From Reconstruction, when African-Americans were granted freedom and soon after the franchise, no matter the party, the inviolate principle and pillar of black politics has been liberty comes first. In the black community's collective wisdom, the common enemy has been not party but practice, especially racist practices. The legal frameworks for discrimination and voting restrictions, the institutional racism that leads to police violence and poisoned water, a political economy that offshores jobs and devastates the tax base has meant advancing the fight for justice as Democrats and Republicans. Today, that centuries-old consensus has fractured. It should be restored.
Even recently, it worked well. In June 2014, Black Democrats turned out in a Republican runoff for Mississippi's US Senate seat to lead a moderate incumbent's defeat of a Tea Party challenger, who promptly yelled fraud and illegally demanded African-Americans who voted Republican in the runoff be required to vote the same way in November.
This reminds us why the father of Black Republicans, Frederick Douglass, refused to compromise on voting rights. In his 1865 address, “What the Black Man Wants,” Douglass said, “I have had but one idea to present to the American people, . . . I am for the “immediate, unconditional, and universal” enfranchisement of the black man, in every State in the Union. Without this, he holds his liberty as a privilege, not as a right. He is at the mercy of the mob.”
Since Douglass, the defense of liberty and civil rights, and now economic justice has been the mission of African-Americans in either party. Both party's leaders and loyalists were held accountable by Black constituencies for ending discrimination and racism and preserving the hard-won civil rights of African-Americans for all, especially, voting rights and merit-opportunity.
Douglass never held office. But during his era, Black Republicans won thirty-eight U.S. House and two Senate seats in the South. They held state offices and established Mississippi's public school system. South Carolina's Congress members included Civil War hero Robert Smalls (he stole a battleship) and Robert B. Elliott (he owned the state's largest law library), the state's attorney general who fought the Ku Klux Klan. Today, foreign policy experts include former Secretaries of State, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Yet the black political past and present is missing from the Republican narrative. Does the pattern of serve and silence enable Donald Trump's bleak picture of a community primed by blight and social ills?
If the Republican Party is involved in a continual, historic whitewash, then it is only employing African-Americans as window dressing and as pawns to attack Democrats. When Donald Trump asked what the Black community has to “lose;” the historically correct reply asks what does it have to gain?
Trump's view assumes someone else holds power and decides the community's fate. He rejects its legacy of political success (June Jordan's poetic “dead heat”), traced from Douglass and Smalls to Dr. King to Fannie Lou Hamer and John Lewis, to Barack Obama and Tim Scott. The current Democratic National Committee chair is Donna Brazile, an African-American woman. Elected and appointed blacks from both parties include three former governors and currently two U.S. senators and forty-four House members, and more than seven hundred mayors and law enforcement chiefs of big cities and small towns. In nine Southern states, the majority of Democratic state legislators are black.
Having confronted hollow promises of exploitation and real walls of resistance and racism, the black community has the virtues of historic memory and critical intelligence. It knows Hillary Clinton did for Black Republicans what common history across party lines and mutual legacy mandated. Hillary Clinton called out the quotidian details of Donald Trump's racism (Black Republicans have been kicked out of his rallies!), the duplicity of his ethnic descriptions, his associates nativist delirium, his dangerous calls for violence against dissent, his divide and conquer examples, extra-constitutional remedies, and silence on voting rights that Black Republicans let pass to criticize Democrats and Hillary Clinton.
Trump says he is color-blind. In May 2015, he posted on Twitter “Sadly, because president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won't see another black president for generations!” He slammed ambitions—based on color! He took his assumption, factored in race, and made it a restriction on others by future association--a projection of racism!
In “Black Reconstruction (1935),” the scholar W.E.B. DuBois noted black communities “frankly face the facts of universal lying; of deliberate and unbounded attempts to preserve economic mastery and political domination by besmirching the character, motives, and common sense, of every single person who dared disagree.” Many white Republicans view Trump and see pathological lying, stereotypes of body and character types, and the persistent practice of racism.
Why have Black Republicans offered no pushback on the racist frames of their own community, a sitting President, or a Republican federal judge? Why are black Republicans silent about the bills especially tailored by their own party to respect the voting rights of their community? Where is the modern Frederick Douglass? Or Arthur Fletcher, the black Republican who created minority set-asides in government contracting? Who among Black Republicans feels a kinship across parties with Fannie Lou Hamer, who challenged the status quo at the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968 and demanded a voice for the black community in a party once aligned with segregation?
Once in the vanguard of liberty, Black Republicans have broken with their historic role to pull the wagon in the wrong direction. They have abandoned the fight for justice. They stoically ignore the erosion of voting rights--the holy grail of all black political treasure, it produced Barack Obama--as polls are closed and moved, early voting is restricted, and identification cards are demanded.
They have not pushed to make Trump a better candidate, and only allowed his perfidy to get worse.