With the Republican National Convention rightfully dominating the news this past week, three things were probably going through your mind: 1) What is up with that chair? 2) Do I trust the Republicans to turn this economy around? And, 3) I wonder what kind of surprises the Democrats have in store for us this week as they unveil their plea for Obama to get four more years? I, too, was wondering the same exact questions. But as I paid more and more attention to RNC 2012, I noticed something far more interesting and thought-provoking: there were actually a few African-Americans present at the convention.
Some were featured as speakers, while others were in attendance as spectators or delegates, but the fact that there were African-Americans even present, and agreeing with and applauding the various speakers’ conservative points, was quite fascinating. This brings up an inherently polarizing question: What does it mean to be “black,” and do black Republicans fit that model?
There are a million and one ways to think about blackness. Given our country’s rather dubious relationship with Americans of African descent over the last six centuries, one would think that the moniker “black” unites us all. A closer look, however, at the black experience in this country reveals a very diverse community that differs socially, economically, and, very much so, politically.
My own idea of what it means to be “black” has changed and evolved over the years, especially when I got to college and was exposed to more than the stereotypical definition of what a black person should be. We all know the stereotypes: loves hip-hop and rap music; from an urban community; sometimes violent (thanks, media; sorry, Black men); and either hyper-masculine or overly-sexualized. (The stereotypes are there for you too, women.) Looking at the black faces on the television screen at the Republican National Convention, I was brought back to my college days where I was physically confronted with my own definitions of blackness and was forced to analyze how these stereotypes have shaped my ideas of blackness.
In 2012, how should we think about blackness? More importantly, who counts as authentically black? Is it one’s sartorial choices that define their blackness? Is it the music that one listens to? Is it the community that one lives in and the people they interact with? And, since it is election season, is it our politics that define who are?
Jay-Z and Nas famously have a song entitled, “Black Republicans,” where Jay-Z eloquently raps these lines:
I feel like a Black Republican, money I got comin’ in
Can’t turn my back on the hood, I got love for them
There are many who feel that the ideals of the Republican Party does not necessarily resonate with the Black community, so much so that Mitt Romney currently has 0% African American support, according to a CBS News/Wall Street Journal poll. There are also many more that feel like the Republican Party does not support the black community, and, in particular, those from “the hood” as Jay-Z suggests above. But there are many black people that will openly welcome this party back into the White House. Whether one is a black liberal from the Northeast or a conservative from the Black Belt, that diversity in experience plays itself out in politics, and does not give one group less of a claim to blackness than another, no matter how we feel about their politics.