During the last CNN GOP Debate, I waited with bated breath to see if the Republicans might address the racial climate of this country. I watched to see if any of the candidates would discuss Black Lives Matter. I wondered if the Republican Party would renew their political commitment to African Americans.
To my chagrin, the issue was never raised by any of the candidates, nor was the question even asked by any of the moderators during the three-hour debate. The potential for a new commitment had been denied.
Historically, African Americans are the scorned lover of the Republican Party. During the Reconstruction era, African Americans locked arms with their Republican counterparts, and labored in unison for ‘liberty and justice for all.’ However, the sordid love story between Republicans and African Americans was not the kind fairy tales are made of, as it was wrought out of necessity, not volition of heart.
While Republicans sought to exercise political and economic control over the South, African Americans were fighting for liberation, citizenship, and voting rights. The interest of both parties converged, with the result that Republicans aligned themselves with African Americans more out of a spiteful desire to hinder the Secessionists than a benevolent disposition toward African Americans.
Subsequently, during the time of Reconstruction, African Americans made significant political gains as over 1,000 black men–many of whom were former slaves–held office as sheriffs, mayors, governors, congressmen, and senators. All of these officials were Republicans who exercised their political autonomy through the ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. These political gains served to solidify African Americans’ support for the Republican Party.
Now, fast forward to the 20th Century. In the early 1930s and beyond, Democratic male suitors such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson began to court African Americans with political reform that brought civil rights protections and provided economic relief for the poor and marginalized.
Consecutively, Barry Goldwater shaped modern conservatism, as we know it today, when he became the Presidential nominee in 1964. Goldwater believed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed by Lyndon Johnson, was unconstitutional. As a result, white southerners and segregationists flocked to Goldwater’s side, and in response, African Americans fled en masse to the Democratic Party after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. African Americans have remained largely aligned with the Democratic Party ever since.
That political reversal begs the question: Why should the GOP candidates discuss #BlackLivesMatter when African Americans have a strong allegiance to the Democratic Party?
Republican candidates must remember that the African American Democratic vote is inextricably linked to the passage of Civil Rights policies. When entering a voting booth, African Americans consider the good of the whole above their own individual welfare. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:29) Although, that Scripture speaks to the unity and diversity within the body of Christ, the intrinsic principle is a present reality for African Americans.
When an African American casts their vote, they might wonder if their people will be able to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” under the Democratic or the Republican nominee. At a time when African Americans make up13 percent of the population, yet account for 26 percent of the victims of police shootings, and younger African Americans are 4.5 times more likely to be killed by the police than any other racial group according to data compiled by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the answer to that question is critical.
Those jarring statistics were thrown strikingly into the public eye when Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown–an unarmed black teenager–in Ferguson, MO last August. His death, and the subsequent killing of unarmed black men and women ushered in a new frontier in the fight for racial justice: Black Lives Matter. The Black Lives Matter movement specifically addresses police brutality and extrajudicial killings of African Americans, which are the last stones left unturned by the Civil Rights Movement. For all intents and purposes, Black Lives Matter is the new Civil Rights frontier.
Black Lives Matter has set the stage for black voters to be courted by both parties once again. Therefore, Republicans must thoughtfully engage with Black Lives Matter in a substantive manner if they desire to gain a hearing among African Americans and siphon off their votes from the Democrats. Empty rhetoric will not suffice, and the silence of Republicans on issues that disproportionately impact African Americans cannot continue unabated without dire consequences for the future of the GOP.
However, lest we think that the Democrats can continue to take the African American vote for granted, activists within the Black Lives Matter Movement are mounting pressure on both parties with the release of Campaign Zero, which is a detailed comprehensive policy plan that proposes new police reforms and addresses some forms of systemic racism. The Campaign Zero website uses a tracking document, to record which policies the top candidates of both parties have put forth to address these policy proposals. Unsurprisingly, Democrats have engaged with the majority of the Campaign Zero proposals, while the Republicans’ engagement is virtually non-existent, with the exception of Rand Paul.
African Americans are not one-issue voters. However, this one issue is salient in the minds of many, and contributes to the quotidian issues that plague African Americans and impede their ability to flourish. After all, how can African Americans truly enjoy liberty and pursue happiness when they grapple with a palpable fear for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones at the hands of those who ought to be guardians instead of warriors?
Republicans must put forth policy reforms that address the state of policing in this country. Republicans tout themselves as the party that upholds the principals of the founding fathers, the watchmen of the ideologies set forth in the founding documents of this nation, and the party that upholds Christian values. What is more important than the right of every citizen of this country to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” What is more precious than human life? Not just life in utero, but out–both ought to be equally valued. Republicans claim to be the party of equal opportunity for all, yet how can this be true when the exigent needs of an entire race of people are either met with denigrating remarks about “free stuff,” or deafening silence?
The man or woman who is elected the next President of America should be the servant of all. Human flourishing ought to be a reality for all. Ultimately, that is what Black Lives Matter is seeking to accomplish on behalf of African Americans. They are striving to ensure that the “all” in the Pledge of Allegiance unequivocally includes African Americans. In this way, Black Lives Matter is calling Republicans to become who they say they are, and live out the true meaning of their staunch ideological principles.
There comes a time when one has to regress in order to progress. Now is the time. Republicans can once again become the inclusive party, which seeks the good of all above the welfare of one. In so doing, Republicans might find that in seeking the welfare of the marginalized, they will find their own. Perhaps tonight, we will see a regression for the sake of progression. Perhaps tonight, we will witness the Republican Party follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. Perhaps they will break political ground on the new Civil Rights frontier, by locking arms once again with African Americans in their fight to see Black Lives Matter in America.