understand how black Republicans don’t feel this way. I know that Dems take black folks for granted, but I mean, if it’s a lesser of the two evils thing, the GOP will always fall short to me. It’s not about racial solidarity as Steele suggests, but self-preservation that makes me vote with the Democrats. I don’t trust them to have my working/lower middle class or female interests at heart, let alone any esteem for people of color, or any respect for the challenges we continue to face, like having to ferret out stuff like whether the people in our legislatures want to drug test welfare recipients because they still believe in the stereotype of the welfare queen. Or immigration issues. Or shady voter redistricting schemes. Or people held in New Orleans after Katrina by whites at gunpoint with no protection from the government.

  • Big Word

    Republicans think black people and Americans in general are stupid. What I don’t understand is why don’t more people in the media call them out on their b.s.? I can’t for the life of me understand how a political party can position itself against the interests of group of people, but still have the audacity to expect their support. I’d rather them just say they really don’t need or want our support. Which is far closer to the reality of the situation than anything Steelle proffers.

  • Ron

    Michael Steele’s bumbling notwithstanding, the party is filled with people who are literally hostile towards non-white people. (And in some cases, other white people depending on where they come from and how much money they have) You can’t build an open-tent on that, because there are too many caveats and too much exclusion.

    If you’re pro-choice, don’t expect to get far in the party. Think we need to do more to help poor people and perhaps, fund education so their kids are less likely to be poor? Wrong party.

    The GOP has really turned into the Freedom of Association wing of American politics, in that, if you assemble enough people from similar backgrounds together, it can almost seem as if there are no problems in America. So when you hear of them, they almost seem like anomalies that are endemic to small swathes of the country — the “bad” elements — while the people you know and associate with either 1) Get a break or are 2) perceived to represent the salt of the earth.

    These are the folks who, after a school shooting happens in a small town say things like “these kinds of things don’t happen here.”

    Sure they do.

    Blacks who’ve associated with the party and have been part of the upper echelons were ignoring for years what was obvious to me as a teenager with these folks, is they want black faces to co-sign their bullshit, but don’t actually want to participate in an honest dialogue about what structural problems have been in places since their grandparents were in power, that preclude a lot of the sorts of changes that many of us want to see for a large swath of the black population.

    So some will get in bed with the Democrats, because at least they’ll pander and spend money to elect black officials with some iota of competence, while the GOP just talks a good game and then doesn’t both investing in even the most winnable races with black faces in them.

    It’s all about the numbers and if your ground game is comprised of one black face a decade, just stop lying to us and instead, put on your sheets and state your position to the American people. It’d be a lot more expedient than whatever the hell it is they’re doing now.