A recent article by PolicyMic pundit John Giokaris, applauding a black lawmaker for switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party, highlights a major problem in American political discourse. Namely, the language around race and political affiliation in the country is damaging and divisive and a large part of the reason that minority voters tend to swing Democratic. The tone of Giokaris' article, in fact its very existence, is illustrative of the power of language and how Republican language regarding minorities drives them from the party.
The way conservatives react whenever a person of color “comes out of the closet” (the author’s usage from the PolicyMic article) and publicly espouses conservative values conveys a questioning of the mental capacities of minorities. “It makes perfect sense,” the author says, for minorities to support conservative policies and politicians because liberal and Democratic administrations and policies have caused so much damage to minority communities. The author cites statistics that show how poorly African Americans and other minorities have fared under Democrats and how well they have done under Republicans to prove his point.
While the statistics may show evidence that support the author’s claims for why minorities should support conservatives, the raucous celebration of every black conservative who publicly supports the GOP has the unintentional effect of raising questions in the minds of rank-and-file conservatives about minorities' ability to make rational decisions regarding their welfare. The unspoken questions here are, “What’s wrong with the rest of you?” and “Can’t you people muster enough brains to make a rational decision to benefit yourselves?” These questions do not go unnoticed by minorities who have a deep cultural memory regarding oppression and abuses of power. Such questions stoke the flames of those memories.
Much has also been made about the penchant for black conservatives to use “slave imagery” in describing why minorities trend toward Democrats. Terms like “being chained” to the party or being “brainwashed” are tossed around with reckless abandon while the white majority of the party generally looks on with nary a frown to show disapproval of the language. Such implicit approval of the language used by black conservatives, language that represents and perpetuates centuries of oppression, further cements in the minds of minorities that they are not welcome within the ranks of the party.
In short, the language that the GOP uses in reference to minorities has shaped the way that minorities view the party. No matter how much their policies may benefit minorities, until the GOP can act as if minorities are capable of making good decisions regarding their own welfare (and acting accordingly), and until the party can begin to treat minorities who also happen to be conservatives as they do any other member of the party, they will continue to lose the minority vote.
A version of this article was originally published at Living Connections.