As residual excitement from the second inauguration of President Barack Obama continues to flow through Black America, or rather the 95 percent who voted for him in the 2012 election, there are a growing number of Black conservatives quietly strategizing on the most effective methods to broaden a political conversation that hasn’t included the Republican Party since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.
In 2013, sharp remnants of a malignant plantation culture – one defined by a rigid racial caste system — still remain, but it is more subversive. Violence is embedded in public policy that places more value on gun ownership than universal healthcare. The great educational divide is perpetuated by tattered textbooks and dilapidated schools. And we need look no further than the Prison Industrial Complex to see modern-day plantations — and our judicial system to see the auction blocks.
Though Democrats continue to vilify Republicans for their allegiance to a system forged in White supremacy that leaves many Black and Brown citizens living The American Nightmare, there is a new breed of conservative that is both empathetic to entrenched cultural biases and wary of political motivation. For these Republicans, the liberal contention that government is needed to balance the scales of injustice and inequality is a myth. They passionately believe that self-reliance and community empowerment have always, and will continue to be the keys to success in this country.
And these Republicans are Black.
On issues such as religion, sexuality, gender and race, the African-American community at-large has proven to be conservative. Adhering primarily to the Christian faith as it pertains to homosexuality, marriage and abortion, many African-Americans are lock-step with a party who would deny LGBT couples the right to marry and women control over their reproductive choices. Still, if conventional wisdom is to be believed, people vote through their pockets. And the glaring absence of fiscal equity in Republican politics leads some Black, Christian Americans on a divergent — if somewhat uncertain — liberal path.
Black voters who identify as Republican are often referred to as sell-outs, tokens, Sambos and the mis-appropriated Uncle Tom for their belief in small government that favors the wealthy; yet with Black unemployment and incarceration rates sky-high, health and educational disparities, and the ever-looming police brutality continuing to go unaddressed, the narrative has shifted and become more nuanced, with these Black Republicans asking, “What have Democrats done for you lately?”
The shift in political winds may be subtle, but it is undeniable. General Colin Powell (above left) is speaking out against racism within the GOP; former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (above right) and former Republican National Committee Chair Micheal Steele have landed highly visible pundit roles on CBS AND MSNBC respectively; and the election of Senator Tim Scott, the first African-American congressman from the state of of South Carolina — a state that still flew the Confederate flag and allowed employees the option of observing MLK Day or a Confederate-related holiday until 2000, has proven to be a catalyst for the emergence of young, African-American Republicans around the nation.
So just where does that leave the nation’s socio-political equilibrium during the second-term of our first African-American president?
To discuss this political trend and its cultural implications, NewsOne sat down with Stephen N. Lackey, 34 (pictured above), who has emerged as a leader amongst Black conservatives, to better understand the, until very recently, taboo phenomenon of the Black Republican.
In the wake of his highly successful luncheon during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa — attended by such notables as Rep. Allen West and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who have both done their parts to perpetuate the racist and homophobic stigmas that turn many away from Republican ideology, Lackey’s rising political profile and fundraising acumen have both placed him in a position to better ascertain the direction that Republicans need to explore in order to broaden their appeal with voters and within the African-American community. Recognized by BET as a Republican to Watch during the 2012 election cycle, Lackey explains why, from his perspective, the Republican Party best reflects the values of the African-American community and the dangers of being intertwined with government to the point of dependency.
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NewsOne: The virulent racism within the Republican Party has alienated not just voters of color, but any voters who reject that level of repackaged Jim Crow rhetoric. It would seem to me that clear lines have to be drawn in the sand separating those fringes from the party as a whole. How can that be accomplished?
LACKEY: There is racism across all parties and in all areas of the nation. Unfortunately, the Republican Party has been well-branded as the home of racists, and has carried that sad distinction into each election. Our party simply has to do a better job of highlighting the strong impact of our message in all communities. It’s hard to say we are inclusive when we simply do not appear inclusive, so I’ve been calling on the party to ensure our diversity and the impact of that diversity is clearly shown moving forward. I’m confident it will be the case. Members of our party live and work in every community and are responsible for an enormous amount of direct service within Black, Latino and other communities. We will have to do a better job of not just saying it, but proving it.
NewsOne: NewsOne’s Associate Editor, Terrell J.Starr, recently wrote an op-ed on what he considers to be the GOP ‘Blackface’ Problem. Do you see this as a roadblock to engaging the African-American community?
LACKEY: I think it’s a legitimate problem, especially within the public face of the party. The GOP appears to have given up the Black vote after the Bush years. I factor in Katrina and other very public missteps from party leadership as a main cause more African-Americans choose not to identify with the party. Now that is not to suggest Black Conservatives don’t exist. I work to dispel that daily. The narrative of what a Black Republican is (self-hating Negro) seems to have won the day, so most of my conservative friends are what I call ‘closet Republicans’. It simply appears that the GOP has no interest in black leadership, which is false, but a tough assertion to defend against when you look at us.
NewsOne: Why do you believe that GOP fiscal policies don’t seem to resonate with African-American voters?
LACKEY: Unfortunately, for some time now African-Americans have equated themselves with all things poor. When conversations about wealth and achievement arise, we immediately lump ourselves into the lowest rung of the totem pole which saddens me. We are a race of people striving to ‘make it’ and gain wealth, yet we have decided to accept the notion that we have to follow entitlements and the like. The GOP fiscal policy platform basically says you’re free to pursue enterprise, build small businesses and excel at your own pace. That is very typical of traditional Black neighborhoods and business practices. I think the fiscal message of the party is sound, but the method of presentation is failing. It appears we favor the rich, when in fact we favor innovation and big ideas, which in turns favors African-Americans.
NewsOne: Why doesn’t the socially conservative ideology of the GOP attract more African-American voters?
LACKEY: Most African-Americans I know agree with the ideology of the party, but somehow feel that the Democrat Party is closer to them. The average Black Christian attends a church that teaches against abortion, against mind-altering drugs, against same-sex marriage, and advocates for families that mimic biblical standards. So the question becomes, why are we not GOP. It goes back to the central theme of Starr’s article – the GOP has a Blackface Problem, so African-Americans equate anything Republican with racist old white men working against us. It’s unfortunate because the Black church, which is one of our strongest foundations, accepts a conservative agenda and accepts faith-based funds from mostly conservative organizations to create programs to help our communities. Socially, a large portion of the African-American community is Republican. I know, it’s shocking.
NewsOne: It has been proven that in times of economic hardship, businesses hold on to money, not reinvest in the economy as conservatives would have voters believe, which makes sense from a smart capitalist point of view. Still, trickle down economics has proven to be only marginally successful in times of prosperity — and even then, the rich get richer and the poor get by. How will these voter concerns be addressed within the “new” Republican Party?
LACKEY: I’m not sure I would categorize it as a ‘new’ Republican party. Our party supports small business. Small businesses support workers. Workers support communities. Focusing on the “rich” is the wrong way to go, when hundreds of middle class business owners employ thousands, even millions of people in our country. Creating an economic climate that supports innovation is the Republican Party focus. Innovative people are our backbone, and they exist in all walks of life. We all know people with big ideas and strong plans to bring the ideas to fruition. Our Party is committed to helping people with big ideas bring them to bear. Top down economics is not the name of the game. We’re talking innovation and supporting the businesses that innovate and employ.
NewsOne: When it comes to the issue of abortion, conservatives have sought to insert religious beliefs into policies that would take away women’s autonomy over their reproductive decisions, including but not limited to repealing Roe vs. Wade. At some point, we’ve seen some Republicans even justify rape as a means of contraception. Republicans overwhelming lost women voters in the past election cycle. Moving forward, what do you foresee the party’s stance being on reproductive health?
LACKEY: The Republican Party stance on reproductive health is always that women and children deserve to live healthy successful lives. Our views are not outdated Bible-thumped beliefs, nor the old-time “because God said no” type of rhetoric. It’s simply that as a society we have to foster a spirit of life and responsibility. I am not certain any human should be given the autonomy to decide whether or not an unborn child will live or die, unless there is some substantial medical reason. There are a few loud individuals in our party who have been very expressive about their views on rape, etc. Going forward, I am confident the GOP will do a much better job developing candidates who better articulate their views on reproductive health. This past election cycle was definitely a case of two or three bad apples spoiling a bunch.
NewsOne: It seems as if the conservative version of small government is big on corporate welfare and military spending, small on programs that benefit low-income citizens, ranging from food stamps to healthcare. In short, the very real historic disparities that tilt the playing field are not reflected in conservative policy. How will the party address poverty moving forward without the condescension of “47 percent” rhetoric?
LACKEY: In 1996, the GOP lead policy reforms that dramatically changed our nation’s approach to poverty, and made welfare a hand-up program. I believe that assistance is vital to support the intense work and effort individuals put into working their way up to the American Dream. We will continue to make work and effort the focus of poverty programs. There are aggressive ground-level strategies being put into place that will create programs that directly serve communities all over the country as they we lift each other out of poverty. Furthermore, the Republican Party is laser-focused on supporting faith-based programs that support neighbors helping neighbors in places least touched by big government programs.
NewsOne: If you were leading the Republican Party, what would be your game plan moving forward to encourage and embrace voters of color, particularly in the Black community?
LACKEY: Give a damn. There are lots of people out there from all groups (gay, Black, straight, poor, etc) who just want to know that the Republicans care even a little. Currently it seems we hate anyone who watches Modern Family and doesn’t think Jesus is Lord.
Change the tone: There are much better ways to present what we believe to the public. I’m convinced Blacks and others are literally scared away from the party because of how we say what we believe. The way we present views on immigration, poverty initiatives, crime, etc may just work IF people don’t tune us out because of how we say it.
Get with the program. Black voters are millions strong and growing: It’s time to understand and admit the cultural shift. The Republican party doesn’t look like America. I sat in the GOP convention amazed at what we looked like.
Support African-American connect points for real: The new leaders of the GOP are not on radio or television, nor are they the handful of blacks the GOP keeps throwing at the people (nobody is fooled by [Herman] Cain, et al). My luncheon proved there are significant opportunities to identify Blacks in business, politics and religion (or whatever) who lean conservative but who have no opportunity to be heard because the party seems to think they don’t need to listen. No more perfunctory outreach. Open an office of diversity in the DC headquarters. Connect in earnest.
Condemn our idiots. People like [Todd] Akin and [Richard] Mourdock need to be immediately condemned when they say things that do not reflect good judgment or true human values. Not all of our personal opinions are fit to be made into law or platform items. We’ve got to stick to what we believe and speak out when our own leadership works against us.
NewsOne: With many African-Americans being emotionally invested in the weighted symbolism of the Obama presidency, have you encountered increased backlash for being a Black Republican; and, if so, how do you deal with it?
LACKEY: Of course I have received awful backlash, but I’m not singled out. Any African-American who either disagrees with the president or challenges his policies or actions is sharply criticized by our community. If you take a look at recent attacks on Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, both usually beloved by Black people, it’s easy to see the tolerance for anything less than cheering the president on is quite low. I am very proud to see the president and his family in the White House, but that does not mean I overlook the needs of my neighbors and offer blind support to him.
And I deal with such backlash by asking a simple question: is your community better because of the presidency of Barack Obama? I rarely get a direct answer. As a Black Republican I only want my community to thrive and progress. I fully agree with what Dr. West recently said concerning President Obama, “We’re proud of him, but we’re putting pressure on him.” I think we all should share that sentiment.
While the stains of religious intolerance, sexism, classism, racism and apathy will continue to plague the Republican Party as long as there are those among them who foster and perpetuate those ideals which, on the surface, seem to only benefit wealthy, white, heterosexual men, there is a new breed of African-American voter, and the Democratic Party will not be able to depend on them simply because they are the lesser of two evils. With the Independent, Green and even Libertarian Parties becoming more and more appealing to disenchanted voters, time will tell if the vanguard of the Republican Party will be able to shift it from the shadows of possibility to the forefront of African-American politics.
Stephen N. Lackey is a public affairs adviser, philanthropist, and political fundraiser who uses his influence to create public-private partnerships that bring strong community programs into urban communities. To learn more about his initiatives, visit: The Stephen N. Lackey Trust.