NEW YORK CITY — GOP leaders should rethink how they discuss race because the current approach is failing, according to blogger Richard Ivory, publisher of the blog Hip Hop Republican (HHR). Case in point for Ivory: just one member of the Republican congressional leadership showed up for last week’s historic 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, Alabama. Absent were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made a last-minute appearance, though Ivory argues this wasn’t enough to help build bridges with African-American voters suspicious of the conservative movement ever since the “Southern strategy” and Barry Goldwater’s opposition the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“A lot of black conservatives have become very frustrated with white conservatives because of the issue of race, because a lot of whites don’t want to deal with the issue of race,” Ivory told Opportunity Lives. “It’s probably one of the things that differentiates us from other black conservatives. What distinguishes black HHR is that we are incredibly race conscious and we are unapologetic about it. We believe race matters. It does not matter in every issue. Pretending like it’s not an issue or pretending we can talk about things outside race when race is really the elephant in the room really gets us nowhere.”
Ivory, who is African-American, has studied the tea leaves of American demography and sees trouble for Republicans. America continues its path toward becoming a “majority-minority” country; as The Huffington Post pointed out recently, in 2015, for the first time, millennials — 42 percent of whom identify as non-white — are set to outnumber the majority-white baby boomers.
Source: Pew Research
“Is ‘Hip Hop Republican’ an oxymoron?” Ivory quipped. “It is an oxymoron if you’re looking at the Republican Party as it is. If you’re looking at the Republican Party and all the images that come to mind. However, if you’re looking at the Republican Party as far as its future then it’s not an oxymoron. I see someone who is an urban conservative, essentially. You have to look at it as an umbrella term…the person doesn’t have to necessarily be black. It can be a white person, Asian person. It’s just someone who can engage cities from a conservative perspective and in all aspects of urban life. And I say that the term ‘Hip Hop Republican’ is kind of a funny term so people get taken back a bit and they can get away from the seriousness of the proposal of what we’ve been trying to argue, which is that in order for the Republican Party to be significant in the future and have an impact in the future, it has to engage with cities and engage with minorities. It will have to engage culture where it begins, which is in our cities.”
The Economist reported that in the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney saw nine in ten of his votes from whites, meanwhile President Obama won eight in ten of the votes cast by minorities. Yet in last fall’s election, Republicans made limited inroads with black and Hispanic voters, who stayed home rather than coming to vote for Democrats. So even though Republicans won Congress by historic margins in November, voter turnout among minority voters is likely to increase in presidential elections and favor Democrats.
“That’s what they call ‘success’ and that’s not actually success,” Ivory said. “Success is getting those black voters to vote for you. If you can build the relationship early on, that gives you an idea how they will vote in presidential elections…the reason that Hillary’s going to win is the Republicans’ racial issue.”
Regardless, Ivory and his team of volunteer blogger contributors are plugging away, writing on topics ranging from black history month to diversity within state Republican parties. The site also highlights artists who perform music about social justice issues. Ivory borrowed the name of his site from then-Lt. Governor Michael Steele, an African-American whom Ivory volunteered for in Maryland.
“He was called that as a fun thing,” Ivory said. “And not just him, per se, but his model of reaching out to the inner city and minorities. So it was like a breath of fresh air for most conservatives. In some ways I don’t think he was fully defined, but what we tried to do was make that name, which was actually just a moniker and kind of a joke, into something more defined.”
Ivory’s team has seen success; the blog has garnered more than a million hits in the past decade, and been profiled in mainstream media outlets like The New York Times and The New Yorker.
“Over the years we have always wanted to be a platform for young black and urban conservatives of all races and want to continue our message,” he said. “I am not engaged a lot with what’s happened with the conservative moment because I don’t think the conservative movement is taking an interest in my issues. I think urban issues should play a much bigger role. Until my issues are a priority, just as important as those other issues [such as fiscal policy and defense], the blog has never seen itself as part of the conservative movement in that sense.”
Ivory, who is currently finishing a degree in urban studies and political science at Fordham University in Manhattan, grew up in Virginia in an apolitical family, though one that was deeply religious within the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though he left that faith as an adult, he said because members of that religion typically do not vote or engage in politics and military service, in many ways this shielded him from becoming ensconced in the liberal thinking common among many African-American families.
“I was not reared in the black political identity, so I think that gave me some distance,” he said. After moving to Arlington, he garnered an internship with an organization called the Republican Youth Majority simply for the professional experience rather than out of ideological conviction. Yet while working there he realized his worldview generally melded with conservative philosophy. As someone who is pro-life, Ivory said he was even more conservative than many of his colleagues at the Republican Youth Majority. He said he eventually went on to work with the Republican National Committee and HHR later become a vocal proponent of the Iraq Invasion.
(HHR features videos like the one above from artists of varying genres who sing about social justice issues)
One major area of disagreement Ivory has with mainstream conservatism, particularly organizations such as The Manhattan Institute, is its approach to crime. The movement generally endorses the “broken windows” approach to policing, including stop-and-frisk.
“It’s the psychological shock of young black boys being stopped,” he said. “This is the debate we have to have. The benefits of lowering crime, which are great things, what does that create? What does that young boy, that black boy who was innocent who was stopped, what does he leave thinking about the cops? What you have is this fear, is young black boys thinking of the police in this way and that in the long run, all that anger boils up and it comes down like a force.”
He said a more effective, bottom-up, organic approach to policing would better engage neighborhood members and designate leaders in the community who can help prevent heavy policing and arrests, which then break up families through incarceration.
“That mindset creates a lot of problems,” he said. “To me I tend to have a bit more of a libertarian approach. I think libertarians are more conscious of the issue of how the police actually do go about engaging black men. And I think that can have a huge consequence in how the Republican Party engages with them. The whole relationship has to change, and that has to change with the language that we use. It’s also about giving people back control of their community.”
Aside from making inroads with traditionally Democratic black voters, Ivory said the GOP fails to engage with black Republicans themselves and those who identify with their principles. One group countering this, Ivory said, is City GOP.
“There’s a cultural disconnect when white conservatives try to engage with black conservatives who have been there for years. It’s a failure of knowing what assets are present,” he said. “There are these amazing Republicans doing amazing things, but they don’t get attention in the mainstream Republican Party. It’s amazing because they are the ones who are going to carry the party into the future.”
Read the original article here on Opportunity Lives…
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for American Enterprise Institute scholar Edward Conard. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.