Last weekend, I attended a Ladies Luncheon hosted by Glorya Jordan, wife of 31st District Delegate candidate DJ Jordan. After two decades in politics, I’ve been to more than a few political luncheons, but even after all those luncheons, I have never attended an event for a Republican candidate like this one. The room was filled with dozens of African-American and Hispanic women, and that changed everything.
This was a luncheon for a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates, and the waitress and I were the only white people in the room. This situation, that of being the only person of your race in the room, is one many women of color experience regularly but is foreign to most whites, particularly most whites in the Republican Party.
We heard speeches from DJ’s mother, his wife, and his colleague, along with lively discussions, debates, and laughter at every table. Women who walked in as strangers slipped easily into conversations that ranged in topics from careers to motherhood to politics. The unique quality of the afternoon wasn’t based on what was said, but how it was said.
There is a cultural vernacular which is lacking when an outsider enters a community and then speaks at the people instead of with them. The guest can use all the right words but the cadence is off. I witnessed this phenomenon as I sat as a visitor and listened to the tone of each pitch-perfect conversation.
Despite not appearing like a typical Republican event, there was nothing said that was un-Republican. In fact, most of the political discussions focused on traditional family values, economic freedom, and educational opportunities, foundational issues for the Republican Party but, again, this luncheon did not sound like any Republican event I had ever attended.
The highlight of the afternoon was listening to Catheleen Jordan talk with motherly pride about her son and their life as he was growing up. She spoke about the barriers they faced because she and DJ’s father got married when she found out she was pregnant, and how she was told if she were a single mother she would have been eligible for more assistance.
She relayed how people insisted her marriage wouldn’t last, and she talked about how she and her husband worked to ensure that their children had every opportunity to succeed. Women nodded their heads as Mrs. Jordan insisted that she refused to fall blithely into the narrative others tried to write for her. She spoke of her family’s faith, their dedication to their community, her hopes for the future, and, most importantly, the pride she had in her son for being willing to stand up for his beliefs when, as they had before, others tried to force their narrative on him.
If anyone walked into that lunch unsure of DJ Jordan, they left knowing he is a man who will be steadfast in his commitment to his faith, his family, or his community, if for no other reason than he was raised by an incredible woman, Cathleen Jordan.
All too often, local Republican committees try to counter the accusation that they are racially insensitive by listing the people of color in their committee, but that is exactly the problem: if the party faithful can list all the people of color in their committee off the top of their head then that committee doesn’t have enough people of color. When folks only hear one voice, they begin to think that there is only one voice.
This is what leads people remaining silent about, or worse yet defending, Republican elected officials’ use of words such as lynching to describe a non-life-threatening political fight. If the Republican Party wishes to grow, it will need to embrace candidates of color and then allow them to speak as candidates of color so that events like the one I attended this weekend are no longer unusual or even noteworthy.
Step one in this process would be to listen. Listen to the issues that are brought up, instead of telling what issues should be talked about. Listen to the way the issues are discussed instead of forcing people to code-switch in order to be heard. Listen to what candidates of color say that they need instead of trying to control the tone and direction of their campaign. Finally, don’t let a different perspective be diluted by the misguided insistence that all color-blind beliefs matter and should be discussed using the same provincialism used by white candidates.
DJ Jordan is an example of the kind of candidate that the Republican Party should be trying to elevate and promote. Not because he is an African-American, but because he is a man with a rock-solid conservative belief system who is not timid about bringing that message to voters who have traditionally been dismissed by the Republican Party. He does so with grace, dignity, and compassion. He has spent his life fighting for constituencies who have been left behind by the political establishment, particularly victimized children.
Unlike many candidates, DJ is the guy who will go to audiences who are sure to ask, “You’re a Republican? And you came here?” and then make the case for his candidacy. The Republican Party could use a lot of his caliber.