The Divide Among Black Republicans

What words come to mind when you hear the term “Black Republican”? Sell-outs? Race traitors? If your words are anything similar to those two, then it would not be surprising. In fact, Black Republicans are often thought of as Uncle Toms. In fact, former chair of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele claimed he’s been at the receiving end of insults ranging from being depicted wearing blackface to having Oreos launched at him. These insults suggest Steele and other Black Republicans are not “Black enough” and traitors to the Black community. However, these generalizations of Black Republicans are misguided. Many Blacks are actually highly committed to uplifting the Black Community.

We find evidence of this commitment in the work of Corey D. Fields, a sociologist at Stanford University. With regards to matters of race, Fields finds that there are two types of Black Republicans:  the colorblind and the race-conscious.

katrina_pierson_34994246-300x300As the name implies, colorblind Black Republicans are the Black conservatives we often think about. They are the Republican voters and politicians who see race as playing little to no role in lives of many Americans. One prominent example of a co
lorblind Black Republican is Katrina Pierson, current spokesperson for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In an interview for CNN, Pierson suggests that police brutality and other issues within the Black community are a res
ult of a “ severe lack of leadership” within the Black community and President Obama. Rather than acknowledge that Black communities have been historically and structurally disadvantaged by virtue of their race, Pierson merely propagates a common dismissal of structural racism, which is simply to blame the marginalized community at hand. This belief that one’s color does not matter sharply distinguishes colorblind Black Republicans from race-conscious Black Republicans.

According to Fields, race-conscious Black Republicans view Black Americans “as constrained by blocked opportunities and racism.” This group of Black Republicans is explicit about empowering the Black community and their concern for the implications of policies on Black families. In fact, according to Fields, one interviewee expressed a desire to achieve “‘Black Power through conservative.'”  This core and explicit concern for empowering Blacks is similar to that of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. However, the difference between the two groups is the means by which they seek to achieve that goal. For example, while colorblind Black Republicans support school vouchers on the basis of increasing competition between schools, race-conscious Black Republicans ground their support in empowering blacks. More specifically, some believe that expanding school choice via voucher programs curbs the impact of white bureaucracy in their neighborhoods. Through voucher programs, race-conscious Black Republicans believe Black parents are empowered because they have control over their children’s education, preventing them from being limited to certain schools. Unfortunately, race-conscious Black Republicans seem to rarely get the opportunity to make such arguments at televised events.

Why is that? Why do we not see more race-conscious Black Republicans? Well, according to of Fields’ interviewees, race-conscious Black Republican do not fit neatly into the Republican Party’s platform. Rather, it seems the GOP is interested in promoting a platform that relies on colorblind rhetoric. This endorsement of colorblindness has made race-conscious Republicans feel unheard and ignored by the GOP.
Though Black Republicans are often generalized as Uncle Toms and neglectful of racism, Fields’ research (as well as that of Leah Wright Rigueur) demonstrates otherwise. The research shows that many Black Republicans are indeed considerate of the role race plays in shaping the lives of racial minorities. Rather than being sellouts to the Black community, many Black Republicans are devoted to uplifting Blacks. You may disagree with the effectiveness of empowering Blacks through conservative principles, but that difference does not invalidate their devotion to uplift the Black community.