Nohe: Republicans Cannot Continue to Overlook the African American Community

Following her loss last November, Rep. Mia Love, the sole African American Republican Congresswoman, said, “[T]he problem I see with Republicans and why we lose is because we truly never take anyone home. We never take [minorities] into our hearts.”

An overwhelming 84 percent of African Americans lean towards or identify with the Democratic Party, while a miniscule 8% lean towards or identify with the Republican Party.  Instead of taking steps to draw members of the African American community into the party, Republicans have chosen to blow their own out of tune horn while complaining that no one appreciates their musical prowess.

In his State of the Union address to Congress last year, President Trump said, “African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.” He repeated that argument in a Tweet, posting, “So if African-American unemployment is now at the lowest number in history… how do Democrats, who have done NOTHING for African-Americans but TALK, win the Black Vote?” This oft reiterated comment has now become the defacto answer to any and all questions of race posed to the Republican Party: “Look at what we did for you.  You should really stop complaining and thank us.”

To paraphrase Rep. Love, this is not taking anyone home, and it certainly is not taking anyone into our hearts.  

Unpacking these unemployment numbers makes it clear that while the Republican Party may be promising 40 acres, it’s delivering sharecropping.  African American unemployment may be at its lowest levels in history, however it is still double that of white unemployment, and, in some states, it is over three times the rate of white unemployment.  Touting the former while ignoring the later sends the message that Republicans are comfortable with that gross inequity and solidifies the message that, as a Party, we do not take the struggles of the African American community seriously.

Furthermore, by delivering a “Look what we did for you” message, the Republican Party is reinforcing a comfortable power structure which buttresses white ascendancy by placing that group in a guardianship role over others.  If the Republican Party hopes to gain the trust, and thereby the votes, of the African American community, it is going to have to deal with more than a little discomfort, and it is going to have to acknowledge that the African American community has legitimate concerns the GOP has failed to recognize, address, or legitimize.

The Party of Lincoln will need to listen to the likes of Ms. Janet Jackson when it comes to its relationship with the African American community:

“Used to be a time when you would pamper me
Usta brag about it all the time

Your friends seem to think that you’re so peachy keen
But my friends say neglect is on your mind – Who’s right?
What have you done for me lately?”

The Republican Party can not dance around the issue of race by citing Lincoln while courting those who venerate the Stars and Bars.  We can not revel in the fact that Jackie Robinson and Frederick Douglas were Republicans and then repeat the idea that there were fine people on both sides in Charlottesville.  And we can not claim that All Lives Matter if we are going to denigrate those who are asking the country to recognize that Black Lives Matter.

If the Republican Party wants to improve its relationship with the African American community, we need to stop telling that community what it should care about and instead listen to what they want us to hear.  If the Party were to take that step, either through focus groups, community conversations, or exit polling, we would learn that there are issues that Republicans quite simple have been overlooking and thereby alienating this group of voters.  We would probably hear that we need to come to the table on criminal justice reform and taking real steps to stem the school to prison pipeline.

The GOP should listen to African American concerns about healthcare and why, according to the CDC, they have the lowest life expectancy in the nation along with a maternal mortality rate and an infant mortality rate double that of whites.  We need to have a conversation about why the decades-long “War on Drugs” poured millions of dollars into law enforcement gutting minority communities while the Opioid Crisis, which has primarily affects white addicts, has seen money flow towards treatment and prevention. We must welcome voices that do not simply echo the Party line, but challenge the Party to stretch and grow. In short, we must meet this community where it is and stop telling it where it should be.

The African American community is not a monolith, and not being a member of that community, I am in no place to speak on its behalf nor would I presume to do so.  However, I am a Republican and as such I can see that we are failing to engage with the African American community in a constructive and purposeful way. I see the Party dismiss concerns regarding police brutality and forgive not so subtle racist dog whistles.  

I see the Party rail against a governor who used black face while defending a president who referred to African countries as sh**holes. Here’s the hard truth: if David Duke is praising our Party, the time for soul searching has passed, and it is time to dive into the baptismal font with some lye soap and steel wool, because it’s going to take a lot more than self reflection to wash the stain of America’s first sin from our character.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), the sole African American Republican in the US Senate recently said, “Some in our party wonder why Republicans are constantly accused of racism — it is because of our silence when things like this are said.”

The Republican Party cannot hope to remain relevant in Virginia if it does not tackle the issue of race.  It is going to take time, and it is going to be uncomfortable. However, if the Republican Party does not start to make a true and concerted effort to build a relationship of respect and understanding with the African American community, it should be prepared to see that 84 percent of African American voters who see no place for them in our Party to grow.  

To be clear, this message is not one that I expect to be popular, but like the little boy on the street corner watching his monarch strut by as the wind whistles Dixie around his nether regions, I know that someone needs to say something.  Out of 55 African American members of the House of Representatives, only one is a Republican. There is only one African American Senator as well. There are no Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly who are African American. Not one. As in zero. None. That’s a problem.

The Republican Party lost 15 seats in the 2017 Virginia House of Delegates election. Five of them were lost in Prince William County, a majority minority county.  In the same year, 87 percent of all African American votes cast went to the Democratic candidate for governor, and a whopping 91% of all African American women voted Blue. The African American community makes up over 21 percent of Virginia’s population; that is not a group that the Republican Party can simply ignore.

President Trump dismissed Rep. Love by saying, “Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad.”  

I am sure that African Americans will hear the underlying meaning in those words, “It is either ‘je t’adore’ or the exit door.”

Kristina Nohe is a political activist, adoption advocate, and homeschooling mom who is proud to be from Prince William County but does not suffer fools lightly or quietly.

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