April 22, 2010
NRAAC's National Chair
Dr. Jean Howard-Hill
National Republican African American Caucus [NRAAC] Blog
The National Republican African American Caucus Has It’s
Say!: 18 Day Political Revival
Day 5: Why being an African American Republican is not easy; and why we are suspect to the larger Black community, and are often viewed as traitors and “Uncle Tomish”.
Being an African American is not easy for several reasons.
It is not easy because we are a minority, within a racial minority that has chosen to align with a party, which the majority of the our racial minority does not trust. So when we step outside of the Democratic political mold, we are viewed as traitors, and our involvement in the Republican Party becomes suspect.
I recall my run for State Representative back in 1980. It is a classic example of stepping outside of the mold and becoming suspicious to those of our own race.
My campaign was well received by the Republican Party, and became the center of media attention. I even received a letter of endorsement from President Ronald Reagan, and national and state political figures such as former Governor of Texas John Connaly, former Governor, now Senator Lamar Alexander, his wife Honey Alexander, and former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice George Brown, all made the campaign stump in support of my candidacy.
Unfortunately, because of the racial climate at that time, Blacks were untrusting of the Republican Party. President Ronald Reagan had refused an invitation to the NAACP's National Convention, which was seen by many blacks as a snub. Also his "trickle down" economic plan had not yet "trickled down" to those who needed economic relief the most, i.e. the black community. Regardless of whether this was true or not, this struck panic in the minds of those who were already questioning if President Reagan truly could understand the plight of the black community as the nation’s leader. To even think of aligning with a party which the black community suspected might not understand their continuing struggle for equality was taboo.
Added to this, two Black women had been shot on Martin Luther King Boulevard in my home town of Chattanooga, by the Ku Klux Klan, who had come into the black community with its own brand of racial hatred and terrorism. This was the straw that broke the political camel's back for any embrace of a Republican candidate – even one who was African American.
Also, having made the shift from the Democratic Party, this made any efforts to embrace me, even as a black Republican candidate highly suspect to those who did not fully understand and have an appreciation for why I made the shift in political parties. I saw it as a sign of true freedom, where a descendant of slaves could align again with the party of Lincoln and embrace some of the Republican values. But they saw it as being a traitor.
Also I sought to become involved to bring about full participation in both political parties, so that blacks could be equally represented politically within both parties. But none of this mattered. In the eyes of the suspecting black community, I was a Republican traitor. So instead of supporting me, they elected the white Democratic candidate to represent a predominantly black district.
All of the good I had done and all of my previous involvement within the community were canceled out with my alignment with the Republican Party. It took years to regain my footage and credibility among those of my own race.
This was the beginning of the recognition that when you are an African American Republican, there is a second layer of prejudice that comes into play. It’s sort of like black-on-black crime. You see it and you wonder how can your own race discriminate against you, not because of the color of your skin, but because of your political label.
As African American Republicans who have run for office, most of us have faced this same dilemma and no doubt until we better educate the black community, will continue to have this experience.
Another reason why we are suspect or seen as traitors is that we often do not speak out on issues that impact the minority community, and when we do, our take is sometimes different from that of the minority community.
One of the vicarious aspects of being an African American Republican is that you don’t always speak out on black issues because this is taboo by many whites within the party. It makes them feel uncomfortable to hear us address black issues; unless of course it is anti-affirmative action, anti-government entitlement, anti-integration, and reversed racism. When we speak out in support of these issues, we are applauded. However, when we talk about social justice; disparity within the criminal justice systems; federal mandatory sentencing guidelines that seemingly imprison more minorities; higher unemployment rates for blacks; high infant mortality rates for black babies, etc, these issues are not acceptable or very popular. None of them would make the GOP Issues List. To even mention them, you are certain to get a cold reception. So in order to stay in the good graces of many within party leadership, most African American Republicans just keep quiet when it comes to issues impacting us as a race.
Also, when we do speak out,
what we have to say is often viewed by blacks as “tomish”. Unfortunately, sometimes it really is “Uncle Tomish”.
There are those times when someone is chosen by the media to represent African American Republicans, that we watch with great amazement! Wondering who is this person and who gave them the right to speak on our behalf, we cringe at what is being said in such a “tomish” manner. It also seems to be the norm to find the African American Republican spokesperson who is nerdish and very uppidity to speak on our behalf. This gives the impression that we all are snubs who could care less about the working people and those at the bottom of the economic ladder. When this is done, it paints the picture of being an “Uncle Tom” on the face of all African American Republicans.
So what do we do to change this and make it right?
We educate. The more blacks
know about the history of the Republican Party and their legacy and birthright, the more they can understand why we have chosen to become or remain African American Republicans and can do so with our heads held high!
We introduce new players to the Republican political landscape whose views are all not the same. This means allowing for a more moderate view, rather than an ultra conservative view or none at all.
We put new faces before the media. By exposing the media to different faces within the African American Republican community, we help to break the stereotype of what an African American Republican should say or do.
We deal with what impacts us as a minority. No matter how Republican we get, we are faced with the reality that there still are some issues that are unique to us as a race, and that at some point, we have to deal with them as African American Republicans.
We need to teach our own party to see through the eyes of others. We also have the responsibility to bring to the table issues of the black community and to make our own party aware of the fact that America is a land which houses and incorporates the concerns of all of its people. Therefore, there are those times when the party also has to see through eyes other than that of white Republicans.
We become a positive presence within the black community. African American Republican involvement within the black community is a must!
When we can show that we still
identify with our roots and are willing to go shoulder-to-shoulder to carry the burdens of the community and to bring about positive and lasting change, then we gain respect. We do not have to compromise our political ideology to do this. Nor should we stop believing and advocating for economic empowerment; self responsibility; self accountability; and the need to stop relying upon government for what we can accomplish ourselves. This is what we believe as African American Republicans and this is what has drawn us to the Republican Party. But until we gain the respect and credibility within our own communities to preach and teach this ideology, we cannot impact our communities to bring about that change.
When we do all of this to improve the African American Republican image, we give it our best shot. Then when we are viewed unfairly by those of our own race, we can honestly say, it is through no fault of our own.
To reach the NRAAC national chair:
423-702-5622 NRAAC office
[Dr. Jean Howard-Hill is the author of Black Eyes Shut, White Lips Sealed. She has serves as the national chair for the National Black Republican Women with her late husband, Attorney Bobby Lee Hill serving as the head of the Black Republican Men for Change from 1987 to his death in 1991. After his death up until 1993, she remained head of the organization, and in 1999 combined the two groups to form the National Republican African American Caucus.
She has taught full time and as an adjunct, American Government, State and Local Government, and International Politics and Culture of Nonwestern Countries at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, and was voted 2006 Outstanding Professor of the year. Additionally, from 1976 to 1979, she designed and directed the "Democracy In Action" Program, which was a civics program taught in the local school systems. Howard-Hill also is a local political commentator and holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville College of Law. She also is ordained clergy and heads The Healing Place Ministries International, overseeing 47 ministries throughout Africa.
She also is a TN third district congressional candidate. If elected, she would be the first African American Republican and female to be elected from the third district. Her campaign website can be found at: http://ladyjforcongress.com and http://jeanhowardhillforcongress.com; http://jeanhowardhillcampaignnews.blogspot.com; http://blogwithladyjforcongress.blogspot.com; http://jeanhowardhillforcongress.ning.com; http://www.youtube.com/JHHCongress; http://twitter.com/ JHHCongress.]
More information on the NRAACcan be found at:
http://theblackolivebranch.blogspot.com [NRAAC National Chair's Blog]. Each State Caucus can be accessed by state. See related links at http://www.nraacaucus.org/index_files/Page816.htm. Also can be found on the RNC group page at http://our.gop.com/Groups/National_Republican_African-American_Caucus_NRAAC.