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Valley Perspective

Race and Politics Make for Complicated Loyalties, Choices

November 26, 2000|SHARON WOODSON-BRYANT | Sharon Woodson-Bryant is a Burbank freelance writer

It isn't easy being a black Republican.

Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers are trotted out like trophies, an attractive serving of political correctness.

I grew up in a black Republican family. My father was a delegate from Kansas to the 1964 GOP convention. On our way to the convention in San Francisco, we were run off the road in Arizona by a car with John Birch Society bumper stickers.

I was only 14, but I couldn't understand my father's party loyalty. Yet when I watched him walk to the podium at the Cow Palace and give then-Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton's seconding speech, I experienced the contradiction. I felt proud even though I knew that the Republicans had soundly defeated a proposal to strengthen the civil rights plank with pledges for speedy school desegregation, full voting rights and elimination of job bias.

Was my father flawed?

Over the years, I have observed that most African Americans in the Republican Party care less about identity politics than their counterparts in the Democratic Party. My father's mantra was the business of self-reliance, doing for yourself rather than waiting for the government. And his lectures to me were on how blacks must be active in both political parties.

But in 2000, the reasons some blacks join the Republican Party are more complicated. Thirty years ago, my father, along with other civil rights activists such as then-Assistant Secretary of Labor Art Fletcher, were building a legacy. They demonstrated a commitment to the black community. Fletcher's Philadelphia Plan under Richard Nixon's presidency increased the opportunities for minorities and women to compete in the job market. The Philadelphia Plan made federal contractors meet specific goals in hiring women and minorities, the forerunner of affirmative action efforts.

But now, many black Republicans just enjoy unsettling people. Sound bites and big hats. Others like Rogers state that they have chosen to take the "road less traveled." And as I listened to him in a debate with Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) at the recent National Assn. of Black Journalists convention, I recognized the advantages of not going where the competition is fierce. For the truly politically ambitious, there appears to be an impressive list of Democratic wannabes. Why queue up behind a long line of well-established power brokers?

At that same time, however, I saw someone who was brave enough to stand up to a polite but solid wall of contempt from the black audience.

I was never that brave. Although I was a black Republican until my father died in 1983, I only took advantage of his sweat equity. I inserted myself into the 1976 GOP convention in Kansas City and worked in the press office handling media relations for the black delegates and party leaders. In the early 1980s, because of my father and good political contacts, I was offered a public affairs position in Washington, D.C.. I was seduced by the image of power, politics and press initially, but after two weeks of trying out D.C. with interviews, meetings and receptions, I declined the job.

I was changing and developing different political values. I observed that the era of black Republicans like my father had passed. And what I saw in its place was no longer for me. I left the party to become a Democrat.

In those early days, I had considered myself a pragmatist by being Republican. Although my friends labeled me an opportunist, I rationalized that everything was a boost for my career. My commitment, however, was only to my father. Never did I reflect his loyalty to the Republican Party. Neither do the black Republicans I see today.

My father had a faith in his party and its potential. He wanted to make a contribution for black people, to stand up and be counted even when it was dangerous. It was his personal honesty. It was his fine flaw.

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