Republicans Need to Treat Race Like Faith

Prajwal Kulkarni, The Federalist, December 16, 2015

David Marcus’s call for a conservative anti-racism platform is long overdue. As the United States becomes more diverse, it would be better for both America and Republicans if voting were less racially polarized. The current situation can change if conservatives recognize that minorities experience America in ways that non-minorities often do not. Marcus proposes a good first step: for conservatives to accept that racism exists and that it is a problem.

But as important as an anti-racism agenda is, conservatives should understand that their problems with minorities extend beyond racism. Put another way, Republicans would probably win few minority voters even if racism disappeared.

For many minorities, their race matters to them–they have a racial identity. Effective outreach must account for that identity. Conservatives should thus take Marcus’s advice one step further: they should acknowledge not just racism, but racial identity. The fact that conservatives do not acknowledge it partly explains why so many minorities feel unwelcome in the Republican Party.

Our Race Is Part of Our Identity

Consider this column by Victor David Hanson in early November: “The Republican field is far more diverse [than the Democratic], although the candidates see their ethnicity as incidental rather than essential, in bumper sticker fashion, to their personas.” This sentence epitomizes so much of what is wrong with how Republicans view race. Hanson gives the impression that it is a good thing Sen. Ted Cruz’s Hispanic heritage seems to not be important to him. Many minorities read things like that and conclude they would have to minimize or eliminate their ethnic identity to be a Republican. Even I sometimes feel that way–and I lean conservative!

My Indian heritage is not “incidental” to me. It’s a big part of who I am. I grew up attending Indian cultural events, watching Bollywood movies, and listening to Hindi songs. In college I was a member of the Indian Students’ Association, attended my fair share of ethnic parties, and performed a group dance at a Diwali show. Hindi songs are still well represented on my playlists. To this day I often feel a connection with my fellow South Asians that I don’t feel elsewhere.

I get that everyone is not like me. Many South Asians are like Federalist contributor Jennifer Doverspike, who does not strongly identify with her race. But I promise you most racial minorities are closer to my end of the spectrum.

Granted, my ethnicity is also not essential, and you will miss a lot about me if you focus only on my race. But just as Marcus wrote about race, people of color often find ourselves between a Left that exaggerates racial identity and a Right that pretends it doesn’t exist. Given these two choices, most of us can’t be blamed for choosing the former.

Don’t Treat Race Like Secularists Treat Christians

It might be helpful to consider how strikingly similar Hanson’s–and many conservatives’–attitude on race is to secular liberals’ response to religious faith. Secular liberals would love it if Christians viewed Christianity as incidental, as something to be trotted out briefly during the holidays. Secular liberals would prefer that religious faith, and especially Christian religious faith, not influence people’s worldviews, their actions, the communities they form, the movies they watch.

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Given a Left that either trivializes or over-emphasizes a key part of their identity, many Christians understandably gravitate to the Right. Of course, liberal attitudes on faith alone do not explain how Christians vote. But it surely contributes. I suspect this line of reasoning makes sense to many readers. So it should also make sense why conservatives’ incidental versus essential framing on race contributes to how minorities vote. Race and faith should neither be ignored nor over-acknowledged. Both approaches foster polarization.

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