Repairing the GOP’s relationship with the black community

Sophia Nelson Contributor
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A recent Washington Post headline says it all, “Democrats Hope Black Voters Will Save Them.”

As a black woman, this headline offends me.  As a longtime political commentator and opinion writer, this headline gives me great fodder for play.  As an American this headline alarms me.

Let me say this: just as we can count on night turning to day, or summer turning to fall, so too can black Americans count on the Democratic Party running election year scare tactics, race-baiting, and political shenanigans to scare black voters into turning out in large numbers to vote for Democrats. Black voters’ loyalty is demanded and expected regardless of whether their elected officials have worked in their best interests. The problem with this expected “reliability factor” is that it only runs one way.  And that is not fair.

Any objective observer can agree that Democrats do not have solutions to the problems that plague black communities (crime, out-of-wedlock birth rates, unemployment, high incarceration rates, poorly run schools, etc.).  Yet, my biggest frustration as a lifelong Republican (now independent) is that the GOP, for all intents and purposes, has been disengaged from the black community since the 1970s. This frustrates me because when I look at a Rep. Paul Ryan (who is a longtime friend) or a Rep. Eric Cantor (who is a GOP House member in my home state of Virginia), I see two men who should be stumping regularly in black communities around America bringing their “young guns” message to the people who need it most.

The challenge with this, of course, is that the GOP’s image in the black community writ large has been so badly damaged (and in many cases understandably so) that I am not sure it can ever be fixed.  Yet, I know it must be fixed because I understand that it is dangerous to our democratic republic for one political party to have such a strong hold on a group that makes up almost 15% of the U.S. population. This trend should alarm the new Republican leadership as well.

So what can black Americans and the Republican Party do to change their badly damaged relationship?  Blacks and the Republican Party must do what any dysfunctional couple does when their relationship is in trouble: they must admit there is a problem, dissect the problem and begin a dialogue that allows both sides to “listen” — and “speak” about what broke down and how they can begin the process of healing and restoration.

Many of my fellow African Americans will not agree with this column.  And that is their right.  They will say, “Sophia, I hear you but the Republican Party is full of bigots, and the Tea Party people are even worse.  Why would I as a black person ever go near that party?” I would respectfully disagree and say what I have been saying and writing for over 20 years now and that is this: Democracy requires the activism and interests of all of its citizens to thrive. America has a two-party system.  Black people must never allow themselves to be disenfranchised by any political party (the GOP) or marginalized by any political party (the Democrats).

Thus the responsibility lies with us as black people to hold the Republican Party accountable for campaigning in our communities, seeking our votes, educating our communities about how GOP policies will help bring jobs, homeownership, lower taxes, quality education, national security, and the like. We cannot allow the Republican to ignore us and the Dems to use us.

One last point: The GOP is not full of racists or bigots and we all know this.  Nor is the Democratic Party void of them.  If we can start there and realize that the time has come for us to STOP tolerating the Democrats’ blatant disrespect for our intelligence and needs, then I think we as a people can once again make ourselves politically relevant.

Sophia A. Nelson is a noted national media commentator and opinion writer for many outlets including The Washington Post, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, NPR, Essence & BET.