The Republican Party’s Race Problem

Algernon Austin presents an excellent, concise, and wonderfully read scholarly examination of the complicated landscape of race, class and popular perception. Besides the prison industrial complex, black strides in education, poverty rates, crime and other indices contradict claims that blacks are “moving backward.”
--Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut and author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2004 and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (University Press of Kansas), 2007.

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The Republic Party has a big problem. The current election has reinforced the idea that the Republican Party is a party of racially prejudiced white people. The country is becoming increasingly non-white. The Census Bureau estimates that by 2042, the nation will be majority non-white. The McCain-Palin campaign has stoked animosity to the Republican Party among non-whites. Even if John McCain and Sarah Palin were able to win the election, the Republican Party would still appear to be on the wrong side of history.

With Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee, this would have been a difficult year for the Republican Party among non-whites regardless. Obama is a charismatic, centrist, "post-racial" politician. Exactly the type that or person who could peel away the votes and support of Hispanic, black and Asian independents and conservatives from the Republican Party. It is not suprising that the Republican convention was the whitest one in recent history, because Obama was able to secure strong non-white support.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that the Republican convention had "the lowest black representation in 40 years" due to "Senator Obama's historic candidacy, the deep and genuine enthusiasm for him in the black community, and Senator McCain’s association with President Bush, an exceptionally unpopular figure among African Americans."

Instead of running a high-minded campaign, the McCain-Palin ticket has resorted to playing with racism and xenophobia in an effort to excite its conservative base. It has also made baseless charges of voter fraud against an organization that registers primarily poor and non-white people. It has challenged other policies and officials in what looks like an effort to suppress or disqualify the votes of primarily poor and non-white people.

Since whites are still a large majority of the population and are more likely than non-whites to be registered to vote, a political campaign based on securing white votes only can still win. But the overall demographic and political trends make this a losing strategy over the long term.

The Republican Party can recover from these strong negatives with non-white voters. It is not the first time that the Party has played on racial prejudices to win votes. If the Party makes a concerted effort immediately after the election for several years, it can once again make inroads in minority communities. The question is will the leadership of the Party recognize its race problem and act to address it. Or will the reactionary forces, keep control of the Party and continue to pursue a strategy based on reinforcing prejudice against people of color.

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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