Funny when I first started writing this article it was going to be a rant about the failure of outreach done by Republicans. I wanted to blame leaders, followers, individuals, businesses, clubs, me, you…I wanted to blame everyone. Then I thought about the question I hear the most from Republicans who really care about what is going on in the Black and Hispanic communities-“what are we doing wrong”. Well here goes, I decided to pull back the veil and tell you what most Black Conservatives only discuss amongst themselves…Welcome inside the mind of a Black Conservative.
1) We are different!
One of the things that I appreciate about the Republican Party is the mantra of focusing on the person and not their race/ethnicity. While this is honorable and in fact the way the world should be, real life circumstances and history has obliterated that dream so we must come to a simple fact, we are different-but that’s OK! Although we are all Americans, we have different experiences, cultures, and means of communication but that is what makes this country so great. We know that you laugh at Hip Hop guys who wear their pants three sizes too big, but it’s ok because we laugh at Country and Western singers who wear pants three sizes too small. Understand when I look at you I see White and I know that you see Black; I don’t want to be judged by that fact, but it’s ok to recognize it. If you want to have a true open discussion about race lets first be honest with each other. When you say you do not see color then it minimizes the struggles that Blacks have faced and how much they have overcome. See my color-just don’t judge me by my color.
2) The Good ole days weren’t good
The Republican Party loves to talk about the “good ole days” the past glory of this great country and how things use to be. Well the good ole days weren’t good for everyone and when talking to Blacks and Hispanics you only conjure up images that we try hard to bury. I know the good ole days that you mention was a time of family and faith that seems to be lost in today’s culture but when I was a Democrat I didn’t get it, honestly I thought you wanted to see me back in chains. If you want to encourage Blacks and Hispanics to join our party then focus has to be on the future and not the past. Our Party offers the best chance for kids in the inner-city to make it out of drug infested neighborhoods. We all know that the Democrats need them to stay where they are so that they can maintain them as voters, we have to show them programs that we offer that will help them escape the plantation that Democrats have placed them on for their political self-interests.
3) Understand our pain
Yes I know slavery ended over 100 years ago, but overt racism was only a generation back. Let me tell you in the last six months I have been called the “N” word twice and had a friend called an “N” lover. I am a professional, a lawyer, raised by a police officer and worked as a school police officer but that has not stopped me from getting a DWB (Driving While Black) traffic stop a year ago when I was pulled over in a small Texas town. I can write a book on the incidents that I have experienced in my lifetime that reminded me that some people see me as less than a full citizen and that is a horrible feeling.
I’m not telling you this because I want your sympathy and no I don’t want any special program to even the playing field, but I also don’t want to hear arguments that racism is dead or that Blacks are “too sensitive” because I will look at you suspect.
The party is so worried that acknowledging reality will be perceived as pandering that they come across as cold and uncaring. I understand that you want to show the world that you want a colorblind society where Blacks and Hispanics can thrive, but it’s too late for that, we have allowed the Democrats to escape their racist past by pinning it on the Republicans so now we need to fix that perception at all costs.
4) When a word is not just a word
Understand the impact of some of the words that you use. Before I became a Republican and understood why words like conservative and states’ rights were important to Republicans the image that I had of the words was the way they were used by Democrats. Democrats formed the Klu Klux Klan and justified their terror campaigns and racism under the guise of conservative and states’ rights.
It’s important that you know and understand the history of racism in the Black and Hispanic community so that the words you choose to communicate our message is received in the way that they are meant to be received.
5) Know the neighborhood/Know your audience
Outreach is not about showing up on Election Day and asking for the Black or Hispanic vote. If you send people into the 3rd Ward to do outreach they better understand the daily struggles in that neighborhood or you will have no credibility. It helps if you can send in people who look like the people in the neighborhood, but everyone can help by establishing outreach programs year-round that requires constant interaction with the residents in those neighborhoods. The Black and Hispanic communities are distrustful of outsiders (with good reason based on history) so if you want them to listen to your message you need to become an insider, someone they can trust.
6) It will take time
Let me tell you, like most Blacks I was brainwashed at an early age about my obligation to the Democratic Party and I am now approximately 12 years sober. My conversion was slow but two people ultimately persuaded me that the Republican Party was the party that held out the most hope for me. The first person was a friend named Jim Terry who constantly quizzed me about my beliefs and then demonstrated to me how my beliefs were the foundation of the Republican Party. Trust me I was no easy convert, I was broke and felt that I was one incident away from needing the social net that the Democrats told me the Republicans were trying to take away from me. Jim never gave up, and eventually convinced me that I should judge the Republicans for myself and invited me to attend a Christmas Party hosted by Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). Congressman Royce was that second person in my conversion. At that party I met him and he made me feel welcome…wow what a simple concept!
The reason I am telling you about my conversion is to demonstrate that it wasn’t easy and it took time, but it happened. It is frustrating to hear political operatives say that the party tried and the Black vote numbers didn’t move. This is a long term battle that must be waged now and continue for generations. The Democrats did not win over the Black vote in one election cycle and we can’t expect to win them back in one election cycle. Just think as recent as the 70’s Blacks were voting for Republicans at an almost 20% rate whereas the last election without Obama you saw the rate drop to approximately 11% (I believe Obama is an aberration and not indicative of the Black vote going forward). What a difference that 9% would make in our County and State elections.
This is a defining moment for our party, if we continue to let the Democrats define us to Blacks and Hispanics then we are doomed. There is nothing more important to the future of our party than this issue and every effort must be made to turn things around. Ask yourself if you have done enough to make Blacks or Hispanics feel welcome in our party; ask yourself if your local Republican club or leadership position is only about exclusivity and feeling superior based on the membership or who comes to speak. It’s not too late to turn the numbers around, get involved, spread our ideas in EVERY area of the County and State, our motto must be NO NEIGHBORHOOD LEFT BEHIND!
(Kevin Fulton is an attorney in Houston, Texas. For more information, visit his Facebook page, The Kevin Fulton Law Office PLLC)