Dear GOP: 10 Things You Should Never, Ever Say to Black People

Human Rights

Both Democratic and Republican candidates will begin announcing plans to run for president in 2016 soon, and many will engage in the typical brown-nosing for key voting blocs, especially among minorities. Black voters have consistently cast their ballots for Democratic candidates at a rate of nearly 90 percent during each election cycle, and that doesn’t look like it’s changing anytime soon. But that won’t keep Republicans from attempting to lure black voters away from the “Democratic Plantation,” as former Florida Rep. Allen West once characterized the party’s lock on African-American constituents.

It's bound to be an uphill battle for Republicans to get anything more than 10 percent of the black vote at both the national and state levels. Still, the GOP has a fighting chance with this elusive voting bloc—if they don’t say anything stupid. Given their past, and their dubious courting of the women's vote, that's a pretty big if.

To help Republican candidates avoid the party's perennial foot-in-mouth syndrome, I’ve put together this handy list of things they should never say to black voters.

1. We’re not the party of government handouts; we believe in personal responsibility. The suggestion that African Americans are not hard workers is both innaccurate and insulting.

During a presidential campaign stop in Iowa in 2012, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum was talking about welfare reform to an audience of mostly white people when he said, "I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money." Given that only 9 percent of food stamp recipients in Iowa are black people and 84 percent are white people, it is curious Santorum would even mention black people.

Keep in mind that all Americans, particularly wealthy people, benefit from federal “handouts.” In 2013, the New York Times reported that billionaires received $11.3 million in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies from 1995 to 2012. The Cato Institute estimates that $100 billion in federal welfare dollars go to corporations each year. The Huffington Post pointed out 10 other ways wealthy people benefit from federal subsidies. 

Evoking any remnants of Ronald Reagan's "welfare queen" remark about black people will ruin any chance of black support. 

2. We have black people in our party. Just look at Rep. Mia Love of Utah, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Well, neither politician discusses poverty or takes on social justice issues.

Love comes from a state where black voters are too few to care about, and Scott doesn’t need black voters because they don’t make up a sizable enough voting bloc in the state for him to consider.

Love, who is of Haitian descent, speaks of her immigrant experience in a tone that is condescending to many black people. When she discusses how her family was never on welfare and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, she is really saying she is not the typical black person who complains about racism and injustice. Using her as an example of a black Republican won’t get you far in states like Ohio, where black votes determine elections.

Scott is no better. He talks about racism and social injustice about as often as Michael Jordan does. Neither presents a good reason for black people to vote Republican. So don't use them. Please. 

3. We're the party of Lincoln; we freed the slaves. If one of your party’s key arguments for black people to join its ranks cites an achievement that predates Reconstruction, you’ve already lost. This talking point is also flawed because it is not as if Lincoln and other Republicans saw black people as equals, so please don't suggest it. Besides, while Republicans may care about the historical legacy of Lincoln, most black people don’t.

Talk to us about the economy; you know, the way you would talk to white voters.

4. Any quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There needs to be a moratorium on quoting the more popular speeches of Dr. King. He is much more than his “I Have A Dream Speech." He also spoke about reparations, racism in distribution of land grants to academic institutions and farmers, and black pride. If you really want to earn points from black voters, talk about that Dr. King. But we know you won’t.

Dr. King was not the docile, white-people-loving black man most people learned about in school. Black voters know this, so don't talk to us like we don't. 

5. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are race hustlers. Last time I checked, no one had anointed either of them official status as go-to leaders for checking the pulse of black America. This is not a knock against Sharpton or Jackson, but it is frustrating when you see white politicians refer to them as if they reflect the way “black America” thinks.

How would you like it if someone said, “Hey, white man, you need to check your leader, Rush Limbaugh, about his anti-blackness.”

Right, I thought so.

6. It’s time to end affirmative action. Fine. End it. But before we do, let’s discuss why America doesn’t invest in its children. In 2012, just 3 percent of the country’s $3.5 trillion budget was spent on education, according to the New York Times; the Federal Education Budget Project reports that just 4 percent was spent on education in 2013.

If you want to discuss ending affirmative action, follow that up with a detailed description of how you will work to end racism across the board. And please don’t say black people can bootstrap themselves out of racism. They can't. 

7. Whitesplaining racism at black institutions. Yes, I am talking about you, Rand Paul. The Kentucky senator went to Howard University, in Washington, DC, to convince black people to vote GOP. He failed miserably. As Think Progress reported, Paul asked condescending questions such as if they knew the NAACP was founded by Republicans. Of course they knew that, and said as much.

He also said that the first black senator elected to Congress was a Republican, though he didn’t say his name properly.

“In what appeared to be an attempt to demonstrate his familiarity with the subject matter, Paul brought up Senator Edward William Brooke III (a Republican mentioned in the prepared remarks as 'the first [elected] black U.S. senator'),” Think Progress reported. “He referred to him, however, as 'Edwin Brooks,' a point the audience corrected.”

Paul also tried to mislead the audience about his stance on the Civil Rights Act, but the audience didn’t fall for it. He essentially insulted the intelligence of a voting group he claims would be better off in the GOP. After listening to his speech, maybe not.

8. "What about black-on-black crime?" This is the go-to for most conservatives who want to preach personal responsibility and avoid any dicussion of police reform. They ignore that a huge percentage of crime and violence is intraracial, as Vox reported, and is a much more complicated issue than the myth that black peple are inherently violent.

Though Chicago tends to be a point of reference when discussing urban violence, Pew reports that the city is far from having the highest murder rate in the U.S. Crime in the black community cannot be discussed without addressing social and economic policies that create job growth or historical racism that suppressed economic mobility. 

A real, nuanced conversation about black-on-black crime is a policy conversation, not a sound bite for Fox News. 

9. "It’s time to take America back!" From whom, exactly? Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential candidate, was famous for using this line when she was considered a national political contender. Palin seemed to be using the phrase to evoke creepy nationalist sentiment from white men who resented the eventual reality that a black man with a black family could be president. 

And how can you explain, “Take our country back”? Last time I checked, we’re no longer fighting the Civil War. And we defeated the British; the 13 colonies no longer exist. The only explanation I can think of is that some people aren’t comfortable with the rising Latino population many accuse of taking American jobs. Are you taking the country back from them? And when you say, “It’s time to take our country back,” does that include black people? Keep that in mind.

10. Insulting the Black Lives Matter movement. In New York City, relations between the NYPD and the black community are extremely tense. Two police officers were shot and killed by a lone gunman in December. The shooter was not a protester, but that didn’t stop police union head Patrick Lynch from blaming the protesters for the officers’ murders. Politicians, including former mayor Rudy Giuliani, blamed protesters, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Barack Obama for fueling anti-cop hatred.

The best way to engage protesters is not to insult their intelligence. Black people are disproportionately affected by police brutality, and that needs to be addressed. That is why so many people are on the streets. It has nothing to do with being anti-cop.

We know you have to appease white voters who consider themselves “patriots,” but black people do, too. We serve in the military and walk the streets as police officers, too. But we also deal with racism. Recognizing our dual realities as black Americans will get you a very long way with black voters. 

Adhering to these 10 simple rules may save an unwitting GOPer from sounding racist. You can't say you weren't warned. 

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