Mention the phrase “black conservative” and most people might do a double take, especially during the Trump administration.
Black Republicans and conservatives have always been seen as different, whether the left views them as traitors to their race or conservatives see them as rock stars by virtue of how few black people travel in Republican circles.
This raises the question: should party affiliation be about your racial background or about the policies that work best for you and your community? While most may view the journey to becoming a black conservative as a complete transformation, some figures tell a different story; namely, that the journey was natural, almost like coming home.
“The Republican Party came to me,” Paris Dennard, a former White House Director of Black Outreach during the Bush administration, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Black Republicans from all walks of life like Dennard, Horace Cooper, the co-chair of Project 21 National Advisory Board, Demetrius Minor, a minister and author, and Crystal Wright, a public relations firm owner and founder of a conservative blog, share similar stories of their journey to the right: of not being recruited by the Republican Party, but joining with the party because the beliefs they were raised with aligned with the platform.
Though a mere 7 percent of black voters identify as Republican or leaning Republican as compared to the 87 percent of black people who consider themselves Democrat, according to a Pew Research poll analyzing party affiliation by race from 1992-2016, the black conservatives TheDCNF spoke to said they gravitated towards the party due to beliefs on limited government, entrepreneurship and a belief in a strong family unit.
While coming to the Republican Party was natural for these conservative figures, it hasn’t been without its struggles. All cited experiencing a sort of backlash for having conservative beliefs or identifying with the Republican Party from not only the general population, but also the black community.
Cooper recalled numerous times when he was either accused of racism for upholding conservative beliefs or accused of perpetrating slavery.
“I went on a speaking tour at Ivy League campuses and several people, including one professor, came up and said ‘People like you are the reason slavery took so long to end. You have aided and abetted the causes that prevent freedom for blacks,'” Cooper recalled to TheDCNF.
While writing for the Daily Texan during his time at the University of Texas, people began sending angry letters to the editor over Cooper’s columns, accusing him of racism. It wasn’t until the editor ran a picture of Cooper with his column that the complaints stopped.
At one point, when Cooper began participating in debates after joining the Young Conservatives of Texas and Young Americans for Freedom, the college’s Black Student Alliance asked him to resign from both groups because his views made it difficult for them to argue that black people think the same way, Cooper told TheDCNF.
Dennard said this “ignorance” that a person cannot be black and conservative at the same time mainly comes from people who don’t know him personally. As for the idea that one’s blackness is intertwined with the politics they hold, Dennard blasted the idea that because he is Republican, he doesn’t understand what it means to be a black man in America.
“For those who do question my blackness, this is the reality of it: at the end of the day I am still a black man in America. I am acutely aware of that. There are pockets of this country where I have or may be discriminated against. It is what it is,” Dennard told TheDCNF. “I know the impact of certain policies on our community. I have experienced racism, I get it.”
But if black conservatives face backlash from their own community, then how do white conservatives treat them?
Wright said in her experience, white conservatives have treated her as a “novelty” that could at times be trotted out at fundraisers. While the Democratic Party is well-known for its cornerstone on identity politics and blatant attempts at using race, Wright takes issue with what she sees as being “tone deaf” on race in the Republican Party and the lack of representation of women and people of color inside the party and conservative organizations.
“The party just doesn’t cast the net wide enough. You can find plenty of black conservatives who are highly qualified and would love to work within these organizations and on the Hill and they’re not even considered,” Wright said to TheDCNF. “And I’m not talking about hiring a black person to work on black issues. That is just so insulting.”
Minor also cited examples of white conservatives having certain beliefs or expectations about the black community that may not match up with reality.
“A lot of the times in talking with white conservatives – and I want to be careful here and not paint everybody with the same brush – but they may have a perception of the black community that is due to their lack of knowledge,” Minor said, adding that it doesn’t mean that these white conservatives are racist or evil, but may not have experienced different cultural backgrounds.
With the Republican Party already facing a diversity issue, it seems the Trump presidency has especially thrown the party into a lurch. How do black conservatives, especially, react when the alt-right and white nationalists make up a part of the president’s base?
Minor cautioned people from throwing around the term “racist” to describe the Trump presidency, pointing out the term has been bandied about so frequently that it has lost its meaning. While he finds some of Trump’s language toxic and is concerned about the people he has surrounded himself with, like Stephen Bannon, the president’s former White House chief strategist, he urges black conservatives to focus on the issues that directly affect Americans to help them better their lives in order to best combat the alt-right.
“So black conservatives need to stay focused on the issues. We need to stay focused on quality because American households are out there wondering if their taxes are going to go up or wondering if their child is going to have access to a good quality education. They’re not concerned about Richard Spencer. They’re concerned about which policy or which initiative works best for their family,” Minor told TheDCNF.
Dennard rejects the idea that Trump is a “racist,” arguing that the media’s takes on Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville riots were unfair and not honest.
It’s a remarkably divisive political climate, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats seems to be ever broadening. The figures TheDCNF spoke with had varying ideas on what race and politics would be like in the future. Dennard said the best thing is for the right to unite and face the left together to get Trump’s agenda passed so they can accomplish things for everyone, including the back community.
“Have things gotten tougher under a Trump presidency? Probably. I think quite frankly it’s because of a lack of courage. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. We are always going to be attacked for being a black Republican,” Dennard told TheDCNF.
Wright expressed concerns for the future, pointing to the vitriol in political discourse and Americans not getting along like they did before, while Minor called on the church and the local community to help fix America’s racial divide in order to propel the country forward to a better future.
“If they can be instrumental in helping people in their own community, in their own backyard and understanding why people live the way they live, and make the choices that they make. And if they can just learn to talk to their neighbors, in 50 years, I think we can see some progress,” Minor told TheDCNF.
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