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.