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Should Blacks support Michael Steele?

Elinor Tatum | 4/12/2011, 5:30 p.m.
Michael Steele (Photo courtesy of www.gop.com)

On the heels of the historic election of Barack Obama as president of the United States, another milestone occurred for our country and the Black community. Michael Steele was elected to the chairmanship of the Republican National Party (RNC) on January 30, 2009.

Chairman Steele -- a self-described "Lincoln Republican" -- made in history in 2003 when he was elected lieutenant governor of Maryland, becoming the first African-American elected to statewide office in that state.

Steele served as chairman of GOPAC and also held posts on the National Federal Election Reform Commission and the NAACP Blue Ribbon Commission on Election Reform.

Steele is not a RINO (Republican in Name Only). He is, in fact, a conservative African-American Republican. He first came onto the national stage during an appearance at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

While Steele has fine credentials, we must ask ourselves the question as to what his future is as the chairman of the party. Recently, Steele's bottom has been on the end of a very hot fire. He has been ridiculed and investigated, and some of his fellow conservatives are calling for his resignation. The latest fiasco involves some young white fellows spending some time in a strip club on the Republican National Committee's dime. (Steele was not present and said he was not aware of the guys expensing the RNC for their fun.)

If he were a Democrat, would Black America be behind him? Or should we simply ignore him and his plight? That is the question.

In answering this question, we must consider the history of the Republican Party and Blacks, and I would say that the Republican Party has a lot to atone for with our community. As Chairman Steele often says, the Grand Old Party does have a rich history with Blacks as the party of Lincoln and abolition. Early on, our people showed great loyalty to the Republicans for many decades. From abolition up until the Great Depression, most African-Americans were loyal members of the Republican Party, and a sizeable number of Blacks continued to support Republicans until the 1960 election of John Kennedy. But in the 1960s and 1970s, the Republican Party started a cynical, so-called Southern Strategy wherein they looked for votes from white Southerners and conservatives, sacrificing any support in the Black community and ignoring or demonizing our people and issues of concern. Everything from poverty and crime to moral and social declines were all blamed on people of color by too many of the voices of the party. Only time and a changing American demographic has put the Republican strategy that worked so well for nearly 40 years into question.

But despite this history and set of facts, do we in this day and age, blindly go by party or color or by what is right and good--or even pragmatic? I think that these are questions we all must ask ourselves as we look at Michael Steele.

While Steele is the primary spokesperson for the RNC, he also holds a place that is very important. He is the party's chairperson. And his chairmanship says that there is at least one African-American at the table of the RNC. His presence may mean that issues that matter to our community are being looked at, if in fact, Steele views issues with a similar perspective as the rest of the African-American community.