It’s hard out here for black Republicans

By Kendra Johnson

In the months leading to the 2012 presidential election, nothing seemed to be a higher form of treason in the black community than the announcement that one of its members would be voting for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Some individuals who announced their support of the GOP candidate received high levels of scorn and derision from their racial cohorts. Both rapper Nicki Minaj and actress Stacey Dash received a fair amount of backlash via social networks after they openly endorsed candidate Romney.

Minaj responded to her critics by saying her endorsement of the Republican candidate was a sarcastic remark that could be reduced to nothing more than a rant from one of the eccentric characters she says live inside her. Minaj's endorsement lost credibility when it was discovered that at the time of the announcement she was not a registered voter.

After racially charged criticism calling the bi-racial actress Dash a sellout to the black race, she defended herself by tweeting, "My humble opinion ... EVERYONE is entitled to one."

The tension that surrounded Minaj and Dash's announcements sparked a heated discussion. Should the black community continue to support President Barack Obama because of racial obligation, or should they support him because he is truly the better candidate?

In a Nov. 7 post on ABCnews.com, Susan Donaldson James wrote that black support of President Obama during this election cycle was less about claiming the "Promised Land" envisioned by civil rights leaders, as it was during the 2008 election, but more about making sure his plans for job growth, health care and education came to fruition.

The idea that to be Republican in the black community is taboo was present in many conversations about black voters, especially during the 2012 election cycle.

In an Oct. 12 article from the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Jesse Washington of the Associated Press wrote about a special pride that exists among black people and how it determined their political decisions during the election. "Surviving slavery, segregation and discrimination has forged a special pride in African-Americans," Washington wrote.

"Now, some are saying this hard-earned pride has become prejudice in the form of blind loyalty to President Barack Obama."

Washington's article went on to suggest that blacks, in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, seemed to vote for Obama not out of political affiliation but because of the historical significance of his victory. Furthermore, he stated GOP candidate endorsements by members of the black community led to an internal pain shared by the rest of the black community--for some, to speak out against a symbol of black progression is an insult to the race.

Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, agreed with Washington's sentiments.

"There is a visceral pride in the African-American community about Obama," Kidd said during a phone interview. "I think that pride often manifests itself into a defensiveness and causes [black] people to push back against anyone who doesn't support Obama or his presidency."

Kidd said not wanting to feel snubbed from the black community might have led some people to be less vocal about their political affiliation.

Senior public relations major Alexis Glears said she often felt uncomfortable when she heard blacks, both prominent and not, discuss their support of candidate Romney.

"It's not like it's a crime to be a Republican," she said. "People can do what they want. It just seems weird to think of a black person being [Republican]. The Democratic Party just seems to be better suited for us."

Glears said the main source of her discomfort surrounding black Republicans is that they seem to disassociate themselves from their race.

"When I think of Republicans, I think of snobby, rich people," Glears said. "That's what being a Republican has come to be associated with. When I think of black Republicans, I think of rich black people who probably forgot they were black anyway. Being a Republican doesn't make the person a sell-out in their community; forgetting that they're a part of that community does."

Graduate student Ashley Pauling of Greenville, S.C. said in this election she could not understand why someone would vote for candidate Romney, but she thought people were more focused on their dislike of the candidate rather than the party.

"People seem to forget that once upon a time the Republican Party was the party black people favored," she said. In the 1960s the term "Rockefeller Republicans" emerged as a phrase used to describe moderates who favored New Deal Programs such as regulation and welfare. This group of people were strong supporters of civil rights and balanced budgets--ideologies that mirror those of the contemporary Democratic Party.

Pauling said she thinks black people view being a Republican as taboo because they lack true knowledge of each party's platform. She also said that she thinks a person's environment dictates their political affiliation.

During the election cycle, there was little talk about Republicans on campus and even less Republican propaganda was seen.

An HU political science professor, who preferred to speak anonymously, said he is a Republican but would not share his views around campus because he is sure he would incite a riot.

In addition, two Hampton students interviewed for this article initially stated they were Republican then vehemently denied the affiliation when told the article was for publication. Kidd said he thinks at a sociological level there is a certain subliminal influence from the black community that its members should support Obama.

"There is a degree of peer pressure more than anything present in the black community," Kidd said. "Not supporting Obama is seen as a sign of betrayal that, as we have seen [in the media], creates the idea of the in-group and the out-group and no one want to feel ostracized because of their beliefs."

The writer is a senior in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

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