MAXWELL:  A black Republican will not be heard

1/7/1998 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Although I have never understood why a sane black person would want to join the Republican Party, I do not condemn those who do so. My academic side _ the capacity to acknowledge opposing views and engage in spirited debate _ lets me accept the decision of a black person to become a Republican.

I simply demand that he or she not ask me to become a member of the party of Strom Thurmond, Newt Gingrich and Orrin Hatch.

This subject is being revisited because of a letter from Mike Harris of Birmingham, Ala., in response to my column about Lonnie Carpenter, a black St. Petersburg business owner and a Republican who co-chairs the city’s Weed and Seed Steering Committee.

Carpenter caught my attention because many local blacks consider him an “Uncle Tom” and a “sellout” to his race because he is a Republican and because he supports Weed and Seed, a two-pronged federal effort that uses the police to clear out drug dealers while investing in business and social programs.

My column tried to demonstrate that responsible, law-abiding black citizens, such as Carpenter, are the salvation of black people, not our damnation. The real African-American sellouts are dope dealers, thieves and other criminals, parents who do not care for their children and older men who impregnate teenage girls.

I further stated that real sellouts “mock the great legacy of dignity, decency, self-reliance and community sharing that gave our forebears their ability to survive more than two centuries of enslavement . . . and violence.”

Harris’ sincere letter _ laced with measured outrage, incredulity and logic _ offers a perspective worthy of sharing because it underscores the powerful relationship between race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and political affiliation.

Mr. Maxwell:

I read your column last week in the Birmingham (Ala.) News about Lonnie Carpenter. As a white liberal in this state where it is difficult to be such a thing, I heartily agree with almost every word you said.

Here in Birmingham, we have many black leaders who refuse to step up to the plate and address the things you talked about in your column, and our city suffers for it. The one word (that) completely ruins the whole thrust of your argument, however, is “Republican.”

The Republican Party uses a strategy across this country of scaring lower middle-class white people on race, and it has been their ticket to success in recent years.

They distract the lower classes of white people with race, homosexuality, prayer in the schools and other such issues in the fervent hope that they will not notice that most Republican economic and social programs are actually designed to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower and middle classes.

Why is it that any black man who decides to provide this kind of leadership in his community feels the need to become a Republican in order to do so? This is the same as a homosexual who joins the Republican party. There is something seriously wrong with anyone who joins a party (that) demonizes him on a regular basis.

I don’t know how you define an “Uncle Tom,” but in my book, both black Republicans and homosexual Republicans fit the bill as nobody else in our society does. It is indeed a shame that someone like Mr. Carpenter, who obviously sees the damage caused by blacks rejecting the values that bring success in our society, ruins his chances to effect change by making such an incomprehensible party decision.

He won’t be taken seriously by black people because, as a “Tom,” his message will not be heard.

Unfortunately, much of what Harris writes is true. Beginning in the 1964 presidential race with Barry Goldwater as its candidate, the GOP turned away from its mantra of being the party of the Emancipation and seated “lily-white” delegations in every Southern state at the national convention.

Then came Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which openly pitted whites against blacks. And what black man can forget George Bush’s “Willie Horton” campaign suggesting an inherent black criminality?

Today’s GOP is engaging in a more pernicious sleight of hand: pretending that to deal with affirmative action is to deal with race, that the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and the U.S. Constitution justify the dismantling of programs that correct racist acts that have trapped blacks in second-class citizenship.

Indeed, Harris is correct that average black people cannot take a black Republican seriously, that the message of a black Republican _ no matter how much on target _ will be rejected by most African-Americans.