This week Rand Paul went to historically black Howard University. He went to talk to African-American students and to tell them that "the Republican Party has always been the party of Civil Rights. and voting rights." He came to lecture the students of Howard University on African-American history. He came to talk about how the GOP has always protected minorities, whether they be racial or ideological, as if having uncommon or unpopular beliefs was a reasonable equivalent to forced relocation and enslavement. He came to compare federal assistance to Jim Crow. He came to tell them they should cast off "blind allegiances to ideas that are failing our children" and to educate them about his version of African American history and the Republican party.
It would have been better if he had stayed quiet.
He told them "I take to heart the words of Toni Morrison of Howard University, who wrote: 'If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.'"
This is not a book Rand Paul can write.
There was no mention of the infamous Southern Strategy. There was no mention of alleged GOP efforts to disenfranchise black voters in 2012. Rand Paul didn't seem to think that Howard students would have heard about these allegations, but he was wrong and students called him out on it. He responded by telling an African American student that this accusation was "demeaning" to the history of the voter disenfranchisement of African-Americans. He had the audacity to stand there and quiz African American students at Howard University, the storied institution of African American knowledge, on the history of the NAACP as if he were more knowledgeable than them. The students laughed.
Rand Paul came with the idea that he had something to teach African-Americans about their history. He should have come seeking the opposite: to listen, to ask, to learn. If he truly wants to discover, as he stated, why the party that elected the first black senator lost the African-American vote to President Obama at 93%, he should not approach African-Americans with the idea that he has something to teach them, but rather with the idea that he could learn something from them.
Instead of coming to Howard to convince African-Americans to consider voting for Republicans he should ask them why they don't. Instead of trying to convince African-Americans that the GOP has always been on their side, Rand Paul, and other politicians from any party seeking to do minority outreach, should listen. I am not an expert on African-American outreach but there are experts, academic and otherwise, that Rand Paul could engage and learn from. Some of these experts are the very people he was lecturing at Howard.
Politicians seeking to do minority outreach should meet with civil rights leaders, college students, faith leaders, and community members and ask them what is happening in their communities, and how they feel about it. They should ask for policy papers and individual stories. They should keep their mouths shut and listen. The Obama outreach motto was not let's educate minorities about what we have to offer them. It was respect, empower, include, win. Rand Paul fell short on all of those ideals.
Attempting to teach African-Americans a warped view of their own history will not work. Rand Paul essentially tried to tell African-Americans they were wrong about how they view their own history and their own feelings about where they belong politically in this country. Instead, he should attempt the difficult work of true outreach, listening, being uncomfortable at times with what is said, and when necessary adjusting his behavior and his policies to create a more inclusive platform. This work needs to be done before he can sell African-Americans on his ideas about ending the war on drugs and improving access to a decent education, and his belief that these ideas would benefit their communities.
Rand Paul cannot create a campaign African-Americans will get behind unless he listens, rather than attempt to educate. Rand Paul, if you seek a country where African-Americans will vote for you, you should work to create an America where African-Americans are not just messaged at by politicians, but heard.