The Root: Hip-Hop Republicans
Wednesday, August 20, 2008; 12:00 PM
"A lot of labels, theories and bits of conventional wisdom have been tossed around by pundits and experts lately, as they try to figure out how citizens will vote in November," writes Lenny McAllister, political contributor to The Root. "We are conservative and liberal. We are boomers, Gen Yers, the hip-hop generation. We are blue-collar voters, working-class voters and black voters. There are energized Democrats, disaffected Republicans and unaffiliated voters."
"There is one demographic category, however, that regularly gets overlooked. It is a group that most people simply laugh off, are puzzled by or outright dismiss. Meet the Hip-Hop Republicans of 2008. The moniker may seem like an oxymoron at first, but the worldview that it encompasses fits the politics of many in the post-civil rights generation."
McAllister was online Wednesday, Aug. 20, at Noon ET to discuss his article.
A transcript follows.
Lenny McAllister: Hi everyone! This is Lenny McAllister. I am a political contributor working with The Root as we approach the national conventions.
About the article: it explains the movement of young Black Republicans imprinting their influence on the political map, including within the Republican Party. It is diverse, so it does not cover every angle, but it addresses the gist of young Black Republicanism. We feel that within these principles lay our past but also our future successes. Also, we understand that the principles are more long-lasting and greater than any one candidate in a party. That's something we cleave to as young Republicans as well.
I currently live in Davidson, North Carolina (home of the Elite 8 Davidson Wildcats! Can you say, "Stephen Curry for 3"? :-) ) I am an alumnus of the College by way of the 13-year-plan (part of where my personal beliefs concerning political platforms and philosophy comes into play), coming back and finishing up my degree as a father of 2 young, wonderful children. I have been married to my best friend and B of H ("Bunny of Hunny") for 6 years now.
Thanks for coming to talk to me this afternoon. I appreciate your time and look forward to answering your questions. I will do my best to get to as many questions as possible.
Philadelphia, PA: Thank you for your courage in writing a wonderful, insightful article in the Root.
So my question is: Why does seeing a successful African American man in the Republican camp make so many of us (myself included) so nervous and angry?
I completely understand your philosophy and your choice, and I am a little comforted to have someone so poised and eloquent engaging in the dialogue from "inside" the GOP, but I can't help but worry about how the GOP will put into practice the theories you talk about.
And I understand education, but what about the disproportionate number of minorities fighting and dying in foreign wars for the GOP? What about the disproportionate of minorities receiving the death penalty in states governed by the GOP?
Help me out here! How will the historic inequities of race ever be leveled within that party?
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for reaching out.
Why does seeing a successful Black man in the GOP make folks angry? It could be because we (collectively) fear that this successful person will disengage our community and forget his roots. Just like politics in general, we need to ensure accountability (even if we disagree on specific issues or philosophy.) We all see the crisis. We must all address it to solve problems.
The GOP will eventually address the issues we bring to the table. That is because we are part of America and if the GOP wants to serve America in office, it collectively must learn to listen. It is a lesson being learned now in 2008 and probably will be absorbed moving forward, regardless of who wins the presidential election.
Regarding minorities in wars and dying early - remember, Dems AND Reps run the government, not just Reps. That's why we must engage the whole government, not just parties. It's our government. We need to view it that way.
Washington, DC: Hip hop is so dead these days with only the most die hard 30 year old white guys listening to it. All the young black teenagers on my block like either gospel or Guitar Hero heavy metal like AC/DC. Hip Hop Republicans seem like they're 15 years late! Pining for a musical movement that hasn't been cool for 3 years now.
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for reaching out.
Hip Hop music was a music of empowerment, taking and making their own rules in order to bring a new message. In that sense, Hip Hop has not died at all, although old school Hip Hop is more the rap music of 26-45 than it is of the 12-25 demographic. With that said, the issues faced today in our urban centers often initiated after the Civil Rights movement ramped down in the 70s (right at the time of the beginning of Hip Hop and Rap in NYC), so the origin of what we need to be as avant garde young Republicans share common roots with the original version(s) of Hip Hop.
Silver Spring, Maryland: What did you think of Sen. Obama's comments about Justice Thomas the other night?
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for writing today.
I was offended, not because Senator Obama said that he would not pick Justice Thomas, but because of the "qualifications" aspect of his opinion. A lot of Black Republicans see that as code for several things, including being an "Uncle Tom" and being someone that doesn't relate to Black people, etc. Publications nationally have written about the partisan that came out of the comment as well.
Considering that Obama has not completed a full term in the Senate yet is saying that a current Supreme Court justice was not qualified for his post, it struck a lot of people I talked to with a sense of irony, if not partisan nastiness. I think higher of Senator Obama and wish he didn't go there.
Washington DC: You have positively got to be making this up, in its entirety.
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for reaching out.
No - I'm real, and I'm real because of real issues that made me look at what methods are best to resolve issues in our communities on personal and holistic levels. Republicanism is bigger than the images of George W. Bush, etc.
Besides, just because I'm Republican doesn't mean I agree with everything. No Manchurian candidates here nor do I advocate for that. We are to be engaged with our government. It is a government for the people and I respectfully believe that Republicanism speaks more to that than the other side does.
Suitland, MD: "Allow me to introduce myself..." I'm a 40 yr old, middle class, white-collar-job-having African American male who also happens to be a part of hip-hop's F1 generation (1st generation for those that didn't take genetics). I read your article and I walked away still wanting... greater specificity as to what constitutes a Hip-Hop Republican, how do you differ from Obamacrats?
More importantly though how do you buy the dinner when your fellow Republicans have policies and procedures that abhor diversity and equality?
The Black Republicans that Steele represents constitute the wealthiest black county (PG)in the US, but one of the worst school systems. Yet none of that changed while he was Lt. Gov of MD, where do you fit in that puzzle?
Finally, how do you go about getting society to understand that hip-hop is not to blame for ALL of its ills?
Lenny McAllister: Great questions - thanks for bringing them up.
We differ from Obamacrats because we do not believe that wealth redistribution by way of the tax restructuring is the way to go for this country. We need folks to reinvest in long-term initiatives and $1000 rebates are more band-aids and less full-term healing the wounds.
The policies of Republicans advocate equality. Where many of my party members miss the boat is that they believe we are truly equal now. That is why I speak up with others like me to remind them that we are not there yet. In some areas, not close.
Black Republicans - and Hip Hop Republicans - are less about the wealthy and more about the conservatives (rich and poor) that believe that free market principles make things better. For example, I would advocate for vouchers in that school system if the pumping of additional funds did not work.
New York City: Hi Lenny - How can the Republican Party began to reach out to blacks and what issues could they highlight in the community to this happen?
Lenny McAllister: NYC - how are things up there? Thanks for reaching out!
The Republican Party has to face the fire sometimes, understand that, like the Democratic Party did 50 years ago, there is some healing to take place. Don't be afraid to hear the tough commentary. Grow together. Remember that Americanism is freedom of expression which includes freedom to disagree, even vehemently.
Issues such as economic redevelopment, re-creating a middle class via job creation, educational competition (e.g., vouchers and charter schools), etc. are examples that the GOP can promote, keep true to their values, and reach out to Black people. In addition, the GOP must improve upon their collective image and not be seen as much as a country club party. I believe that this election will help to change that image.
Clarksville, TN: Lenny - why do you think the Republican party is becoming overall less and less diverse? I know there may be little pockets of diversity, but for the most part, it seems like it is growing older, and whiter.
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for asking the question. TN is a border state of NC, so you must have some sweet tea flowing for lunch today! :-)
The GOP has been able to win some key elections at the top of the ticket without the support of the Black vote. When that happens, resources are not directed to those communities. That is why it has become less diverse (in image and, in many instances, in reality). Now with the Obama candidacy, the GOP has been forced to address the issue of diversity within America. I think that it will change but the GOP will also have to examine how it will allow itself to be viewed in the media, by opposing candidates, etc.
Also, if the GOP begins to focus on increasing its efforts to develop good local talent for elections, diversity will increase.
Arlington, VA: What do you think of the idea of blacks joining with other minorities and creating a new, third political party that provide minorities with a true voice in American politics?
Lenny McAllister: Arlington - keep up the good work and thanks for coming to washingtonpost.com today.
I don't think that it's a good idea. It begins to resegregate the races, something that is already happening in the school systems across the country. If we are going to be a true part of the country, we need to claim our Americanism fully. Creating a new party full of minorities assumes that we all think alike, which, of course, isn't true, either. We need to be fully engaged in all parties considering that America works in a 2-party system.
Just my opinion, though. I see where you're going with this.
New York, NY: Oftentimes when we think about black Republicans we think about them as disconnected from the black community as a whole - with there being huge gaps between the larger black community and black Republicans in terms of wealth and education - how do you begin to mend this chasm when there is a certain perception of black Republican thought?
Lenny McAllister: Another NYC - go Mets!
Black folks in general can not alienate Black Republicans and, conversely, Black Republicans must understand Black issues from a current perspective. The issues of the 1950s and 60s are not relevant today. We have to change that paradigm.
Black GOPers have to stay involved in committees for politics (for example, I am in the Republicans for Black Empowerment) and for community (i.e., Boys and Girls Club, Mecklenburg County Domestic Violence Speakers' Bureau (to prevent DV), etc. are examples) to build the bridge.
Washington, D.C.: Who are the hip-hop Republicans? and what is the purpose of the organization? and are they all African American?
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for participating today.
We are the sect of the Republican Party that is young, urban, and focused on addressing urban issues with Republican principles.
We're not all African-Americans, but certainly a lot of us are. Funny, though - we are from a wide range of viewpoints, backgrounds, regions in the country, etc., despite our common political identity and demographic.
Phoenix: Interesting Roots column, but I don't see the appeal of Republicans for educated, affluent Americans,much less middle class or working poor households, unless one only cares about current tax rates while shifting burdens to future generations.
Explain how the GOP walks the walk rather than just talking the talk. Republicans never seem to accomplish much that benefits our society, unless, of course, one is a Wall Street elite whose greed overrides all moral compunction.
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for your reply.
Republicanism is more than just a candidate or a president. With all politics, there is good and bad. The principles of less government and more ownership for all has worked all around the world, including places like China and India that have opened their markets over the past few years.
For example, Kanye West said that George Bush didn't care about Black people and minorities, yet he made it a point to address the nation and repeatedly say that Muslims living in the country should not be persecuted. He said that the acts of a few should not mar the religion of millions.
As with all politicians, it's about holding feet to the fire. That is why I am involved in politics - to be part of the fire and help move the feet to a proper solution.
Chicago IL: How does the real world of GOP politics intrude on your ideal? You write: "The pillars of Hip-Hop Republicanism are economic empowerment, educational choice, access to information and empowering the potential of the individual." Frankly, lip service aside, the modern GOP seems anathema to most of these tenets. Economic policies seem to be screwing the common man, individual empowerment is severely lacking, and you can't tell me the Bush Administration has championed "access to information." Instead it's been partisanship behind the closed doors of some undisclosed location. How do you reconcile theory vs reality? Thanks.
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for asking a tough question but here's my reply to it.
I believe and work for the theory in order to bring it into reality. It is not always popular, but that is why we must engage our government. It is ours.
The GOP - and the government as a whole in many ways - has moved away from its tenets into a self-protective partisanism that often paralyzes progress.
I know that, for me, I am here to implement the principles for the future, learn from the past, and change what we must to help get us where we are going. We must continue to try until we succeed.
Short version of the answer but maybe we can get deeper into it at some point.
the GOP must improve upon their collective image and not be seen as much as a country club party. I believe that this election will help to change that image: Yeah right, Lenny. Multi-millionaire, lily white John McCain will go miles to change that image.
Lenny McAllister: I understand your point, but there are literally hundreds of candidates for the GOP each year for elections, so it's more than just John McCain. Again, we can't focus just at the top of the ticket, especially when it's the middle and bottom of the ticket that directly impacts our future daily.
Hip-Hop Republicans?: Alan Keyes listens to Hip-Hop?
Lenny McAllister: Does Alan Keyes listen to Hip Hop? Maybe, but I doubt that he would ever tell us publicly :-)
That may be a funny sight...seeing him rock some 2Pac on an iPod :-)
Kansas City KS: Were you happy with the way this Republican administration handled Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath in New Orleans? I tended to agree with Kanye West when he said George Bush doesn't care about black people. How can you be part of a political party that does not think of you as an equal?
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for asking.
Do you think that the Dems think of Black people as equal when they take the Black vote for granted every year yet conditions in the Black community stayed stagnant or regress?
I think that the reaction to Katrina also had a lot to do with the separation of power and how the NO and LA government dealt with the situation. EVERYONE could have done better. I visited NO with my B of H 2 years ago and trailers were still prominent. I was very disappointed with the response.
Also hard to say that Bush doesn't care about Black people with Powell and Rice as part of his legacy. He didn't have to pick them for that post. Also, with Latino relatives, he can't be so jagged against Spanish-speaking people, either.
Manny Festo, Baltimore: It is refreshing to read your commentary in a main media format. I am a Black Conservative, not GOP because of the racial issues of the leadership. However, I believe conservative political values are the best path to success for ALL Americans. I have always lived is heavily liberal, politically homogenous environments that are hard to engage any type of constructive discourse on the true ideals and political thought of our community. How would you suggest that glass ceiling be broken and get people to actually listen and not just spew ignorant and hateful things?
Lenny McAllister: Manny - thank you for your question.
The answer: persistence.
For me, too many Black men and women (and Americans overall) died for me in this country for me to not be persistent for what I believe will help people from dying prematurely in a spiritual, mental, and physical sense. We must continue to move forward with an educated point of view in order to debate the issues and refute the venom. Most times, it's like that people care and they are hurt. We need to collectively heal. Persistence incorporates time and God - with that combination, how can we (Americans, not just GOPers or conservatives) lose?
Woodbridge, Virginia: Mr. McAllister,
I understand you are a member of Republicans for Black Empowerment, a national grassroots organization of critically thinking black conservatives. Can you give more information about this group, which sounds very interesting?
Lenny McAllister: Woodbridge - thanks for writing.
PLEASE call me Lenny. My dad is Mr. McAllister (Hi DAD! :-)
www.theblackgop.com is the website. Please check it out.
Chicago, Illinois: Hey Lenny, you say Obama was talking in code about Clarence Thomas. Perhaps, but I find Republicans talk in racial code more often than Democrats. How do black Republicans react to white Republicans talking in code? Do you agree with Bob Herbert that the McCain camp is using code when they put Obama in an ad with two young blonde hyper-sexualized white girls?
Lenny McAllister: I support McCain. I am NOT for bashing Obama nor playing any subliminal mind game.
Both parties, unfortunately, do it and I hope that it stops ASAP. The American people truly deserve better and we need leaders. All I was getting to with Saturday's comments was that it was Obama's turn to use imagery.
The Clarence Thomas thing is something I'm familiar with. I have been "hit over the head" with the Clarence Thomas "thing" myself as a candidate and, let me assure you, White Democrats, Democrats, and Black folks respond negatively when this tactic is used against a Black Republican. Obama knew what he was doing. These images (from both sides) are not accidents more often than not.
Remember, though, that McCain came out against the Rev. Wright ad.
Bogotá, Colombia: The label used here of "hip-hop Republican" is absurd. To imply that anyone black is automatically associated with hip-hop is racist (and yes, you can make racist statements against your own race). If you'd like to talk about hip-hop Republicans, tell me one relevant hip-hop group that is Republican. Mos Def? Not a Republican. Jay-Z and Nas in Black Republican were just saying they're rich, but are not actually Republicans.
The reason people don't like black Republicans? Because the Republicans continually attack civil rights, the very thing blacks are fighting for. Perhaps you missed the disenfranchisement of thousands of blacks in the last two presidential elections?
Lenny McAllister: Colombia - thanks for writing.
I am aware of the issues from the last 2 elections. I am disappointed that these issues come up. Let me ask, though - is it easier to address the man and woman of the house by speaking in their living room as a friend or yelling at their house on the wrong side of a locked door at 2 AM?
Hip Hop is a mindset, a way of doing things, NOT an incorporation of particular artists.
Public Enemy talked about Black Empowerment that did not rely on the government for solutions. They were radical in some ways, but they were certainly not about doing things the same old way.
Anonymous: I assure you with my entire being that Republicans as a group are racists and bigots. How many black Republicans have been elected to the Senate, the House... zero. McCain, Gingrich, McConnell, Boehner got your back? You should hear what they say behind closed doors.
Lenny McAllister: I am behind those closed doors. I have seen it and heard it. However, how do we progress if we don't address it and move forward?
If Dr. King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, etc. faced bullets for people like me, why can't I address some malice from a select group of individuals? All Republicans - just like all White people - are NOT racists.
I am one of many working to change the dynamic and image for a better and more balanced future.
Anonymous: Wouldn't an Obama victory force the Republican party to reassess their outreach to blacks?
Lenny McAllister: Yes. An Obama has made them rethink a lot of things already.
Obama is good for Black politics overall. I am proud of what he has done even though I do not support his current run for president. That is why it's important for Black Republicans to display a respectful disagreement with Sen. Obama.
Washington, D.C.: What is your favorite hip-hop artist? What is your favorite hip-hop song?
Lenny McAllister: Fave song and artist? Wow.
I move all over the place in music, but for Hip Hop, I go old school.
Laurel MD: I think many blacks are conservative on certain issues (abortion, gay rights) especially in the black church. I have Jamaicans in my family and being gay is a crime down there. However I think that most will not change affiliation or vote Republican because of the stigma. If Republicans could put out a sensible platform for civil rights, there's a demographic ripe for the picking. What do you think?
Lenny McAllister: Laurel - I agree with you 100%. That's why people like me must help to remove the stigma. Not all of us look like Carlton Banks off of "The Fresh Price of Bel Air" :-)
Alexandria VA: Hi. My background and philosophy look very similar to yours and I am not a member of either party although actively involved with several causes. So, I still see no valid difference between what you profess and the vision that Senator Obama - who happens to be a D - is offering to work toward.
My question is: what is your critique of the Bush administration's progress toward your stated ideals? and how do you think McCain will continue or improve upon that progress?
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for responding and participating.
Obama's vision for tax cuts and health care are 2 major differences. Same with his approach to the courts and the type of jurist he would appoint. Those are major differences for me.
I think that Pres. Bush has been bogged down in many ways, pulled into directions (both well-intended and misinformed) that has watered down any true chance to be more effective. I think that McCain, considering his history of working across the aisle, will be better if elected. Just my 2 cents.
Jax, FL: I could hardly read your essay without rolling on the floor in laughter. When I think of "Hip Hop Republicans," I equate Obama to "Young Jeezy" and McCain as "Old Wheezy." Seriously though, if the GOP wants to be about keeping it real, the party needs to return to its "old school" roots of balanced budgets and smaller government, which neither Reagan nor George W. Bush achieved. How many years do you predict will pass before an African American, woman or other minority runs for president under the GOP banner?
Lenny McAllister: Jax - can't stand your Jaguars...beat my Steelers twice last year! :-)
Funny on the presidential rappers in the house :-)
The party needs to get back to its roots and, with a movement in that direction, it will be able to attract more minorities overall. That's what I'd like to see.
I think that by 2016, we will probably see a minority presidential candidate. Just my guess, though.
Chicago, IL: Hi, Lenny--great article. I live on the South Side of Chicago, where segregation and race-based issues seem to be endemic. How have you and the Hip-Hop Republicans approached the inner-city community in a way that convinces them you're not simply trying to take away support networks (like welfare) or trying to get them to 'sell out' and forget black roots? If there's one place that Democratic policies have failed for decades but where Democrats are the most firmly entrenched, it's here. How can people be encouraged to embrace the market and not 'the man'?
Lenny McAllister: Chi-town - my sympathy for the loss of Bernie Mac.
We have to be visible, be mentors, and help out the community in TANGIBLE ways. Rhetoric for the future doesn't help people that struggle getting through the current day. We have to teach, mentor, invest time and resources whenever possible. We have to educate, take the verbal attacks and work through them. We have to show that we are BLACK Republicans, not Republicans that think little of their Blackness.
still in Alexandria VA: so, follow up question/comment
I appreciate what you think you are saying yet I don't understand how you can comfortably reject a candidate who is offering to move our country in the right direction while you are professing to work to move our country in the right direction!!
Wouldn't your efforts be more powerful if you were working to move the Rs to collaborate with the new vision being set in the Ds?
Seem you would be one of the first to run across the aisle in an effort to get beyond political labels and work toward a real accessible solution to some of the issues you profess to want to solve.
Lenny McAllister: I think that McCain has a history of going across the aisle as well, so this is a possibility with him as president. The question is: has Obama shown a clear history during his legislative career of reaching across the aisle to get results? If you feel that he has, then I can understand your support.
I reject Obama's positions on several key issues that I feel are important. With issues like off-shore drilling, he is coming back towards the center.
I am working to move people together to get solutions, so in some ways, I am doing what you mention below.
Thanks again for replying a second time! :-)
Fairfax: Why do think middle-class African-Americans have largely remained wedded to the Democratic Party, while other groups (e.g. Catholics) have divided themselves far more evenly among the two parties as they became wealthier?
Lenny McAllister: I think that it's because of the history of the past 50 years, a lack of understanding their own political values (and taking a chance upon understanding it), and an inability to take the chance to fully integrate into the political arena based on their values and not on social expectations. Most people don't get involved in politics until something is wrong, so this makes it easy to do.
Washington, DC: Lenny, thanks so much for doing this chat. It takes a lot of guts to show up in this generally left-wing WaPo chat room and take shots from people. Anyway, what is the Hip-Hop Republicans' foreign policy agenda, and how many black Republicans will be on ballots across the country?
Lenny McAllister: We have a wide range of views on foreign policy. Personally, I want to see us make sure that we are not spent so thin protecting our interests aboard that we are hampered at home. We have to apply smaller government principles even to Iraq and, at some point, let them walk on their own. Just my personal take.
San Jose CA: The current GOP is top heavy with "Country Club Republicans" that can't stand true conservatives. I see a unique opportunity for Blacks on the Right Side of the political spectrum to take local leadership position and rebuild the party from the grass root level under a Obama presidency. A McCain presidency will keep the country club GOPers in charge of the party for another 4 years which will result in further destruction of the party at the state and civic level. Obama '08 = Jindal 2012 / McCain '08 = any democrat as president in 2012. Please comment.
Lenny McAllister: I disagree, San Jose, but thank you for your comment.
I think that the Obama candidacy forces the GOP to address how they engage people because not only does it impact the presidential election, but the extra voters will impact ALL races down the ticket. Therefore, they MUST change the dynamic of who they are, how they market themselves (and become labeled by others), and what they do to engage the electorate. They have to play catch-up (this is something that they should have been doing years ago), but they are in the process now, albeit slower in many ways than it could or should be.
Chicago, IL: I'm black and I suppose of the hip hop generation and I would say as I get older, some of my viewpoints, particularly on immigration, become more conservative. However, my main problem with Republicans is that their political ideologies most often stem from religious beliefs, and not like a mix of all religions, but Protestant or Catholic--sects of Christianity that can be somewhat restrictive. It seems wrong, in a country that supposedly supports the freedom of whatever religion, to try and base policy on the narrow sect of one. Things like birth control/abortion need not be legislated according to those rules, but that seems to be what Republicans want. Get them OUT of my uterus, please and thank you!
Lenny McAllister: I concur with this, Chicago. At some point, we have to believe that we are a nation with religion freedom, although that is hard to swallow for those in the Christian Right. Republicanism is a set of political beliefs and our (collective) migration from that principle has hampered the party. I believe that with a fresher perspective coming into the mix this year, things should change. I hope so and I'm trying to be part of that change myself.
Thanks for writing back.
Lenny McAllister: Thanks for zinging me, everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope that you will follow us on The Root over the next few weeks.
TCNGB - Take Care N God Bless
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