Because much of my career path has had something to do with race in one way or another I am asked fairly often by white people, sometimes politely and sometimes not so politely, why black people generally vote more than 90 percent for the Democratic Party.
Depending on the political leanings of the person making the inquiry, their own speculation as to the cause is varied, from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being pushed through by the Democratic Party to blacks vote Democrat so we can get freebies. There is some validity to the first and virtually none to the second. If it was to get freebies only poor blacks would vote Democrat, and that is not the case.
My father, Robert Mann, like most black men of his generation, voted Republican most of his life. Republicans were the party of Lincoln and my father, a native of Hampton, Va., was acutely aware of the role that race played, has played, and will play in America in ways that many people, too many people, have no concept of or understanding about.
There were, during his lifetime, advantages to being a Republican in Greene County. If your child needed a summer job or you needed a favor, being a faithful member of the GOP was a definite advantage.
However, the direction that the GOP took after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which alienated the racist Dixiecrats from their long standing allegiance to the Democratic Party, basically booted the black population and their votes aside. The Southern Strategy adopted by the Republicans to attract the Dixiecrats to come over to the GOP has been identified by most historians, as a deal to tolerate, if not embrace, white supremacy in exchange for coming over to the Republican Party.
After this strategy was adopted to woo white Southerners, the days of black folks in the Republican Party in any numbers were over. Just as we used to vote more than 90 percent Republican, although there had been some shifting in the Franklin Roosevelt years, we now vote more than 90 percent Democrat because the Democrats, at least in their language, reject racism.
Does that mean all Republicans are racists? Of course not, that would be a facetious claim. It does, however, mean that most black people view the party as refusing to reject or condemn racism, something crucial to our well-being. Not condemning racism and racists by any political party is going to be deal breaker among most people of color.
It would be naive not to see the dilemma that faces the GOP. If there are sufficient people who are not fond of people of color in a party, trying to recruit people of color to said party would no doubt drive them away. So it comes down to demographics. Could the party taking a strong stand against racial bigotry convince blacks, who often embrace more conservative ideas on issues like abortion, gay rights, and religion in public life, to come back to the Grand Old Party? Could they get sufficient numbers to make up for the folks they would lose? Hard to tell.
It is not good for the country for any demographic group to vote in the vast majority for one party. If nothing else it makes voter suppression too easy. Currently, however, there does not seem to be any change on the horizon. We do not have the privilege in America in 2020 to not consider race, racism, and bigotry as crucial issues, so we basically have no political choice. Perhaps that will change someday.
It would be nice to have a choice.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and columnist.