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Revenge of the Black Republican Nerds

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Perhaps one of the more surprising developments in the mysterious case of South Carolina Democratic Senate nominee Alvin Greene is the fact that he isn't Republican. Well, as far as we know. For a number of reasons, we should have expected it. Maybe that's why everyone from the sore losing opponent and Charleston lawyer Vic Rawls to House Majority Whip and Congressional Black Caucus senior James Clyburn (D-SC) join a rising chorus of folks wanting Greene to step down. The latest comments, boldly asserting that the taciturn unemployed Black veteran is a Republican plant designed to disrupt the Democratic primary, reinforce a portrait of Greene as closet Black Republican. Implicit in the charges of folks such as Clyburn who push the saboteur theory is one of the more classic psycho-social profiles of Black Republicans as - to put it in the mild, "creative metaphor of elders... touched in the head."

There is that popular stigma, still prevalent within community circles, of Black Republicans as foolishly tied to a party inimical to Black progress, hence leading to accusations of "sell outs," "Toms" and "Coons of the Right"... naming a few choice phrases. It gets uglier. But, ironically, for an ideological crowd that prides itself on preaching the virtues of personal responsibility and doing away with, as many of them see it, Black victimology, they are also quick to claim victim status for their views. While this may seem contradictory on their part, it also confirms the state of political discourse within the African American community, which can be (at times) insufferably close-minded and oblivious to alternative perspectives outside the predictable "progressive" paradigm. Nothing wrong, fam, with mixing it up a bit.

But, Black Republicans seem like gluttons for punishment, and pitiful hats off to them for getting the bowels kicked from them on the regular. Cord Jefferson observes in a recent TheRoot.com piece:

But then came the primaries. In Alabama, Les Phillip, who made waves with ads saying President Obama "played with terrorists," got crushed by both his white opponents. Even white incumbent Parker Griffith, a former Democrat who switched parties last year, beat Phillip by 17 points. Baptist minister Jerry Grimes lost in North Carolina's 1st district, and Lou Huddleston, who won a Cumberland County North Carolina Republican Party straw poll in February, got walloped in the 8th district. Despite his years of service as an aide to Colin Powell, Huddleston proved no match for Tim D'Annunzio, a businessman who raised money with "machine gun socials." (For $25, supporters got a plate of barbecue and the opportunity to shoot an Uzi.) In Mississippi, Fox News analyst Angela McGlowan, endorsed by none other than the Sarah Palin, lost to both her competitors, catching only 15 percent of the vote.

Jefferson, predictably, seems to celebrate Black Republican loss, perhaps out of the usual fogginess that plagues Black political thought and strategy. On the real, any group of Black people - already dealing with being Black - who want to go the extra oppressed mile and wear goofy red elephants on the sleeve must be a bit loopy, according to barbershop banter and the chiding after-church gossip. Thus, we have spawned this image of unkempt, self-isolated and generally ill-tempered race clowns roaming about with shady White segregationists who won't tell them how they really feel to their face. And, to a large degree, some of those perceptions were confirmed by the likes of acerbic caricatures like Ward Connerly, Larry Elders and Angela McGlowan. Black heroes, in the minds of the masses, are Democrats. It's like political high school: the Black Republicans much like persecuted social hermits who get wedgied and tripped by status symbol Black Democrats who walk around with lettered jackets.

There is a class element to that dynamic, strange as it may seem. While many can't help but perceive Black Republicans as the elite bunch or core "bourgeois," we'd be hard pressed to find Black Republican political families, the same way we find the now defunct Fords of Tennessee. Or the fledgling Kilpatricks of Michigan. The Streets and Goodes of Philadelphia. The Powells of Harlem. The Meeks of Florida. The Jacksons of Chicago. Of course, the Obamas of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW in Washington, D.C. The Democratic Party seems saturated with an endless line-up of Who's Who in Black America, creating a climate of obscene cultural crab-snapping in a barrel for those inclined to tolerate it. We saw this unveiled during the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary when urban talk shows lit up with imbecilic exchanges over whether the biracial descendant of a Kenyan father was indeed "... Black enough."

For the most part, with some atypical exceptions, the Black GOP is small and scarce. There's room, during moments when the party's fringe bigoted diatribes cool down, to maneuver. And for every flashy networking crowd of Black Democrats, there are a few Black Republicans unable to fit the mold, detached by insurgent views and, perhaps, background. Is there an evolving chasm of connected haves and less connected have-nots that we have failed to understand in our curious studies of Black political life? Which is why, for a moment, Alvin Greene seemed like a Black Republican.

Certainly, mainstream media-heads will call this year's record-blazing trend of more than 30 Black GOP federal candidates a groundbreaking sign of 2010 as "the Year of the Black Republican." Yet, it's merely a ploy to push what they hope is the latest crop of Black apologists absolving White guilt. Still, it's worth noting that what we're seeing now is not your average Black Republican; and, they don't hail from city political dynasties nor are they Jack-n-Jill'ing it up the electoral ladder. In fact, many of them swap 'hood sob stories and gritty tales of social warfare on their bizarre road to political fame. The New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer showcased a fairly savvy nest of young, authentic-looking and - as they say - down-to-earth Black Republicans with track records:

State and national party officials say that this year's cast of black Republicans is far more experienced than the more fringy players of yore, and include elected officials, former military personnel and candidates who have run before. Mr. Parker is the mayor of Paradise Valley, Ariz. Ryan Frazier is a councilman in Aurora, Colo., one of four at-large members who represent the whole city. And Tim Scott is the only black Republican elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives since Reconstruction.

It's still a long way to go before Black political strategy is able to properly play the leveraging game on both sides of the aisle. But, as the Democratic Party gets a bit too stifling, prepare for a generational surge of restless, power-hungry, non-name dropping Black politicos going Independent or finding some elbow room in the Grand Ole' Party.

-- CHARLES D. ELLISON

(originally published in Politic365.com)