With the wooing of the Latino vote by GOP presidential candidates, one noteworthy reality hits: the lack of attention they gave to Black Republicans in Florida – and throughout the nation.
The Sunshine State is the home of some of the most active and notable Black Republican leaders in the nation. They include Congressman Allen West of the 22nd District, Florida's Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll, and the controversial but attention-grabbing activist group National Black Republican Association, made famous for their Martin Luther King billboards at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Based on the lack of media and political attention spent on them, you would never know it. That's a problem impacting more than just the 10% or so of Black voters that identify themselves as Republican voters.
In the aftermath of the Florida GOP primary, two apparent realities should become very clear to America moving forward. One such reality is that the GOP establishment has conceded its official support to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and everyone from former Governor Sarah Palin to the casual political observer can see that. Second – and perhaps more indicative and dangerous for Black Americans – is that in the process of driving for attention from Latino voters in Florida and throughout the country, Republicans have basically trampled over African Americans voters and ignored their presence in the electoral process.
The sad truth is that Black Republicans were not a major factor in the Florida primary: despite the Sunshine State being one of the largest bastions of Black political conservatism in the United States. Granted, a large part of that political certainty stems from Republican leaders' inability and general unwillingness to combat the lingering racism left after decades of Southern Strategy. However, unlike racism this dynamic of Black Republican weakness is not one-sided.
American Latinos have taken the playbook of what civil rights leaders envisioned in the 1950s and 1960s and, unlike what Black America has done collectively over the past several decades, have actually implemented it.
The Latino community maintains diverse viewpoints on a tally of positions, including illegal immigration and the president's legislative endeavors on jobs and other policies. Black America has routinely refused to leverage the political game-changers that have impacted the political sphere.
For example, while Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) keeps a highly-esteemed profile within the Republican establishment, the conservative grassroots, and many segments of the Latino national community, one legislator that became even more of the Tea Party darling in 2010 – Congressman West – maintains a chilled relationship with most of Black America despite his membership in the Congressional Black Caucus and the grassroots' desire to see him run for Vice President in 2012.
The lack of political diversity and the legislative opportunities that it would provide has hampered Black America in the process of selecting the best leaders possible. In Florida, Latinos actively and enthusiastically participated in selecting a president (whether it is Romney, another Republican, or President Obama for a second term) while Black America – through its inability to hold both parties accountable and its current pigeon-holed political nature – will have that selection dictated to them.
In an era of big problems that are tangled in long histories of political dysfunction, business abuses, and societal corruption, Latinos and Blacks have taken divergent approaches to getting results from elected officials. One avenue has taken an extremely narrow-minded, limiting view on how to fix the economic and social woes of the nation, particularly those that impact urban America the most. It has ignored the diversity within its culture, differences that form from geographical, socioeconomic, educational, and family backgrounds. It has ignored the possibilities of embracing – not disgracing – these differences in a fashion where relevancy did not vary based on the successes of 50% of the political equation. It has decided to disown some of the most powerful political players in the nation based on perception and misunderstandings, even when those individuals sit "on the right side of history".
And then there's the other approach taken by Latinos.
Some see the successes of Latinos within the Republican Party as nothing more than a numbers game. This is especially true when contrasting them to the struggles of Black Republicans within the GOP structure as well as the larger Black community. While this has merit, the bigger lesson from Florida GOP 2012 so far is this: politics may be a numbers game, but it is even more of a people-driven dynamic. Nationally, Latinos have done a better job of being more places politically more often than Black Americans have over the past several years. Latinos have done a better job of allowing both sides of the political argument to play out for the best of their communities.
This is unlike African Americans and the constant (and tragically reprehensible) soap opera involving Black conservatives and mainstream Black America insulting each other. Latinos have done a better job of embracing and pursuing the American Dream through all channels of government – including Republican ones – instead of allowing opportunities to disintegrate like desert mirages.
As we leave the Florida GOP primary and head into Black History Month, perhaps the recent history lesson America has received over the past decade from American Latinos can be the primer needed to jolt Black America back into greater political relevancy. Hopefully, it will be in time for Black voters to re-read and reclaim the pages from the civil rights playbook from the past, not just sing from the civil rights hymnal for another 28 days this year.