By Raynard Jackson
In the past, I have been extremely critical of so-called Black Republicans, as well as so-called Black conservatives – and that’s not going to change. Too often they feel the need to check their Blackness at the door under the perverted guise of currying favor with Whites within the party.
These are the type of Blacks that many in the party want to showcase. Getting on FOX News Channel seems to be their ultimate prize of validation. Most of these Blacks have no relationship with our community; and come across as so extreme that no one takes them seriously, other than FOX. Yet, many of these Blacks have become the public face of Black Republicans.
But South Carolina senator, Tim Scott, is everything a true Black Republican could and should be. He is Black and proud of it. His Blackness is what he is; his values are who he is.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, an Indian-American, appointed Scott to fill the U.S. Senate seat that was vacated by Jim DeMint in 2013, making him the first Black senator from South Carolina and the first from the South since 1881; Republican Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi had been the last.
Prior to his appointment to the Senate, Scott was elected in November 2010 to represent South Carolina’s 1st congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Black Republican from the state since George W. Murray in 1897. Scott has also served in the South Carolina General Assembly (2009-2011) and on the Charleston County Council from 1996-2008. He and Corey Booker (D-N.J.) are the only two Blacks serving in the U.S. Senate.
To his credit, Scott has not bought into the ridiculous notion that you can’t be Black and Republican, too. I have never heard him make the asinine statement that “I am not a Black senator, I am a senator who happens to be Black,” as though he was just walking down the street and “Blackness” suddenly jumped all over him.
He realizes, like we all should, that his Blackness doesn’t define who he is, but rather the values and the choices he makes for his life. Unlike many Blacks in the past, he has willingly embraced the opportunities to speak to Black audiences anytime the national party has asked him.
Scott fully embraces opportunities presented by the national party to expand the base of the party; while being very cognizant that his first obligation is to the people of South Carolina. They are not mutually exclusive goals.
Scott has made it a point to visit all eight Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in his state. He actively embraces and seeks opportunities to meet and engage with Black voters of South Carolina whether they vote for him or not.
Several times a year he goes undercover and works low-wage jobs so he can learn what his average constituents go through. He does all this with no media fanfare or staff. Here is how the Washington Post reported on one such encounter, “James Copeland, who recently worked alongside Scott at a Goodwill store in Greenville, S.C. When Copeland – an African-American – was told of Scott’s identity, he responded positively. Oh, wow, I thought he was just some guy off the street. He was really speaking on my level. I felt like I can relate to him. I’d vote for him. Absolutely.”
Another major criticism I have made about Black Republicans is their refusal to hire Blacks on their staffs. This is not the case with Scott. His office is like a mini-United Nations. He actually has Blacks who have authority to make things happen. By doing do, he is opening doors for them to be future powerbrokers within the party.
Two months ago, Scott authored a non-binding resolution in the Senate promoting diversity in hiring. According to Scott, “The ultimate goal of the resolution was to hopefully heighten awareness of the opportunities to create the workforce of the future, today.” Republican senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Rob Portman of Ohio all signed on as co-sponsors.
While these actions by Scott might seem small in the larger scheme of things, they are not. In the past, figures such as Senator Ed Brooke (R-Mass.), Secretary of Transportation Bill Coleman and Assistant Labor Secretary of Labor Art Fletcher were Republicans who never comprised their blackness. In recent years, however, it has almost a requirement that a Black Republican distance himself from his race to move ahead in the party. Scott may represent a long overdue shift in the other direction.
Through his actions, Scott has proven that Black Republicans don’t have to check their Blackness at the door. Being Black and Republican is not an either/or proposition; but rather a both/and proposition. Now, if we can just get more party members to understand the importance of what Scott is doing.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @raynard1223.