There's a long wind up that I'll skip, but somebody ask me recently if I feel like a black man.
My answer was conditional.
When I wake up in the mornings, when I'm around my family, I feel like a husband and a father. When I'm by myself getting things done I am John Ridley.
It's when I'm out in the world, when I have to interact with people, that I'm reminded I'm something other than just me or a man who happens to be black. I'm a black guy.
And yesterday, man, did I feel like a black guy.
Yesterday I was at the Republican debate at the Reagan library in Simi Valley. I couldn't help but have a sense of my own blackness just on the drive up there. Fifteen years ago the city was still in turmoil after a Simi Valley jury acquitted four white cops in the beating of Rodney King. In politics, of course, image is everything. While the GOP clearly wanted to send a message to their base by invoking the memory of Reagan, I couldn't help but think about the subtext projected by the choice of the location to all people of color. And let's not forget, when Reagan launched his 1980 presidential bid he did so in Philadelphia, Mississippi. A place previously famous as the location where three Civil Rights activists were murdered in the 1960s.
I'm pretty sure I was the only one up at the library that made these connections.
And at the library...
I will say this; it is really a beautiful spot. And I will say there was not a single individual there who was not perfectly pleasant or extremely helpful to me.
At the debate, among the candidates, the attendees, even among the press, I was it. I was the black guy. When you are a stone's throw from Los Angeles proper and you can count the people of color you see on four fingers, you can't help but really feel your blackness. Where's the diversity? Where's the future of the GOP? California -- and the party can't begin to integrate the perspectives of blacks and Asians and Hispanics? I was honestly shocked to see that, from the jump, the GOP seemed more interested in reflecting it's POV on the nation rather than absorbing fresh ideas. This was personified by the candidates on stage. While the Dems were able to showcase talent that looked like America, the Republicans hit us up with near carbon copies of a ROWGs gallery -- for those who don't read me regularly, that's Rich Old White Guys.
And I want to be clear about something. I'm not anti-Republican and I don't have it in for white guys. If he were in the race and the election was tomorrow, I'd probably vote for Hagel over Obama (and a Hagel Obama Unity ticket would cause me to quit my job -- such as it is -- and start stumping).
I think I was thrown a bit yesterday because I had expected to feel the same -- shockingly black -- when I attended my first Republican convention in New York in '04. But the convention was far more diverse up and down the line than what I saw yesterday. But the convention was also far larger in terms of attendees, and the diversity was chiefly among the rank and file. Yesterday was about the top tier of the party. Where's the perspective up there? And how does the GOP plan on staying relevant when by construction its leadership is out of touch with America?
That's something of a rhetorical question, as we can see the answer in play with the current administration.