Meet the Black Republican. In many ways, American politics is calcified. For instance, the country has maintained a de-facto two-party system for such a large swathe of its history that it might as well be written in the constitution. Likewise, the country continues to maintain a system of presidential election by electoral college even though almost everyone agrees the system makes little sense.
Much the same way, Black people are regarded as being Democrats by default. While they have not always enjoyed the best of election turnouts, it seems almost a given that a Black vote in any election will be tallied on the Democratic side.
And considering the especially sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans in recent years, particularly in relation to race issues, it’s perfectly natural for one to expect all Black people to also identify as Democrats. This, perhaps more than anything, explains why the notion of a Black Republican seems so strange.
Yet, while they definitely are a rarity in the greater community of politically active Black people, there are Black people who not only identify as Republican, but have perfectly valid reasons for so doing.
Meet the Black Republican
This may come as a shock to many, but the average Black Republican is in many ways almost perfectly similar to any person raised in the average Black family. They hold strong religious and cultural ideals, are essentially conservative in outlook, and firmly believe in the dignity of an honest day’s work.
About 1 out of every 3 Black person self-identifies as “conservative”, and a far larger percentage come from homes, and continue to hold ideals, that will be characterized as conservative, even if they don’t express this outright.
Statistics from the Pew Research Center indicate that roughly 8% of Black voters identify as Republican, and a similar number voted for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential elections. More interesting than the fact that these individuals identify with a party that the overwhelming majority of Black people quite simply “despise”, are the reasons for why they identify as Republicans.
For some, like Brad Mole, a Preacher’s son and resident of South Carolina, the similarities between their religious tenets and Republican ideologies are hard to ignore. “My faith pushed me more toward policies that better reflected my upbringing”, says Mole, “I began understanding that the teachings I was raised with were more reflected in a party that not many around me identified with.”
For others, like the late Herman Cain, it is the unapologetic support for business and entrepreneurship, “an honest day’s work”, that proves attractive. While most of these individuals do not support racism or any of the obviously unfair ways in which Black people continue to be negatively affected in the US, the ideals of the Republican party simply resonate with them.
Many of these individuals started out being Democrat because that’s what everyone else was doing. In many ways, voting Democrat has become a cultural thing for Black people in the US. But as Mole says, “At some point you think for yourself and say: ‘You know what? I’m not voting this person or this ticket just because my grandma or parents did.”
Many people find out that at their most fundamental, they hold views, values and principles that simply do not fit the Democratic party, despite the recent historical preference of the Black community for that party. As a result, while many like to think of Black Republicans as “sellouts”, in many cases, nothing could be further from the truth. They are just individuals who decided that their political leanings were better served in a different party.
Beyond party loyalties
In truth, Black people were not always Democrat. In fact, Black people have historically identified with the Republican party because, and this might sound surprising, they were actually more associated with civil rights and freedoms. For instance, Abraham Lincoln, the man who effectively abolished slavery, was a Republican.
However, between the early to mid 20tth century, the Republican party stopped being on the side of social and political issues that favored Black people, and this led to a mass “defection” to the Democrats. Before the final exodus though, Black people were more attuned to what candidates supported the issues that mattered to them, and less to the party ticket.
The notion that Black people will vote democratic during the oncoming presidential elections simply because that is how they have been socialized may have been true at some point in the past, and most likely continues to be true to an extent. But that is only one part of the story.
The primary issue for many people who are preparing to vote democratic in November is not necessarily one of party sentiment. It’s more personal than that. It is about seeing that Trump, with all his toxic baggage, does not spend a day longer than the four years he miraculously filched from Hilary Clinton in the White House.
Importantly, the sentiment gives way to a larger truth, which is that Black people have historically followed the issues, not necessarily the party. They were once overwhelmingly Republican because that party had a history of pursuing social justice, especially as it concerns Blacks. That was Abraham Lincoln’s party after all. But they have always flowed from party to party and in between, depending on who supports what issues and how the general political sentiment in the party affects the issues dearest to Black people.
And in this, we see yet again another reason why Black people are such a unique electorate within the US political system. The past 4 years of the Trump administration, and indeed the 8 years of the Obama administration, showed us that many people in the Republican party are more interested in party affiliations than staying true to their personal and political beliefs.
We have seen people from the Republican party praise, defend and try to find the most astounding excuses for obvious excesses from Donald Trump, simply because he is the party’s man in power. Just imagine, for a single second, that Donald Trump was a Democrat and all these things happened on his watch.
Exactly! Perhaps the existence of the Black Republican is more than just an example of how the most severe, and seemingly obvious issues, can find support on both sides. Perhaps, it is a lesson to us that in matters of politics, it matters little whether the candidate is red or blue. What should matter most is the issues and whether there really, truly is a convergence between our principles, our objectively-held beliefs and the candidates in question.