What the Republican Party must do to get the Black Vote

Jonathan Capehart’s latest article on the Republican Party and the black vote is an excellent one that I hope isn’t taken for granted. He makes some valid points within the article, one of which pertains to the idea that black people just want “free stuff,” and how Republicans use this to say that those who rely on food stamps to feed their families are lazy and slothful.

I had a friend in college who was born and raised as a Democrat but who later changed her political affiliation to Republican. While she agreed with the Republican stances on abortion and other ethical issues (and financial, apparently), she had something of a skewed view of the hardships of African-Americans. I come from an African-American family, but my mother was fortunate enough to be one of the first African-Americans from her county to attend Ivy League Duke University in the Fall of 1978. Mom went on to graduate with a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in Accounting and Economics – and was even part of the AKA sorority as a student.

My mother’s academic achievements were remarkable for her time, but, even after she graduated with stellar degrees, she was still mistreated by the white employers for whom she worked. Her first job was at a factory right out of college, and she recalled to me several times over the course of my childhood about how her boss would make her stay unusually long nights – at a job that was over an hour away from her home and her children. My twin sister and I were babies at the time, but my mom was fortunate to have parents (our grandparents) who always tried to help mom in the areas she needed help. One of these was tucking us in at night.

Even after mom got a better job with a Fortune 500 company, she was still passed over for top administrative positions that would’ve garnered her $100,000 a year. And, in every single case, a white man was put in a managerial position of some kind – even though none of those appointed had mom’s experience or educational background. One boss remarked to her (rather slyly) that, if he had his way, he’d never hire another Duke graduate ever again.

This same friend above, who changed her political affiliation, had a conversation with me once outside of the local Subway restaurant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill some years ago. I made a remark to her that mom had a Duke degree but that she, me, and my sister still struggled to make it (my mother and father divorced when we were 9). She looked at me and said, “But your mother went to Duke” – as if to say that, because mom attended an Ivy League school, mom’s troubles were few.

But to assume that was too presumptuous. It was to assume that my mother was one of the “lucky ones” who made it to an excellent school and had an excellent life. But, as I said above, my mother was discriminated against. Even when she had stellar degrees and a stellar resume, she was still treated “beneath” at times because she had two societal strikes against her: 1) she was black, and 2) she was a woman. Those two societal strikes were against her, everywhere she stepped on the face of the earth, until she died in 2009 from brain cancer.

My mom was one of the “blessed ones” in a sense – she attended an excellent school in the ‘70s and landed an excellent job as a Senior Accountant at a Fortune 500 company for 21 years. At the same time, however, she had her share of discrimination and injustice. If my mother experienced it, and she was one of the fortunate ones, what about the majority of African-Americans who aren’t as fortunate as she was?

And that’s Capehart’s point: Republican candidates assume that giving more money to poorer Americans, particularly minorities, is nothing more than feeding the lazy. However, this is far from the case. First off, the children who’re born in such families are innocent victims who already have the odds against them from the moment they draw breath for the first time. Due to some mistakes their parents made (or earlier ancestors did, a combination of the two), these children will suffer injustices they should never endure in this life. Next, what about their parents? Could it be the case that their parents have suffered because of the mistakes of others before them?

Americans have been born into a culture that says, “you can achieve anything if you work for it.” That may seem logical, but tell that to a kid who can’t afford to attend Law School because, despite his stellar grades, the Law School has no scholarship for him – and they’ve canceled their pro-bono program.

Tell that to the parents who’ve worked in factories all their lives and have no money to send their child to college, who can’t even afford a minor loan to pay for one semester’s tuition. The child must go to work full-time because there’s no money to help him or her achieve their dreams in the here and now. And that child may never get to go back to college, should a family (or greater financial emergency, be it medical, etc.) come along.

Tell this to the child who’s born into a life of drugs because of their parents’ drug addictions.

Tell this to the 24-year-old who, when she loses her mother, has no source of income but her own to live from – and she’s got two grandparents who live on a fixed income and look to her to help them make it (when she’s not even able to hardly help herself).

See, the Republican message about working for what you want is not terrible in and of itself; it’s one of hope. We should tell our families to be all that they can be, to work hard to achieve our dreams. It’s how America’s ancestors came to thrive in this country. But it’s also true that you can’t just expect to be the best or have financial success in business (and success in life) because you work hard. Sometimes, hard work isn’t enough. It turns out that my friend’s assumptions about my mom were overly optimistic; sadly, I think that the Republican Party’s views about black people are overwhelmingly pessimistic.

And when you’re born into a country where your ancestors were made slaves, discriminated against, and held down because of racial oppression, welfare programs that provide food stamps and minority scholarships and grants can mean everything to an African-American who’s been born into circumstances that were dictated by others a long time ago.

The Republican Party’s been too busy with its own agenda throughout the course of my life to care about the black vote, which explains why about 90% of African-Americans (this one included) are Democratic. Unfortunately, it’s time that the Republican Party wake up and stop pretending that we’re still living in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Times have changed – and, if a Republican hopes to make it back to the White House, the Republican Party must change with them.